The Truth About Cholesterol

You'd be forgiven for thinking cholesterol levels should be reduced at all costs - but in reality, things are a little different.

Few people realise that this fatty acid is absolutely essential to the functioning and the health of the body. For example – it is needed to build and keep fluid in cellular membranes (this is important for communication), it also insulates nerves, produces vitamin D, hormones, and bile acid for digestion. So if the body needs it why is it getting so much bad publicity?

Researchers have found that excessively high cholesterol levels are associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and that this risk can be reduced by lowering cholesterol levels into a safe range. However it appears that it is not so much high levels of cholesterol that cause heart disease, but high levels of damaged cholesterol (oxysterols) that contribute to heart disease. Every time we eat processed foods, experience stress, infection or trauma, the body responds by increasing the production of damaging chemicals called free radicals. These lead to the creation of oxysterols, which in turn cause inflammation and irritation of the tissues within which they are lodged, including artery walls. This is believed to be a significant contributor to heart disease.

So what do you need to know, before you should start lowering your cholesterol levels?

Firstly, you need to know that cholesterol is carried around the bloodstream by fat/protein complexes called lipoproteins, which are divided into two types, LDL (low-density lipoprotein) and HDL (high density lipoprotein). Because LDL carries cholesterol to the arteries and increases the risk of fatty deposits in the artery walls – LDL is called the ‘bad’ cholesterol, and because HDL carries cholesterol away from the arteries to the liver, HDL is called the ‘good’ cholesterol. Therefore the higher a person’s HDL cholesterol compared with their LDL cholesterol, the lower the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Next, you need to get your cholesterol measured by your GP. Once you know your figures, you can compare it to the chart below:

What next? Conventional wisdom is that if you have a high cholesterol level, you need to lower it as much as possible. However research suggests that getting cholesterol down too much can have adverse effects on the body (e.g. increased risk of stroke, depression, aggression and even suicide). Our goal therefore is to bring it into a healthy range of 4.9 to 5.4 mmol/l.

high cholesterol

How to lower your cholesterol naturally

For most people, less than 5% of the cholesterol in the bloodstream gets there through diet. So whilst limiting cholesterol intake in our diet is important, it is even more important to limit oxidised cholesterol (oxysterols) and reduce inflammation in the body.
Supplements are by far the easiest and most effective way of reducing the body’s level of cholesterol and oxysterols. I recommend an antioxidant formula, containing vitamin E and omega-3 fish oils for all of my patients with high cholesterol levels (as this reduces free radical activity and inflammation within the body). I cannot stress enough how important this is to do! Next you should select one or two of the following supplements to lower your cholesterol level.

Plant Sterols
Sterols are naturally occurring substances found in plants that lower both total and LDL cholesterol levels. Because they are similar in structure to cholesterol they are believed to work by reducing cholesterol absorption from the gut.

Red Wine Extract
Hardly a month goes by without a research paper extolling the virtues of red wine. Researchers have now found a substance called saponin in red wine, a glucose-based plant compound that is found in the waxy skin of grapes. Saponins are believed to work by binding to and preventing the absorption of cholesterol.

Lecithin is a group of health promoting fatty substances, which in addition to improving mental functioning, treating gallstones, and even helping with MS, reduce the absorption of dietary cholesterol from the bowels and help to lower cholesterol levels.