Cholesterol – is it really good or bad?

Cholesterol pic

Have you been told your cholesterol is too high? And has it been recommended that you take one of the cholesterol lowering drugs? Before you get scared into submission, here is a little more information about the whole picture.

Since the 1950’s, it has been assumed that cholesterol is the main culprit behind atherosclerosis, the thickening plaque lining the arteries that might presage a heart attack. It was therefore recommended that blood levels of cholesterol be lowered, and the recommended numbers themselves kept going down.

Later on it was found that cholesterol could be split into different sized particles carrying different densities of lipids (fats) and protein.  They contain three kind of lipids: cholesterol, phospholipids, and triglycerides, plus proteins. High density lipoprotein (HDL) is smaller in size, and contains about half protein, which makes it more dense. Low density lipoprotein (LDL), somewhat larger, is lower in protein and higher in cholesterol. They became known, respectively, as the “good” and the “bad” cholesterol, because elevated levels of the latter, and low levels of the former, were found to be associated with more atherosclerosis. Later on additional lipoproteins were found. Very Low Density Lipoprotein (VLDL) is larger than the LDL, containing more than half triglycerides with very little protein. The chylomicrons are very large compared to the HDL, and are composed of more than 80% triglycerides, with a little cholesterol and phospholipid and maybe 1% protein.

So this is all well and good. We’re supposed to have this or that amount of these in the bloodstream, with this or that proportion, so as to prevent the dreaded heart disease. But what are these particles really about? Where do they come from? What is their function, other than what we’re constantly being told, that they gum up the works?

Cholesterol has many important roles in the body. One of its functions is to lubricate the blood vessels to prevent damage to their walls by the vigorously rushing bloodstream. It is a major component of cell membranes, including all the membranes around all the organelles inside the cells, such as the mitochondria. It keeps these membranes with the right amount of both rigidity and flexibility. About 90% of the body’s total cholesterol resides in the cells. In addition, it helps build hormones (including estrogen, testosterone, and the stress hormone cortisol), bile acids, and Vitamin D. It affects the bones, because cholesterol in the skin is the precursor for Vitamin D, and without that nutrient the bones cannot obtain the calcium they need. Stress has been shown to temporarily increase cholesterol, as it makes up the stress hormones. Cardiologist Stephen Sinatra, in his book Heartbreak and Heart Disease, recounts how his cholesterol rose from 180 mg/dl to 240 mg/dl in about 6 hours, after a very stressful cardiac surgery he performed – even though he had not eaten in about 6 hours.

It becomes obvious that cholesterol is an essential substance for proper functioning. The more cholesterol is consumed, the less is made by the liver. Conversely, the less consumed, the more is made. Not only that, the more consumed, the less is absorbed.

Here it is in a nutshell according to recent information from doctors and certified personal trainers in St. Louis, MO:

If “high cholesterol” of any variety is present with other symptoms of ill health, then lifestyle changes are in order to reduce the risk of disease. Specifically, one would do well to:
1) increase noticeably the intake of fresh vegetables, salads, fruits, high-fiber whole grains and beans
2) lower or eliminate all kinds of added sugars and refined grain products
3) keep one’s weight within a healthy range
4) have a reasonable amount of regular physical activity every day
5) and attend to one’s emotional health and wellbeing.

6).  Most important, as far as Brentwood, MO personal trainers are concerned, is to reduce your stress level.  And one of the ways you can do this is to exercise with a certified personal trainer.

All these will contribute to better health and to the reduction of heart disease risk.

For more information on cholesterol and how to lower it, contact Maurie Cofman, C.E.S. personal trainer in St. Louis, Brentwood, and Clayton, MO.