Wed | Sep 28, 2016

CHOLESTEROL the good and bad

Published:Tuesday | February 16, 2010 | 12:00 AM

It seems everyone is urged to monitor their blood cholesterol level. But what really is cholesterol?

According to the American Heart Association, cholesterol is a soft, waxy substance found among the lipids (fats) in the bloodstream and in every cell in your body. It is a very important substance because it is used to form cell membranes and is needed for other functions like the manufacturing of our hormones. It is not an enemy and we cannot exist without it.

Sadly, cholesterol has been made into a villain and immense fortunes are being made from selling expensive and dangerous cholesterol-lowering drugs. Here are some important facts about cholesterol:

WHAT ARE THE TYPES OF CHOLESTEROL?

Most people are confused about the terms doctors use to describe cholesterol.

LDL cholesterol is called 'bad cholesterol' because elevated levels are associated with an increased risk of coronary heart disease. HDL cholesterol is called the 'good cholesterol' because it helps to prevent heart disease. Remember this by thinking of 'L' as meaning 'lousy' and 'H' as meaning healthy. Total cholesterol refers to the sum of all the cholesterol in the blood.

Too much emphasis is often placed on the total cholesterol level. A better predictor of cardiovascular risk is actually the ratio of good cholesterol (HDL) to total cholesterol. The higher this ratio is, the better.

Furthermore, research suggests that a high cholesterol level in the blood is not a major risk factor for heart disease. Elevated levels of two other substances in the blood, homocysteine and C-reactive protein are much better indicators of heart-disease risk. These other blood tests are readily available. Also, low levels of cholesterol are strong indicators of poor health.

WHERE DOES CHOLESTEROL COME FROM?

The cholesterol in the blood comes from two major sources: over 70 per cent is made by the liver, and the rest comes from the food you eat. The liver can even extract cholesterol from the blood. So simply cutting back on high-cholesterol foods by itself is not an effective way to reduce cholesterol.

Cholesterol is so important that the body can easily make it from sugar and other high carbohydrate foods. You do not have to eat fatty foods to have high cholesterol. Someone on a totally cholesterol-free diet can still have a high cholesterol. Many of the 'low-cholesterol foods' being advertised are so full of sugar and carbohydrates that you are swapping 'black dog for monkey' when you use them.

WHAT ABOUT DRUGS FOR CHOLESTEROL?

The popular cholesterol-lowering drugs (the statins) act by suppressing the liver. I call them liver toxins. People on most of these medications need to do regular liver tests to detect signs of liver damage. Drinking alcohol also lowers cholesterol by damaging the liver but I hope that no one would consider using it for that purpose.

Statin use is also associated with a long and scary list of potentially severe side effects. The statin drugs may damage the heart, muscles, the brain and the nervous system. This damage may be irreversible. Drugs to lower cholesterol should be considered as a last resort and not prescribed frequently. If you happen to be on these drugs, I advise taking a supplement called coenzymeQ10 to reduce the risk of side effects.

If you want to use a 'drug', I would recommend more 'natural' substances like polycosanol, made from the sugarcane plant (prescribed as Arteriomixol) or a yeast extract from red rice. They are effective without the side effects.

CONTROL CHOLESTEROL NATURALLY

Lifestyle plays a major role in balancing cholesterol levels and lifestyle modification should be the first and most important part of any programme for lowering cholesterol. This includes:

FOOD:
Let your food be your medicine but do not just focus on low-cholesterol foods as is usually recommended. A diet high in fibre and healthy protein, low in saturated and hydrogenated fats and low in simple carbohydrates (especially sugar and flour and rice) is ideal. Specific cholesterol-lowering foods include soy, green tea, oats, garlic and ginger. I strongly recommend a soy protein isolate shake, a few cups of green tea plus eight glasses of water daily.

WEIGHT CONTROL:
Correct even mild obesity, with particular focus on losing fat from around the waist. This is vital to the control of cholesterol as well as blood sugar, blood pressure and triglycerides.

EXERCISE:
As little as 30 minutes of brisk walking, four times per week assists in lowering cholesterol as well as benefiting overall health in many other ways. It even helps to increase the healthy HDL cholesterol.

STRESS MANAGEMENT:
Stress by itself can elevate cholesterol levels as the body manufactures more cholesterol when stressed. Stress-management techniques like meditation, yoga, relaxation exercises, tai chi and Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) are all very useful.

NUTRITIONAL SUPPLEMENTS:
Several nutritional supplements and herbs assist with cholesterol problems. They are safe and have many other health benefits.

The antioxidants - the ACES - vitamins A, C, E and selenium. Cholesterol, especially LDL, is really dangerous and unhealthy when it is oxidised (damaged) by free radicals. Antioxidants especially vitamin E and C in high doses protect cholesterol from being oxidised. Herbal antioxidants like schizandra, rosemary and Pycnogenol are also very useful.

Fish oils high in omega 3 fatty acids lower cholesterol while promoting a healthy heart and circulation. Three or more grams daily is most effective.

Niacin (vitamin B
3
): In high dosages, niacin effectively lowers cholesterol. I suggest using a form of niacin called niacinate to prevent flushing of the skin. A B complex supplement should accompany the niacin.

Soluble fibre: This assists the body to eliminate excess cholesterol and is available as a tablet or powder.

You may email Dr Tony Vendryes at vendryes@mac.com or listen to An Ounce of Prevention on Power 106FM on Fridays at 8 p.m. The programme streams live on the Internet.