CHOLESTEROL: A NECESSARY FAT
Dr. Mitchell Peritz
Comestibles deemed low sodium, low fat, fat-free, sugar free, “with fiber”, low in saturated fats, high in polyunsaturates, “from” whole grains and lo-cal are all prime time players in today’s mass media advertising drama. However, for more than thirty years, no substance has received the enormous publicity accorded cholesterol. Cholesterol has been unfairly cast into the villainous role of public health enemy number one by the medical establishment, pharmaceutical industries and food companies. We are so concerned and uneducated about cholesterol, we attempt to eliminate all fats from our diet, totally unaware that the absence of proper fat intake may lead to serious illnesses. We have been misled to believe a substance innate to our physiology is harmful and potentially dangerous. If cholesterol is so unhealthy, why does out body produce approximately 1,000 milligrams to carry out its basic, daily functions? A clear understanding of cholesterol will allow us to make well-informed healthier choices.
What is Cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a lipid (fat) substance. It is produced at carious sites throughout the body, dependent upon the body’s requirements. It is produced at the cell level to provide the cell membrane with its proper fluidity. This allows for the proper transmission of nutrients and information in and out of the cell. In the liver, it is converted to bile, which promotes the proper digestion and absorption of fats. With the adrenal glands, it is converted to cortisol, aldosterone, and DHEA. Cortisol is most widely known for its anti-inflammatory properties and combative responses to stress. Aldosterone regulates water balance through the kidneys via sodium retention. DHEA is a precursor to the sex hormones, testosterone and estrogen. Progesterone is also derived from cholesterol but by a slightly different pathway. The sex glands likewise utilize cholesterol to produce these hormones. Cholesterol is involved with Vitamin D production, maintaining skin integrity, immune system support and constitutes approximately 25% of the nervous system’s myelin sheaths (these are nerve cell membrane coverings, responsible for the proper conduction of nerve impulses).
Why Is Cholesterol Bad?
Inherently, cholesterol is neither good nor bad. It is a necessity, which must be maintained within the body’s chemistry. When cholesterol becomes too high or too low, it is indicative of some underlying problem, the same way a symptom points to an unhealthy situation developing. For example, a headache may be caused by numerous factors: eye strain, jaw and neck tension, hormonal imbalances, poor diet, spinal misalignments (subluxations), food allergies, improper digestion, etc. In these situations, the headache is not the cause but the effect. The same is true of cholesterol. Elevated or decreased cholesterol is not the problem and artificially altering it will not solve the underlying root cause. For proper diagnosis and correction, cholesterol must be interpreted in relation to other factors found in the individual blood analysis, personal and family history, diet, exercise habits and lifestyle.
What Affects Cholesterol?
In a small percentage of the general population, high cholesterol is genetically related. For the vast majority, cholesterol imbalances are reflective of an underlying metabolic dysfunction. Cholesterol is produced in the liver and relies on a feedback mechanism. Any problems in this loop or organ distress will yield abnormal findings. Thyroid hormone has an inverse relationship with cholesterol. As thyroid hormone decreases, cholesterol, increases. The reverse is also true. Diabetes will increase cholesterol; likewise with dysinsulinemia. Obesity, pituitary and adrenal imbalances also influence cholesterol levels.
Are There Other Factors?
Yes. But first we need to remove one myth: eating cholesterol increases cholesterol. This is not true (except for those with genetic imbalances). Participants of one research project ate fourteen whole eggs per week, for three months, without any changes. Studies of tribal cultures consuming meat and milk as the main staple of their diet i.e. the Masai people, reveal minimal cardiovascular disease. Europeans, notorious for their cream and dairy intake, have fewer incidences of heart disease, stroke and obesity than Americans do. This indicates other factors play a primary role. We need to look away from cholesterol consumption and focus our view on lifestyle and dietary habits. Studies reveal stress, induced over an extended period of time, may elevate cholesterol levels. Stress is a response to exaggerated emotional, physical and/or nutritional stimulation. These factors will cause the production of stress hormones to counterbalance the aforementioned influences and help maintain the body’s biochemical balance. Since hormones are made from cholesterol, as stress increases, stress hormone production increases, so logically, cholesterol increases. If an individual has a normal cholesterol reading, it does not mean they are stress free. There are more reliable laboratory indicators regarding stress physiology. However, if cholesterol levels are outside the normal range, it is imperative to look for underlying stress influences. Regarding food intake, there is no single dietary factor responsible for cholesterol imbalances. Our appetite for sugar, refined carbohydrates, large amounts of saturated fats, alcohol and caffeine carry the burden. The use of partially hydrogenated oils and our love for fried foods are equally unhealthy and damaging. Man-made products, such as margarine and olestra, lead to more serious health problems than cholesterol.
Is The Anything Else I Should Know?
The general public has received misinformation regarding cholesterol. The amount of cholesterol consumed daily today is identical to the intake at the turn of the century. Although there is a relative correlation between high cholesterol and cardiovascular disease, cholesterol intake is not the predominant factor. There is a feedback mechanism monitoring cholesterol levels. When intake starts to increase blood levels, the body decreases its production. When intake slows down, cholesterol synthesis is upregulated. Research indicates, for cardiovascular disease to develop, damage to the arterial wall lining must occur. There are several different viewpoints explaining the onset of arterial deterioration. In all likelihood, each of these possibilities contributes to the cumulative process. This includes mechanical injury, free radical damage, decrease in micronutrient and antioxidant intake, consumption of refined foods and oxidation of cholesterol, (oxidation is the equivalent of the rusting of iron) specifically the LDL component. These physiological changes are directly influenced by the stress factors we impose on ourselves.
Can Cholesterol Be Too Low?
Very little is ever mentioned about low cholesterol. From our previous discussion, it is obvious there are numerous systems dependent upon cholesterol. If cholesterol drops too low, these functions will be adversely affected and may lead to negative consequences. Investigations have borne statistical evidence showing a strong correlation between low cholesterol levels and a rise in suicides and increased incidences of cancer. A continuing decrease of cholesterol over time indicates an individual has a much greater risk of developing neoplasms. Finally, cholesterol-fighting drugs do not necessarily decrease death rates because they do not address the underlying cause.
What Can I Do?
Vitamins & Minerals
Instituting changes may be difficult. Move at a pace that is not overwhelming. This is not permission to be lazy or negligent. Often changes are made too late. Please do not confuse the absence of symptoms with optimal health. By the time symptoms display, the body’s various functions may be seriously compromised. When considering making any changes, please consult with your physician. A detailed individualized program is easier to monitor, safer and usually more beneficial.
Dr. Mitchhell Peritz, Chiropractor, is certified in Clinical
Nutrition (C.C.N.) and Chiropractic Sports Medicine (C.C.S.P.). He practices in