Is Cholesterol Actually Bad?
Disclaimer: Not medical or professional advice.
We are often told thatю
- We should exclude fat from our diets.
- All people should take cholesterol-lowering drugs despite the serious side effects.
But is that true? Should we lower cholesterol levels? Let's figure it out together.
In 2001, The Lancet, a leading British medical journal, published a study and confirmed earlier findings of higher mortality among older adults with lower cholesterol levels.
In June 2016, statistical analysis at the British Medical Journal, which involved more than 68,000 participants over 60 years of age, showed that the higher the level of "bad" cholesterol in the blood, the longer life expectancy.
Scientists at the University of California, San Francisco, conducted a continued observation of 350,000 Americans aged 20 or more and detected the following phenomenon. The cholesterol levels below 4.6 mmol/L increases.
- The risk of stroke by 200%.
- Liver cancer risk by 300%.
- The risk of pulmonary emphysema and asthma by 200%.
- The risk of clinical depression and suicide by 200%.
- The risk of alcoholism and drug addiction by 500%.
The human body contains up to 350 grams of cholesterol. And 80-90% of cholesterol production occurs in the liver.
- The structural element of cell membranes.
- The key component in the synthesis of male and female sex hormones. The state of health and reproductive function depend directly on cholesterol level.
- Material for the synthesis of adrenal hormones, which provide ALL reactions of human adaptation to changes in the external environment (including stressful situations), and also protect the body from cancer and heart disease.
- The precursor of fat-soluble vitamin D, which is essential for bone growth and maintenance, neural activity, the production of insulin, the regulation of muscle tone, mineral metabolism, immunity, reproductive organs, as well as for the growth and development of children.
- The basis for the formation of bile, which provides balanced digestion and absorption of essential fats from food.
- Intracellular protection against the destructive action of free radicals, which are formed during metabolism and under the influence of external factors.
- Self-defense of blood vessels from destruction: cholesterol plaque occurs at the site of arterial injury and strengthens it.
- The crucial requirement for the normal functioning of serotonin receptors in the brain. Serotonin deficiency and low cholesterol levels are associated with depression, aggressive behavior, etc.
- Breast milk is rich in cholesterol and contains a special enzyme that allows the baby to absorb cholesterol. Infants need fat-rich foods for the full development of the brain and nervous system.
- Cholesterol in the diet plays a particularly important role in maintaining the normal function of the intestinal mucosa. A cholesterol-free diet often leads to gastrointestinal disorders.
If cholesterol is so crucial, why are we scared of increasing its level in the blood? Why are there 2 types of cholesterol: “good” and “bad”?
Cholesterol is divided into “good” and “bad” types. Simultaneously, both types are present in the body, which means that they are essential. What is the difference between “good” and “bad” cholesterol?
Cholesterol and triglycerides (fats, lipids) can't float around in your blood on their own. They always travel by “cars": they are carried by special proteins. Ironically, it is important to know the difference between “cars” and the purpose of a “trip”.
Long story short .
Fats (triglycerides) and cholesterol from food are combined with special proteins in the intestine. It leads to the formation of tiny chylomicrons. This is the first vehicle. Chylomicrons will carry their passengers to muscles and adipose tissue through the lymphatic and then blood vessels. At this stage, chylomicrons drop off fats (fuel). And the cholesterol in the residual chylomicron will go further to the liver. Here "the carrier turns into a pumpkin": the chylomicron will be broken down. And the liver will give cholesterol molecules different “cars”, allowing them to perform different tasks.
Now it’s time to learn more about the brands of our “cars”. These are lipoproteins: lipid (fat) - protein complexes, where protein is the transport, and cholesterol is the passenger.
Let’s meet them.
- VLDL — Very Low-Density Lipoproteins
- IDL — Intermediate Density Lipoproteins
- LDL — Low-Density Lipoproteins (they are known as "bad" cholesterol)
- HDL — High-Density Lipoproteins (this type is commonly referred to as"good" cholesterol).
The liver lets free cholesterol travel from VLDL to IDL and finally to LDL. These "bad" lipoproteins contain 3/4 of all blood cholesterol.
While “bad” LDL is sent to all the parts of the body, its task is to transport cholesterol through the blood vessels to each section. For example, to the adrenal glands and sex glands for the synthesis of hormones, to the brain for the production of myelin. It travels where it is necessary to renew the body and build new cells, including cells of blood, liver, myocardium, skin, etc.
LDL is known as a “bad” type because in the case of damage to a blood vessel, the cholesterol is delivered there as a part of LDL. The body uses it for repair by forming a cholesterol plaque (filling). Think, is the filling really to blame for the formation of a carious cavity in the tooth?
Cholesterol and atherosclerosis: what’s to blame?
So, cholesterol, which is considered to be “bad”, moves through the body as part of low-density lipoproteins (LDL). LDL molecules are large and less dense, so they can carry many cholesterol molecules. They provide the body's need for building new cells, for synthesizing hormones, for maintaining a good condition of the brain, spinal cord and peripheral nerves. If necessary, LDL fixes the damage in the blood vessel walls.
What is “good” cholesterol doing? This is excess cholesterol that is transported to the liver and eliminated into the bile. It is carried by high-density lipoprotein (HDL) molecules, which are small and dense. In fact, they contain low amounts of cholesterol. It turns out that the whole effect of being "good" cholesterol lies in its elimination from the body.
Which type does bring more benefits: "good" or "bad" cholesterol? In fact, there are no good or bad variations. But what about atherosclerosis and plaques, you might ask?
As long as the vessel wall is undamaged, no cholesterol plaque is formed. And only if the vascular endothelium is affected for some reason, the immune cells will start restorative work and use LDL. This implies that atherosclerosis development depends more on the condition of artery walls rather than the level of cholesterol in the blood. However, this does not mean that there is no need to fight high cholesterol with various drugs, including statins.
Statins are not prescribed to people without atherosclerotic plaques, certain cardiovascular diseases, very high cholesterol levels or serious risk factors.
Diagnostic testing at Lake Conway can help to determine the presence of these forms of diseases. The doctor will prescribe complete cholesterol tests, which measure the level and fraction of cholesterol in dynamics and check the vessels' condition. Only based on these data, the doctor will provide treatment.
Who Is At Risk?
Signs of high cholesterol are often observed in the following groups of people.
- People who eat fatty food and have an unbalanced diet. For example, they consume a lot of fatty meat, lard, eggs, fried foods.
- Smokers and drinkers. These habits disrupt the integrity of the vessel walls and liver.
- Obese and overweight people.
- People with metabolic disorders.
- People with arterial hypertension.
- Men. This process in women is slowed down by sex hormones.
- Older adults.
- People with a genetic predisposition.
- Hypertensive patients.
- People with diabetes.
- Pregnant women.
- People with kidney disease.
- People on special drug therapy.
- People with a sedentary lifestyle.
- Junk food lovers.
How can you tell if you have high cholesterol?
Initially, high cholesterol may not even bother you. But gradually, when it builds up in the walls of arteries and clogs the artery lining, you will experience various symptoms.
- Fatigue and weakness
These symptoms usually occur due to poor blood circulation. Inadequate oxygen supply to the tissues leads to low mood and anxiety.
- Limb swelling and numbness
Blocked arteries caused by cholesterol plaque result in edema. At first, it affects the arms and legs. Then, the damaged tissue squeezes the nerve endings and causes burning or tingling sensations in the limbs.
- Chest pain
This symptom happens with insufficient blood supply to the heart. Consequently, some parts of the heart become starved for oxygen and signal the body about this with pain sensations.
- Bad breath
High cholesterol levels disrupt the function of the liver and digestive system, resulting in bad breath.
- Cutaneous manifestations
When cholesterol content in the blood starts to increase, it accumulates in various organs, tissues, and under the skin. Thick, yellow, painless growths often appear in the area of the eyes and ears.
Digestive disorders are associated with a narrowing of the lumen of the intestinal vessels and deterioration of blood circulation. This reason provokes impairment in colonic motility.
- Dizziness, headaches, and blurred vision
The narrowing of the lumen of the brain vasculature affects its blood supply and nutrition and also reduces the access of oxygen to the cells. This causes headaches and dizziness.
Whenever you notice one or more of these symptoms, you should seek medical help. But how to avoid these symptoms? Just get your lipid profile at Lake Conway once a year or more often (if you have heart disease, excess weight, or diabetes).
6 myths about cholesterol. Answers to the most important questions
In recent years, cholesterol has become public health enemy number one for blood vessels, heart, and liver. But think about it, if it is so dangerous, then why is 80% of all cholesterol synthesized in the body? Here we have the most common myths about cholesterol.
- Myth 1. High cholesterol is not hereditary.
Reality: IT IS GENETIC.
Familial hypercholesterolemia is a genetic disorder that affects the liver's ability to effectively regulate the level of "bad" cholesterol, which is low-density lipoprotein (LDL). This leads to a higher total cholesterol level.
- Myth 2. Cholesterol enters the body only from food.
About 80% of cholesterol production occurs in the body. Therefore, refusing to eat food containing cholesterol will give you nothing but problems. Every day, the body synthesizes approximately 1000 mg of cholesterol, which is necessary for digestion, cell development, and the production of vitamins and hormones. Cholesterol imbalance is primarily due to internal problems rather than a deficiency associated with food. One of the determining factors is — liver and kidney diseases.
An increase in cholesterol levels happens with excessive consumption of foods high in saturated fats (butter, fatty meat, eggs, cheese) and trans fats (fried foods, all fast food) in addition to abnormal liver function.
- Myth 3. There’s no cure for Hypercholesterolemia .
Reality: IT IS TREATABLE.
The method of treatment depends on the level of cholesterol in the blood and comorbid diseases: some people should take special drugs like statins, while others need a proper diet, rejection of bad habits and regular physical activity.
- Myth 4. Exercise may lower “bad” cholesterol.
If the risk of developing cardiovascular diseases and familial hypercholesterolemia is minimal, then fitness activities can help reduce the amount of "bad" cholesterol. For example, it has been proved that after three weeks of training, women with type 2 diabetes had low-density lipoprotein (LDL) levels decreased by 21% and triglycerides by 18%.
However, you should not experiment with physical activity without a doctor's prescription.
- Myth 5. Foods can lower blood cholesterol levels.
With an increased risk of developing hypercholesterolemia, it would be reasonable to limit foods containing trans fats to a minimum. Dr. Dang will provide you with a diet plan so that you could enjoy every meal without restrictions.
- Myth 6. You can postpone cholesterol tests until you are 40.
It is necessary to control cholesterol, HDL, LDL, triglycerides from the age of 25. A sedentary lifestyle, unhealthy snacks, alcohol addiction, and smoking that damage the liver can lead to high cholesterol levels.
To undergo a medical check-up and test the lipid panel at Lake Conway, you can run complex test profiles: test names.