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What is cholesterol?

What is cholesterol?


It is a misconception that if you are young and fit you won’t have high cholesterol. No one is immune, and that’s the reason why it’s not called the silent killer for nothing. The reason for this is because cholesterol can build up in your body without you even being aware of it and if don’t have your cholesterol levels tested regularly you might not even be conscious that you have a problem – not until it too late and you suffer a stroke or a heart attack.

What is cholesterol?

There are several types of Cholesterol with different functions

  • HDL (high-density lipoprotein and known as the GOOD Cholesterol) is generally considered to be beneficial to the body; it helps remove Cholesterol from the blood vessel walls and the blood itself, bringing it to the liver for processing and excretion
  • LDL (low-density lipoprotein and known as the BAD Cholesterol) is harmful to the body because it carries Cholesterol into the bloodstream, promoting the build-up of Cholesterol plaque on the arterial walls.
  • VLDL (very-low-density lipoprotein) is converted into LDL and therefore is harmful.
  • All these Cholesterols are normally found in the body
  • It is oxidised Cholesterol (Cholesterol abnormally bound with oxygen) that researches are concerned about. When we eat processed foods, fast food, fried foods and the presence of chlorine and fluoride in the water, pesticides, and other environmental pollutants are oxidising Cholesterol in the body.

Why we need Cholesterol?

Sex hormones and stress hormones are made from Cholesterol. Cholesterol is needed to create cell membranes and coat nerves with protective fatty insulation that makes up 60-80% of our brain tissue. Cholesterol is also essential for proper food digestion and fat absorption because it produces bile salts. Without Cholesterol we would not be able to produce Vitamin D from sunlight and would not be able to absorb calcium both needed for healthy bones.

The body, via the liver, produces approximately 1 000mg of Cholesterol per day, if we try to lower our Cholesterol too much with drugs, the liver merely gears up production.

Normally, the liver produces about 85% of the Cholesterol measured on a blood test while the other 15% comes from the diet.

Your body manufactures all the cholesterol it requires, therefore too much added cholesterol from the diet, could prove to be harmful.

Factors that may increase a person’s risk of having high cholesterol;

A poor diet with a high intake of saturated and polyunsaturated fats, hydrogenated oils, fried food, meat, sugar, coffee and alcohol will elevate Cholesterol levels, especially when a person lacks fibre from whole grains and vegetables. Add sedentary lifestyle, smoking, carrying excess weight and Cholesterol increases.

Why is cholesterol harmful?

  • High Cholesterol increases the chances of having a heart attack or stroke
  • High cholesterol usually refers to high levels of LDL cholesterol, normal or low levels of HDL cholesterol, and normal or high levels of triglycerides.
  • When there is too much cholesterol in your blood it may build up on the walls of your arteries, causing atherosclerosis a form of heart disease. The arteries then become narrowed and the blood flow to the heart muscle will become reduced and may block.
  • Because the blood carries oxygen to the heart and if not enough blood and oxygen are able to reach the heart you could suffer chest pains and if the blood supply to a part of the heart is completely cut off by a blockage the result is a heart attack.

What are the signs and symptoms of high cholesterol?        

There are usually no symptoms at all in the early stages of high Cholesterol; therefore a blood test is important.

Medications used for lowering cholesterol:

  • Statins are usually prescribed. They block a specific enzyme in the liver that helps to make Cholesterol, resulting in a drop in Cholesterol but also disrupt liver function.

Statins also inhibit the production of coenzyme Q10 produced in the liver), a fat-soluble antioxidant found in large amounts in the mitochondria which are the principle powerhouses of cells, where all the energy in the body is produced, resulting in diminished energy and muscle weakness and tenderness.

In order to reduce this side effects, it is recommended that you take a supplement of coenzyme coQ10 100mg twice daily if you are on a Statin.

  • Niacin is a vitamin B which is found in food but is also available as a supplement. The main function of Niacin is to lower your LDL cholesterol levels and to raise HDL cholesterol. Furthermore, it also lower elevated triglycerides.
  • Bile Acid sequestrants work inside the intestine where they bind to bile and prevent it from being reabsorbed into the body. Bile consists mostly of cholesterol therefore Bile Acid assists by decreasing the body’s supply of cholesterol and in so doing, reduces the LDL cholesterol levels. Side effects include constipation, wind and diarrhoea.
  • Fibrates, on the other hand, lower triglyceride levels, can intensify HDL levels in addition to lowering your LDL cholesterol. Fibrates are prescribed to improve the breakdown of triglyceride-rich particles and reduce the emission of some lipoproteins and induce the production of HDL.
  • Antioxidants the regular use of Vitamin E, Vitamin A, Vitamin C and green tea have been shown to lower oxidized Cholesterol levels
  • Magnesium There is compelling evidence that Magnesium therapy reduces Cholesterol levels, even when there is a genetic risk factor present for Hypercholesterolemia. Cholesterol production in the body requires a specific enzyme HMG-CoA reductase, and Magnesium slows down this enzymatic reaction when it is insufficient quantities. It is this same enzyme that Statin drugs target to inhibit and so to reduce Cholesterol levels. The mechanisms are nearly the same, and so it appears that Magnesium may play its part in controlling Cholesterol when it reaches a certain level. This, therefore, would suggest that if sufficient Magnesium is present in the body, Cholesterol will be limited to its necessary functions, the production of hormones and the maintenance of membranes, and will not be produced in excess.

Taking medication is only one aspect of reducing your Cholesterol levels.

 In many instances high cholesterol is hereditary but the main culprits usually are a lack of sufficient exercise, an excess of saturated fat in the diet and low Magnesium levels.  A change in lifestyle, reducing alcohol consumption and quitting smoking can reduce your cholesterol levels substantially.

Make sure to have your Cholesterol levels checked so that you together with your medical practitioner can ensure that your levels are kept in check and do not become an issue to your health.


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