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The Skinny on Fats Part III

Ask anyone. They know. Cholesterol is bad. Or is it?

What exactly is cholesterol anyway? Cholesterol is a high molecular weight alcohol that is manufactured in the liver and most cells. It is not something that simply comes from eating a high fat diet. In fact, diet directly contributes only about 3% to blood levels of cholesterol. It is made by the body because it plays a vital role in the healthy functioning of the body. Consider the following normal physiological functions of cholesterol:

Consider the following normal physiological functions of cholesterol

  1. Along with saturated fats, cholesterol contributes to cell wall integrity increasing stiffness and stability. When the cell wall becomes weak and flabby, which is what happens with a diet high in polyunsaturated fats (see “The Skinny on Fats” Parts I and II), cholesterol is driven into the cell wall to increase its structural integrity.

  2. Cholesterol is a precursor to many hormones. Not only does the manufacturing of the sex hormones need cholesterol, but so do the steroid hormones that help our bodies adapt to stress and protect us against heart disease and cancer.

  3. Cholesterol is also a precursor to Vitamin D, the fat-soluble vitamin widely known for its role in mineral absorption. Vitamin D also plays a vital role in the healthy functioning of the nervous system, reproductive system and immune system. Vitamin D, and therefore cholesterol, is also necessary for insulin production, proper growth and muscle tone.

  4. Cholesterol makes bile salts that are necessary for dietary fat digestion and assimilation.

  5. Recent research has shown that cholesterol acts as an antioxidant which protects the body from free radical damage, the cause of heart disease and cancer. This is why cholesterol naturally increases with age.

  6. Cholesterol is needed for proper serotonin receptor function. Serotonin is a brain chemical which causes us to feel good. Understanding this, it is not surprising that low cholesterol levels have been linked to depression and violent behavior.

  7. Breast milk is rich in both cholesterol and an enzyme which helps the utilization of cholesterol. The proper development of the brain and nervous system are greatly dependant on cholesterol. Therefore, infants and children’s diets should never be cholesterol restricted.

  8. Dietary cholesterol helps maintain a healthy intestinal wall which is why vegetarian diets low in cholesterol can lead to intestinal disorders.

What about the supposed “good” (HDL) and supposed “bad” (LDL) cholesterol?

Again, let’s take a look at the normal physiology. HDL stands for high density lipoproteins. They function as a carrier of cholesterol away from the tissues to the liver for breakdown and reconjugation. (The liver breaks apart the lipoprotein molecules and throws away the unusable parts and re-uses the useful parts. Hmm…Seems that the body has a very good recycling system when normal physiology is supported!) . LDL stands for low density lipoproteins. They function as the carriers of lipids and cholesterol to the tissues for building and repair. So, thinking physiologically still, the higher these LDL’s (bad??) the more tissue building and repair is going on in the body. I don’t know about you, but I certainly would rather live in a house that is being repaired as needed than one that is run down and not able to be repaired due to lack of materials. So, I know this may be bold, but I will say that cholesterol is NOT the cause of heart disease; rather it is a potent antioxidant weapon against heart disease. Where there is arterial wall or other organ damage, the body will send cholesterol to repair that damage. Therefore, blaming cholesterol for cardiovascular disease is like blaming the police for crime.

The LDL police go out and subdue the criminals and the HDL police bring them in. So, why all the bad press and misinformation about cholesterol? I refer you to an excellent book written by John Abramson, MD, “Overdosed America”. This is an easy-to-read, very intriguing book written for every American. It will open your eyes to the state of “drugcare” in this country. And to give credit where credit is due, the works of the nutritionist/biochemist, Mary Enig, Ph.D., has been the source for the information used for my three “The Skinny on Fats” articles.

- Dr. Janice M. Piro, DC, DABCI

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