Health & Wellness

Who’s Afraid of Cholesterol?

BY: Rodolfo Desuasido • Oct 06, 2019

The conventional belief is that cholesterol is bad for the body. It is a health hazard, and it causes high blood pressure and heart disease.

But there are rising voices, some even from mainstream medical community, that say cholesterol is not bad at all and that it performs functions that are beneficial to the body.

Dr. Stephen Mercola, an osteopathic physician and proponent of alternative medicine says with good confidence that cholesterol is essential to health. It is found in every cell of the body and it is needed by the body to produce hormones (such as estrogens and testosterones) and vitamin D. It is used by the liver to produce bile and digestive enzymes. High levels of high density lipoprotein (HDL)  is supposed to be good for the body because it scavenges fats and other cholesterols from the bloodstream and store them in the liver, which in turn produces bile and digestive enzymes. Thus, HDL reduces the levels of low density lipoprotein (LDL), the so-called “bad” cholesterol. The usual belief is that high amount of LDL is bad because it causes high blood pressure and heart disease. However, a study made headlines in the UK and the US because it indicated that low amount of LDL in the body posed a greater risk of heart disease.

Controversial Study

A group of researchers from the University of South Florida, the Japan Institute of Pharmaco-vigilance, and other international institutions in Japan, Sweden, UK, Iceland, the US, and Italy made a review of 30 studies on the mortality among people 60 years old and above and the link of this mortality to any cause. In other words, these researchers, led by Dr. Uffe Ravnskov of the University of Lund in Sweden, reviewed 30 cohort studies that were trying to find out the leading causes of death among senior citizens.  Of these 30 studies, 28 studies directly looked into the link between death and any cause. Twelve of these 28 studies did not find any link between death and LDL, but 16 of these studies actually showed that lower level of LDL cholesterol was linked with higher risk of mortality, contrary to the conventional belief that high LDL cholesterol level increases the risk of dying of heart disease. Further, only 9 of the 28 studies specifically looked into the link between LDL and death by heart disease. Of these 9 studies, seven studies did not find any link, while two of the studies found an opposite link, that is, those who had high LDL levels lived longer than those who had low LDL levels. When the group published its findings in the British Medical Journal (BMJ), it certainly made headlines. The Daily Mail screamed: “Controversial report claims there’s no link between ‘bad cholesterol’ and heart disease” and the Times blared: “Bad cholesterol helps you live longer.”

The culprit in heart disease

Some medical doctors agree that cholesterol is not the main culprit in heart disease. Dr. Tania Dempsey, a specialist in chronic diseases, observes that more than 50 percent of those who die of heart attack have normal blood cholesterol. She suspects that the culprit is the cholesterol produced by the combination of fats and carbohydrates, not the cholesterol itself generally found in all the foods that we take. Fats and carbohydrates (e.g., beef and potatoes) produce a lot of LDL. There are two kinds of LDL cholesterol: the big and fluffy one, and the small and sticky one. The big and fluffy LDL is not likely to stick to the walls of blood vessels or arteries, but the small and sticky one will and when it does it can build up in the wall of arteries, turn into a plaque, and constrict the passage of blood, resulting in high blood pressure and eventually heart disease.

Another culprit acknowledged by medical doctors is the trans fat; it produces a lot of small and sticky LDL. Trans fat comes from hydrogenated vegetable oil (HVO). HVO is in many food products sold in grocery stores. It is found in your favorite coffee mixes, or in powdered energy drink. Food manufacturers put HVO in their products to prolong their shelf life and to enhance their taste. This guarantees their profit but at the cost of public health.

In brief, if cholesterol is not the main culprit in heart disease, if it is important in keeping the body healthy, if it performs functions that are beneficial to the body, then who is afraid of cholesterol?

But be very wary of HVO. Next time you buy your food from the grocery store, read the labels if, among the ingredients, you read hydrogenated vegetable oil, put the food package back in the shelf and don’t buy it. And next time you are prescribed with cholesterol-reducing drugs like statins, discuss with experts as to its benefits and effects on your body. According to one of Dr. Mercola’s articles in his website, statins can have over 200 side effects and clinical challenges. These include increased risk of diabetes, increased risk of cancer, skin rash, acute kidney and liver disease, nerve damage, reduced muscle and nervous system coordination, memory loss, muscle pain or weakness, dizziness, constipation, headache, and may deplete your body of essential minerals, among others, with not much appreciable benefit.

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