LAKE OCONEE — These days, we are inundated with messages about “good” and “bad” cholesterol. We’ve been warned that high cholesterol causes atherosclerosis (clogging or hardening of the arteries). We’re told to reduce dietary fat in order to keep our overall cholesterol levels under 200 and avoid heart disease. Those who can’t lower cholesterol through diet alone are usually put on statin drugs.
But is cholesterol really Public Enemy #1? Is it the true cause of heart disease? The facts may surprise you.
Cholesterol is an essential fat manufactured by the liver. It is a basic building block of every cell – especially for hormones and the nervous system. Our brains are 70% cholesterol and cholesterol can be found in every cell membrane.
Our body views cholesterol as so vital to our health, that when we avoid foods containing cholesterol, our body will compensate by making more cholesterol on its own. So, that begs the question: If cholesterol is so bad for us, why does our body make it and why does every cell in our body require it?
The primary function of cholesterol is for tissue repair. It is used throughout the body to help reduce damage from the oxidative stress resulting from poor diet and lifestyle choices.
Oxidative stress is similar to having a splinter in your finger. Your body “attacks” a splinter, resulting in redness and tenderness (inflammation) in the surrounding area. A similar process happens within the blood vessels when we eat too many processed and packaged foods that contain sugar, dairy, trans fats and chemicals. These substances are not readily recognized by the body and are attacked by the immune system. The blood vessel becomes inflamed, damage to the inside of the artery occurs and plaque develops. LDL has often been referred to as the “bad” cholesterol because it is found in the plaque buildup in the arteries. However, the body actually sends the LDL to the blood vessel as part of the “repair process,” much like an ambulance crew at the site of an accident. Just because an ambulance is found at the scene of an accident doesn’t mean it caused the crash.