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Is Cholesterol All Bad News

There is a lot of confusion about the significance of blood cholesterol levels. Acceptable levels seem to be lowered year by year, and many otherwise healthy people are being encouraged to take potentially dangerous drugs without any clear explanation'just in case'. However, a little understanding can clarify matters and remove the isn't all bad news!

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Is Cholesterol All Bad News?

  • What is cholesterol?

  • Is all cholesterol a problem?

  • Are there any other types of blood fats or measurable risk factors?

  • What is ‘oxidative stress’ and ‘free radical damage’?

  • How can diet help?

  • How can I find out if I am at risk?

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What is Cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a normally occurring fatty substance produced by the body. It is used to manufacture many essential bio-chemicals including nearly all hormones. Most circulating cholesterol is not derived directly from the diet, but is formed in the liver from dietary saturated fats, such as those found in meat and dairy produce.

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Why is high cholesterol a problem?

A high level of cholesterol is a risk factor in heart disease and circulatory problems. It can also predispose to ‘hardening of the arteries’ and strokes.

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Is all cholesterol dangerous?

There are two main types of cholesterol — ’bad’, low density lipoprotein (LDL), and ‘good’, high density lipoprotein (HDL) which helps to remove cholesterol from the body. The ratio of LDL to HDL is even more significant than the actual levels — the more HDL the better!

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Are there any other types of blood fats or measurable risk factors?

Lipoprotein (a) is similar to cholesterol, but very sticky. High levels of this blood fat produce a risk factor 10 times greater than raised LDL cholesterol.

Triglycerides are another type of blood fat which are generally raised by a diet high in sugar and
refined ‘white’ starches (white bread, pasta, cakes etc.)

Homocysteine is a toxic breakdown product from a type of chemical reaction called ‘methylation’. It is thought to be a major factor in the initial damage to the blood vessel lining which eventually leads to arteriosclerosis, heart disease and strokes.

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What is ‘oxidative stress’ and ‘free radical damage’?

Any fatty substance can be damaged by oxidation — a process more commonly known as rancidity. This occurs when insufficient antioxidants are present to protect the fat from attack by unstable oxygen atoms, otherwise known as free radicals. Once this has occurred the oxidised (rancid) cholesterol is much more toxic to the body. Oxidation can also occur when there is supplementation with large quantities of essential fatty acids (e.g. fish oils, evening primrose oil, flaxseed oil). These should always be accompanied by supplementation with antioxidants such as Vitamin E and Alpha-lipoic acid.

In a healthy diet antioxidants are present mainly in coloured vegetables and fruit.

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What are the causes of high cholesterol levels?

The causes are multiple, and not entirely agreed upon by all authorities.

  1. Familial defects in cholesterol metabolism
  2. This situation usually requires both dietary intervention and drug therapy. It should always be treated under medical super-vision.

  3. Stress is a very common cause of elevated cholesterol levels, particularly amongst the competitive ‘driven’ personality types. Tackle the causes of stress where possible and practice stress-management measures to reduce the physical effects on the body.
    e.g. Regular exercise — jogging, sport, dancing, Yoga, Pilates, meditation, hypnotherapy, biofeedback

  4. Smoking uses up valuable antioxidants, and thereby increases the risk of cholesterol oxidation.

  5. Obesity is often associated with high cholesterol levels which normally reduce as weight is normalised.

  6. Lack of exercise predisposes to weight increase and unhelpful food choices.

  7. Diet is a vital part of any anti-cholesterol regime, and should always be the initial approach in non-familial cases. Very often diet is the only treatment required, and avoids the frequent side effects
    associated with drug medication.

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How can diet help?

Diet can reduce the amount of cholesterol produced in the liver and increase the amount eliminated in the bile. Improving digestive function allows more efficient removal of the bile cholesterol and prevents reabsorption.

A diet high in micronutrients can reduce the oxidation of cholesterol and render it less harmful.

Dietary supplements are a vital part of drug-free cholesterol control, and can help to reduce side effects if medication is required.

How can I find out if I am at risk?

Your GP can arrange basic blood cholesterol testing. Extensive testing for all known risk factors can be arranged privately, and is covered by many private health insurance schemes. Based upon the test results, personalised advice and monitoring can be offered, which covers diet, supplements and lifestyle. Find a fully qualified Nutritional Therapist for this.

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