One in every three Americans has unhealthy levels of cholesterol in their blood. We hear regularly how we must lower our cholesterol levels, often through statin drugs such as Lipitor, as well as diet and exercise.
But what is cholesterol and what do the numbers mean? What causes high cholesterol, according to the latest research, and how do we lower it?
Cholesterol is a group of lipoproteins, or fat with protein bonded together. Although we think of this substance as some kind of poison, our liver actually produces it, and it composes every single one of our cell membranes!
In addition, cholesterol is used to bind to Vitamin D and allow it to function, as well as to compose important steroid hormones like testosterone and estrogen.
So cholesterol is actually an important contributor to health and life. The problem is not so much that we have cholesterol, but that it is floating around our bloodstream in large amounts!
There are a few kinds of cholesterol. HDL, LDL, and VLDL. These stand for high density, low density, and very low density lipoprotein.
HDL is considered the ‘good’ cholesterol, as it shuttles LDL out of the bloodstream and back to the liver for processing/breakdown/removal. It is sort of the ‘cholesterol police.’
LDL and VLDL are the numbers to really watch, as they are the ‘criminal’ element. There are at least two theories as to why. One theory that has been the more traditional view is that the LDL more easily sticks to’ the walls of our arteries. When this happens, the diameter of the blood vessel decreases, blood pressure increases, and the load on the heart also increases (ever closed off part of the end of a hose?). This can lead to heart problems.
There are other views on this however, which point to general inflammation as the cause of heart disease, and high levels of LDL cholesterol as an indication of this inflammation. Some research has even connected markers of inflammation in the blood with future development of high cholesterol.
So which causes heart disease? Inflammation or cholesterol? Both? The debate continues.
There are some natural ways in which we can address both effects, so there’s no need to worry about it, necessarily, unless you are a researcher.
But enough theory and background. What should be our levels of cholesterol?
The following is a complete breakdown of the cholesterol recommendations. There are no symptoms that one can feel for high cholesterol, these levels are discovered only through a blood test with your MD.
Total cholesterol < 240 mg/dl
*LDL cholesterol < 130 mg/dl
HDL cholesterol > 60 mg /dl
*VLDL levels are often not reported, but can be calculated by subtracting HDL cholesterol from total cholesterol and LDL levels, if possible. What remains is VLDL.
So, if we can make a general summary of the recommendations combined with a mnemonic device – make the ‘high’ higher and the ‘low’ lower!
Stay tuned for part two of this article, as we will look into some natural ways to both increase HDL levels and lower LDL levels both directly and through a decrease in inflammation!
See you then, and if you have not had your levels checked, please do so!
David Younkins, M.S., CES.