Several diseases seen in our community especially in our senior citizens like strokes, heart attacks, dementia, chronic lung diseases, diabetes, etc are due to chronic inflammation at a molecular and cellular level. This inflammation is very different from the inflammation seen after physical injuries and trauma. We often blame cholesterol for many wrongs. It necessarily is not the case.
What is cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a fatty substance produced by the liver that performs or assists in thousands of bodily functions such as building cell membranes, nerve sheaths, and much of your brain. It’s vital to hormone production and metabolises all the fat soluble vitamins like vitamin A, D, E and K, among other things. Without it you would die.
LDL (bad) cholesterol is hard and dense in small particles that can clog arteries. LDLs pick up cholesterol from the liver and deliver it to cells. HDL (good) cholesterol is large, light and fluffy. HDLs remove excess cholesterol from the blood and take it to the liver.
The body makes its own cholesterol but has the ability to down-regulate if it senses too much cholesterol in the blood. When you reduce your consumption or take drugs to reduce cholesterol, your body up-regulates the production. It tries to make more to compensate for what’s missing.
Dietary cholesterol (cholesterol from food) can only be obtained from animal products.
Despite previous medical and pharmaceutical consensus, however, new studies are showing that dietary cholesterol may actually stop inflammation, prevent blood clots from forming, support the immune system, and prevent disease causing mutations in cells. Recently there has been a lot of rethinking regarding the role of dietary cholesterol in causing vascular diseases like heart attacks, angina and strokes. Dietary cholesterol in any case does not contribute more than 20% to the blood cholesterol levels. Liver is the organ which makes most of it and if dietary intake is very low the liver will have to produce more to supplement it.
Elevated serum levels of cholesterol are a symptom of the underlying problem in your body, not the cause of the problem, which is inflammation. Cholesterol is sent to the artery to heal the inflammation. If it is successful, everything returns to normal. If the inflammation doesn’t subside, more cholesterol is sent and starts to accumulate around the artery as a band aid. This is how plaque starts to form.
The real cause of inflammation of blood vessels is high levels of insulin, a reaction to excess carbohydrate/refined sugar consumption that creates blood sugar spikes. Trans-fats and industrially processed vegetable seed oils also cause inflammation. We only really see any negative effects of LDL when it becomes oxidized by free radicals.
A diet high in antioxidants (vegetables and fruits) and low in carbohydrates will reduce factors of oxidation in the body. One egg with yolk is fine and white of 2 or 3 eggs is a good source of protein. Eggs and red meat are not unfriendly foods provided taken in small quantities . The processed foods and by virtue of high content of salt and trans- fatty acids are injurious to arterial walls by producing inflammation leading to acute events like unstable angina, heart attack and acute vascular syndromes.
In this regard some of the foods and snacks like samosa, Mathies, and bakery products in large servings with various flavours, cakes, colas and soft drinking beverages with their high sugar content are the real culprits. For this reason the new American guidelines recommend having less than 10% of total calories consumed by sugars. Cereals and breads made out of full grain without any polishing are good foods and are highly recommended carbohydrates. Coloured vegetables and fresh seasonal fruits (Green, yellow and red) and nuts (Walnuts, almonds etc) can be taken liberally. These not only supplement calories and reduce hunger but by virtue of high content of vitamins, minerals and anti-oxidants reduce inflammation which is the main culprit.
Remember eating is good as long as you eat the right food and do regular exercise. Cholesterol can be your friend and not your enemy.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.
The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK