Cholesterol is a waxy substance (a form of protein) found among the fats (lipids) in the bloodstream and in all of your body's cells. It's used to form and repair cell membranes, and needed for other important bodily functions.
High-Density Lipoprotein (HDL) is called "good cholesterol" because it helps keep cholesterol from building up in arteries. The buildup of cholesterol impairs the flow of blood, possibly leading to a heart attack or stroke.
Low-Density Lipoprotein (LDL) is called "bad cholesterol" because some small/dense LDL particles can squeeze through the lining of the arteries and, if they oxidize (become rancid), can cause inflammation.
The amount of cholesterol one eats plays little role in determining cholesterol levels. The majority of cholesterol in the bloodstream is manufactured and distributed by the liver. It combines with other fats and proteins to be carried through the bloodstream. When inflammation occurs, extra cholesterol is created by the liver and introduced into the bloodstream.
It's a normal bodily function to fight inflammation.
According to the American Heart Association, a high level of LDL cholesterol is associated with an increased risk of heart disease, while a high HDL cholesterol level is associated with a lower risk of heart disease.
However, an association merely signifies a presence.
Dr. Ron Rosedale, MD, points out that gray hair is associated with aging but it's not the cause of aging. He contends the real cause of heart disease is damage inflicted on the lining of the arteries, thereby causing chronic inflammation resulting in accumulated plaque.
Dr. Rosedale cites many studies over the last 15 years that have strongly linked insulin resistance and leptin resistance to cardiovascular disease. This resistance appears to be the cause of the cholesterol abnormalities, making high cholesterol a symptom of the inflammation rather than the root cause of the cardiovascular disease.
Some doctors recommend cholesterol-lowering (statin) drugs, which have dangerous potential side effects, for patients with cholesterol imbalances, while other doctors disagree with this approach.
Consumer groups have found that 8 out of 9 "experts" that recommend these drugs were on the payroll of pharmaceutical companies.
In the Spring-2006 issue of ALTERNATIVES magazine, Dr. David Williams asserts, "People with heart disease all have one thing in common, and it isn't high cholesterol. It's inflammation in their arteries."
Dr. Williams believes the consumption of proteins produces an acid-like substance called "homocysteine" in the bloodstream, which is quickly broken down by certain B vitamins. But without enough vitamin B (possibly due to an underactive thyroid gland), the homocysteine builds to dangerous levels, damaging the tissue of the artery walls, thus causing chronic inflammation to the lining of the arteries. The body tries to heal the damage by producing more cholesterol, a necessary element in cellular repair.
Again, cholesterol is a symptom, not a cause.
A number of recent studies, including a 14-year study at Harvard, have concluded that high homocysteine levels play a major role in cardiovascular disease. High homocysteine levels have also been linked to Alzheimer's disease, chronic fatigue disease syndrome and rheumatoid arthritis.
Starting in 1999, the American Heart Association has been urging doctors to screen high-risk patients for elevated homocysteine levels.
I'm in the V.A. medical system, an archaic bureaucracy, and they don't check for homocysteine levels. It seems like their solution to everything is another prescription drug. It's like a trial-and-error guessing game. So I've been forced to do some medical research via the Internet (not necessarily reliable) in self-defense.
Doctors are a lot like regular people -- they don't always agree with one another. Medical technology is changing rapidly and not all doctors are on the same page. Plus, doctors are often constrained by their education. That's probably why they call it "practicing" medicine.
Of course, the best way to avoid dealing with the medical profession is with a proper diet, regular exercise, reduced stress and a positive attitude. And don't wait until you're past the point of no return to get started.
NOTE: I'm not qualified to give medical advice. Don't alter your medical regimen based on my experiences.
Quote for the Day -- "Each patient carries his own doctor inside him." Norman Cousins
Bret Burquest is the author of 10 books. He lives in the Ozark Mountains with a couple of dogs and an imaginary girlfriend named Tequila Mockingbird.