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Cholesterol & Cholesterol Management

What is cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a fatty substance manufactured by the liver and is found only in animal fat. It is an essential substance and is needed for good health. It is a normal component of most body tissues, especially those of the brain, nervous system, liver and blood. More than nine-tenths of cholesterol ends up in the cells, where it performs vital structural and metabolic functions. The unused parts may be harmful in some people, and for this reason high cholesterol foods containing animal fats should be avoided. In the body, Cholesterol is manufactured from dietary fats, saturated fats and refined carbohydrates. In addition to this, all cells in the body synthesise cholesterol; however, the liver and intestines are the major producers.

The internal cholesterol production averages about 1 to 2 grams daily and takes place even if there is no cholesterol consumed. Consuming dietary cholesterol (not from animal fat) and fasting, reduce the amount of cholesterol made by the body, while high fat diets increase the amount made.

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Good and bad Cholesterol (HDL or LDL)

There is good cholesterol (HDL) and there is bad cholesterol (LDL), and many foods contain either one or the other. Foods that contain animal fats that clog the arteries can cause many health problems. Foods that grow on the ground and that live in the water contain HDL cholesterol and pick up the LDLs as they travel through the body and transport them back to the liver, where they are dismantled. This action removes plaque from the walls of the arteries. What kind of fat we eat determines how much of the bad kind there is in the body and how vulnerable one can be to the diseases that are associated with high LDL cholesterol.

Do we need cholesterol in the body?

Cholesterol is needed to form sex and adrenal hormones, vitamin D and bile salts. It also has a vital function in the brain and nerves. It is also known that too low a fat content in the diet, below 10%, will drive away not only the LDL but the HDL as well. This situation will leave us just as vulnerable to heart disease as will too high an LDL level. Other consequences of a cholesterol level lower than 160 are brain haemorrhages from weakened vessels or bleeding stroke, obstructive lung disease, suicide (low cholesterol levels are associated with depression in older men), alcoholism, colon and liver cancer and a variety of other problems.

What are fatty acids and how do these relate to cholesterol?

The substances that give fats their different flavours, textures and melting points are known as fatty acids. When energy yielding nutrients store their fats, they become fatty acids. They are the most obvious of fats in both the diet and body. They are found in meats, as skin on poultry, the white fat on red meat, and on top of pizza and soups. Fatty acids differ in 2 ways: in chain length and in saturation. Chain length has to do with absorption, and saturation refers to saturated or unsaturated fatty acids. In fish and most plant sources, there are points in the chemical attachment that are missing. When this happens the fatty acids are then called unsaturated. When only one point is missing, it is mono-unsaturated and if 2 are missing, it is poly-unsaturated.

Unsaturated or soft (short chain) fatty acids, including poly and mono-unsaturates, are usually liquid at room temperature and come from the oils of vegetables, nut of seed sources, such as corn, canola, safflower, sunflower and olive. Saturated fatty acids (long chain) are those that are usually hard at room temperature and except for coconut or palm oil, come from primarily animal sources. Saturated fats transport more harmful cholesterol (LDL) to the blood stream than do unsaturated fats. Saturated fats are the ones we should be limiting in our diet.

There are 3 essential fatty acids. The human body can synthesise all the fatty acids it needs from carbohydrates, fats and proteins in the diet, except for linoleic, linolenic and arachidonic acids. These polyunsaturated fatty acids cannot be made from the breakdown of other substances in the body; they must be supplied by the diet and are therefore called essential. They are necessary for normal growth and for healthy blood, arteries and nerves. Arachidonic acid can be synthesised by linoleic acid, when it is supplied to the body in the diet.

Linolenic acid belongs to the family of polyunsaturated fatty acids, known as Omega 3 fatty acids, found primarily in fish and flax seed oils. Omega 3's keep the skin and other tissues youthful and healthy by preventing dryness and scaliness. Linoleic acid is found in wheat germ, seeds and vegetable oils such as safflower, sunflower, soy, canola and corn and these are all known as Omega 6 fatty acids. Researches have long known the importance of the omega 6 fatty acid family. These essential fatty acids are necessary for the transport and breakdown of cholesterol. Both the omegas should be taken in combination, as a balance is ESSENTIAL. Canola has the best of both. If supplements of one omega are taken, a deficiency of the other may be created.

Why is a high blood cholesterol level not good for us?

When cholesterol levels in the blood become abnormally high, fatty deposits composed of both cholesterol and calcium tend to accumulate in the arteries, including those of the heart - a situation that increases the susceptibility to heart attacks and other complications. Cholesterol deposits occur mostly in parts of the blood vessels which have been weakened by high blood pressure or undue strain.

Is it only fats that increase the blood cholesterol levels in the body?

Studies have shown that the incidence of arteriosclerosis is higher in countries where diets are high in saturated fats. However, vegetarians whose diet is low in saturated fats may develop atherosclerosis, and Eskimos who eat large amounts of saturated fats seldom develop the disease. This indicates there are other factors besides saturated fat that affect the cholesterol level of the blood, including stress, anxiety, cigarette smoking, overeating, lack of exercise and high consumption of refined carbohydrates. Some people may not efficiently metabolise saturated fats. Other factors may include high blood pressure, diabetes and gout.

How can we reduce Blood Cholesterol levels in the body?

Research has established that an increased intake of the mono & poly unsaturated forms of fatty acids can lower blood cholesterol levels. Stearic acid and fish oils (omega 3's) also lower cholesterol.

Restricting omega 6 types of oils such as corn and safflower, which are found in margarine, vegetable shortenings and many processed foods, is thought to be beneficial. Particles from these oils incorporate themselves into LDL and become oxidised, leaving them vulnerable to build up in the body's arterial system.

The harmful forms of cholesterol are animal fats of the saturated types that are usually visible to the eye ie on the top of soup, pizza, in animal skin, the yellow globules of fat on chicken and the white fat on meat. Butter, cheese, whole milk, poultry skin and beef and pork fat are foods that should be cut back on , as reducing these fats will give the greatest degree of noticeable lowered cholesterol levels.

Can any foods help lower blood cholesterol levels?

Foods that can counter the oxidised LDL cholesterol before they can become clogged in the arteries of the body are those that contain Antioxidant properties like the carotenoid family, vitamin E, C, Zinc and selenium. Foods that can also lower cholesterol by retrieving it from places in the body are oats and dried beans, olive and canola oil, garlic, onion, almonds, walnuts, carrots, apples, strawberries, seafood (especially fatty kinds like salmon and sardines without added oil, oysters and muscles), and grains that are high in soluble fibre.

High dietary cholesterol foods like liver, eggs, caviar and some seafood are not the kind that are necessarily bad, because they do not contain the concentrated forms of saturated animal fat that create the LDLs. The liver balances dietary cholesterol levels and therefore, if consumed in moderation, these foods are good nutritional sources. Cholesterol is vital to human function and these are excellent sources, however too much of even this type encourages the blood to clot abnormally and has been shown to shorten the life span.

As well as this, filtered coffee, as opposed to percolated coffee, can help reduce blood cholesterol levels because the agent in coffee that appears to raise cholesterol is screened out. Decaffeinated coffee appears to raise cholesterol levels by 10% because the stronger bean is used in the process. Research has shown that chocolate will not raise cholesterol levels because the form of saturated fat it contains (cocoa butter) appears neutral in tests.

Are there any dietary supplements that help reduce blood cholesterol levels?

Choline, vitamin B12, biotin, lecithin, methionine and possibly inositol are substances that must be present to prevent accumulation of fat in the liver. Since the liver regulates cholesterol, these vitamins maybe essential. Deficiencies in magnesium, potassium, manganese, copper, zinc, vanadium, chromium, selenium, vitamins C, E, B6, niacin and folic acid may also be significant. Many of these nutrients are necessary for fat utilisation. Cholesterol in the blood must be kept in solution to prevent deposits from forming. Lecithin seems to help bile to do this. Lecithin is contained in many fatty foods, but when these foods are hydrogenated, as in margarine, the lecithin is lost. Lecithin can be purchased in Capsules, for ease of use, or it can be found in granules, which you can sprinkle on food.

Adequate supplies of unsaturated fatty acids, especially linoleic acid, and vitamin E seem to help control the cholesterol level of the blood and prevent atherosclerosis. Taking Omega 3 Fish oil, Flax seed oil and/or Coconut oils are great choices. Vitamin C aids in preventing the formation and deposition of cholesterol. Chromium raises the HDL levels of cholesterol, which carry the bad kind, LDL, out of the body.

How to lower cholesterol naturally

Policosanol is a mixture of fatty compounds derived from the outer wax of cane sugar. Extensive clinical studies have proven Policosanol is both safe and effective in lowering cholesterol levels by several mechanisms, including blocking cholesterol formation in the liver.

Studies have shown that extracts of Guggul, a close relative of myrrh, lowered the serum cholesterol levels and body weight of rabbits with high cholesterol, as well as protecting the animals against hyper-cholesterolemia and atherosclerosis induced by an atherogenic diet. This report excited interest among other researchers, and resulted in the initiation of several experiments that attempted to further describe the cholesterol lowering action of guggul, all of which showed a favourable effect. In a study conducted in 1981, Baldwa and colleagues observed not only a highly significant reduction in cholesterol and triglycerides in chicks after administration of guggul, but also reported a reversal of the atherosclerotic process at a dose of 3 grams/kg body weight.

Herbs and natural substances that may be helpful are artichoke, milk thistle extract, garlic, guar gum, phytosterols, ginger, hawthorn berry extract, psyllium, olive oil, oat bran & yoghurt. Pectin can limit the amount of cholesterol accumulation in the blood stream. Pectin is found in many fruits and berries, particularly apples.

Red yeast rice is the fermented product of rice, on which the red yeast monascus purpureus has been grown. It has been used in China for hundreds of years and was characterised as "useful for blood circulation". Recent research has shown its consumption (typically 14-55g per day) to reduce cholesterol concentrations by 11-32% and triglycerides by 12-19%.

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The Naturopathic Team
Ideal Health

Disclaimer: The health information presented here has been written for the New Zealand health consumer. It is of a general nature and is only intended to provide a summary of the subjects covered and is intended to be used for educational and general information purposes only. It is not intended as medical advice or as a means to diagnose, treat, cure or prescribe for any particular condition or disease. You assume all responsibility for the treatment which may be undertaken as a result of the information on this site, or treatment recommended by any other party. While all care has been taken to ensure the accuracy of the information, no responsibility or liability is accepted, and no person should act in reliance on any statement contained in the information provided. All health ailments should be treated by a qualified health professional.

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