Confused about cholesterol? If so, you’re not alone. Maybe nothing in medicine is more confusing than trying to understand significance of cholesterol on our overall health. Billions of dollars are spent each year on prescription medications designed to lower cholesterol levels and millions more on cholesterol supplements purported to do the same.
In this article we will attempt to put the significance of cholesterol into proper perspective and review nutritional supplements that can improve your cholesterol profile and reduce your risk of heart disease (for those of you who remain concerned).
What Does Cholesterol Do?
Without cholesterol you could not live. Every cell membrane in every cell of your body (10 trillion cells in the human body) contains cholesterol. Cholesterol makes up your bile that helps breakdown fats in a meal. Cholesterol is a precursor to the production of vitamin D and nearly all steroid hormones including the sex hormones (testosterone, estrogen, and progesterone). In fact, cholesterol levels tend to rise as sex hormone production declines. This is felt to be the body’s response to make more sex hormones. Some studies show that when sex hormones are replaced cholesterol levels drop.
The brain is 2% of total body weight yet it contains 25% of the your body’s cholesterol. Cholesterol levels too low are linked to memory loss, depression, and suicide.
Since cholesterol is needed for cell membranes, the blood will deliver cholesterol to injured cells so that the cell membrane can be repaired or replaced, including injury to our blood vessels.
Your body needs cholesterol so badly that the liver will produce whatever cholesterol shortfall the diet provides.
Now that you know this are you sure you want cholesterol levels that are really low?
Is There Really a Good and Bad Cholesterol?
Cholesterol is like a fat, and because of that it’s doesn’t travel well in blood which is mainly water. So to be transported in blood it is necessary that cholesterol be packaged into lipoproteins. The 2 main lipoproteins are HDL and LDL. HDL cholesterol is called the “good” cholesterol and LDL the “bad” cholesterol. LDL carries cholesterol from the liver to various parts of the body (wherever it is needed) through the blood stream, and HDL transports cholesterol from the blood back to liver. In the liver cholesterol is recycled, not eliminated. It would seem the body would eliminate cholesterol (through urine or feces) if it were really dangerous, but it simply recycles it.
So it’s not the cholesterol that is “good” or “bad”. It’s the lipoproteins that are “good” or “bad”. Some of both the HDL and LDL particles are small and dense, and some are large and buoyant. It’s the small dense LDL particles that are problematic when it comes to heart disease. More specifically it’s small dense LDL that’s been oxidized that’s the real problem. Even small dense oxidized HDLs can be dangerous.
Small dense LDL particles and triglycerides are associated with rich carbohydrate diets. That’s one reason the American Diet is so unhealthy. Small dense LDL is more easily oxidized and glycated than large buoyant particles.
So if you have small dense LDL particles it becomes more important that LDL levels be kept on the lower end. Avoid rich carbohydrate diets and you will reduce your need to have your cholesterol profile treated with prescription medications.
Cholesterol Supplements to Improve Cholesterol Profile
Fish oil contains omega-3 fatty acids which increase HDL levels (large buoyant ones), decreases the cholesterol in LDL, and decrease the overall number of LDL particles. Omega-3s are natural anti-inflammatories reducing the need for cholesterol in cellular repair.
Niacin is almost the perfect cholesterol supplement, except some people find it hard to take because of side effects. But, niacin lowers the small dense LDL particles and reduces the number of LDL particles. It raises HDL and lowers 2 other cholesterol-related proteins associated with increased cardiac risk, lipoprotein (a) and apolipoprotein B. Niacin can cause flushing, itching, rash, and can raise uric acid and blood sugar levels. See “Niacin in the News”
Green tea prevents oxidation of LDL cholesterol, can raise HDL cholesterol, and lowers apoplipoprotein B. Either through drinking green tea or supplements the goal is take 500 mg of green tea extract. See “Green Tea and Weight Loss”.
Pantethine is a vitamin B5 derivative that lowers LDL cholesterol and triglycerides and lower apoplipoprotein B. The daily dose is 900 mg a day in 2 or 3 divided doses. It can take several months (4 or more) to see results.
Gugulipid is a resin that lowers total cholesterol and triglycerides while raising HDL levels. The recommended dose is 1,500 mg three times a day.
Cholesterol isn’t the horrible monster it’s been made out to be. How important it is depends on the diet you eat and other risk factors you have for heart disease. If you eat the American Diet, have additional heart disease risk factors, and have high cholesterol levels consider some of these cholesterol supplements. Should they not work then consider cholesterol lowering drugs.