Is High Cholesterol the Cause of Your Heart Problems?
Majority of the people believe that cholesterol is very dangerous to the body and thus, its levels in the blood should be kept as low as possible. The fear in the minds of common people about high cholesterol levels has been put by heart specialists and surgeons based upon the high risk factors associated with high blood cholesterol levels in causing complex cardio-vascular diseases. As a matter of fact, they are only partially right. The reality is as follows:
A few Myths behind Cholesterol
- Cholesterol is considered as leading risk factor for cardiovascular diseases. A few decades ago, the problem of high cholesterol and associated heart diseases was noticed mostly in elderly people and rarely in younger generation. It is a fact that in the recent years, the standard of health awareness has increased manifold. So also the stresses and strains in life have increased to a much larger. This has made the problem of high cholesterol extremely widespread.
- The number of people, especially in the high profile young/middle age people having high cholesterol (in general, hyperlipidemia) is now on increase and consequently a large number of them are considered as potential candidates who are likely to suffer from complex cardiovascular diseases. Consequently they are put on cholesterol reducing drug therapy. There are some complex side effects of cholesterol lowering drugs which we shall discuss later.
- It is generally believed that the major reason for hyperlipidemia (commonly called as high cholesterol) is faulty life style, dietary habits and stresses in conscious and the subconscious mind. This is quite correct. Nevertheless, these factors cannot be overcome by only drugs. A lot needs to be done by the individual in so far as life style, dietary habits and most importantly the stresses.
It is appropriate that we understand what cholesterol is and its role in the physiology. A few myths about cholesterol are as follows:
How Cholesterol plays a Vital Role in the Human Body?
- Far from being a health destroyer, cholesterol is absolutely essential for life. Most people think that it is fat in the blood. In reality, it is not fat at all. Also its content in blood is only 7%. The bulk of the cholesterol in our body (93%), located in every cell of the body is made by the body itself.
- It is pearly colored, waxy, solid alcohol that is soapy to touch. Its unique waxy, soapy consistency provides the structural integrity to cell membranes. We know that structural integrity of the cell is very important for the health. The cholesterol also regulates the inflow of nutrients and outflow of waste products from the cells.
- Cholesterol is the building block of several important hormones produced in the body. Some of them are: 1) adrenal hormones (aldosterone which helps in regulating the blood pressure), hydrocortisones (body’s natural steroid) and the sex hormones (estrogen and testosterone).
- Cholesterol is the natural detoxification mechanism of the body. Cholesterol levels go up in response to the presence of toxins in the body. The toxins are neutralized by cholesterol. When the toxins levels go down, a significant drop in cholesterol levels (below 200) is observed.
- Many researchers have shown that elevation of serum cholesterol level serve only as a marker for various toxic exposures. Excess cholesterol may reflect excessive oxidative stress and nutrient deficiency (vitamin C, B3 (Niacin), Copper, Chromium, Zinc, Calcium, Essential Fatty Acids etc).
- Cholesterol is pre-curser to formation of vitamin D in the skin, the pre-curser molecule is converted to active form when exposed to sunlight
- Cholesterol is the main component of bile acids, which aid in the digestion of foods, particularly fatty foods. Without cholesterol it is not possible to absorb the essential fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K from the food we eat.
- Cholesterol is necessary for normal growth and development of the brain and nervous system. Cholesterol coats the nerves and makes the efficient transmission of nerve impulses possible.
- Cholesterol is important for normal growth and repair of tissues since every cell membrane and the organelles (the tiny structures inside the cells that carry out specific functions) within the cells are rich in cholesterol.
- Cholesterol plays a major role in the transportation of triglycerides (blood fats) through the circulatory system.
Is Cholesterol Really The ‘Bad’ Guy?
A review of this list should give a better idea of what cholesterol does and to dispel any notion that it is a destroyer of health, to be feared and avoided at all costs. Far from being a serial killer, cholesterol is absolutely essential for good health; without it we would die. Without cholesterol we would lose the strength and stability of our cells, making them much less resistant to invasion by infection and malignancy. In fact, a grave sign of serious illness, such as Cancer initiation and progression or crippling arthritis, is very low level of cholesterol and a rapidly falling cholesterol level.
In reality, when people refer to the cholesterol, they actually refer to the lipoproteins and the triglycerides. We shall therefore now discuss about lipoproteins and the triglycerides which are commonly and loosely called the cholesterol.
Lipoproteins and Triglycerides
Bulk of the cholesterol is produced internally in the body. Diet contributes hardly 6-7 % of the body’s total requirement of cholesterol. The cholesterol is present in high concentrations in tissues which either produce more or have more densely packed membranes – for example, liver, spinal cord, brain and atheroma. It is very important to note that cholesterol is not water soluble and hence cannot dissolve in water based blood stream. Instead, it is transported in the blood stream by lipoproteins (protein molecular suit cases) which are water soluble. This ensures internal transport of cholesterol
- Two major lipoproteins are: 1) low density lipoprotein (LDL) and 2) high density lipoprotein (HDL). There is one more lipoprotein called very low density lipoprotein (VLDL)
- The largest lipoproteins which primarily transport fats from intestinal mucosa to the liver are called chylomicrons. They carry mostly triglyceride fats and cholesterol (both from food and especially internal cholesterol secreted by the liver into bile).
- In the liver, chylomicron particles give up triglycerides and some cholesterol and are converted into LDL particles. This LDL carries triglycerides and cholesterol on to body cells.
- In healthy individuals, the HDL particles are large in size and few in number. In these circumstances, they do not attach to arterial walls and thus do not cause blockages in them.
- Conversely large number of small size LDL particles is often likely to cause arterial plaque and thus arterial blockages can occur in this condition.
- HDL particles transport cholesterol back to liver for excretion but their effectiveness varies considerably.
- Large number of large size HDL is indicator of good health.
Range of LDL, HDL and Triglyceride Levels in human blood
The table as shown below indicates acceptable and non acceptable levels of LDL, HDL and Triglycerides in human blood.
The important guiding factors are also indicated in the table. It is necessary to understand that the total cholesterol level alone is insufficient to indicate possibility of the existing or future cardiovascular disease. For example, a total cholesterol level well below 200mg/dl is ok only when the levels of LDL is well below 100mg/dl and the HDL level is well above 60mg/dl and the triglycerides are below 150mg/dl. The risk of atherosclerosis and consequently the heart stroke is very high when Triglyceride levels are in excess of 150 mg/dl and LDL level is in excess of 160mg/dl and HDL level is well below 40mg/dl. One should note that it is only a risk factor and does not necessarily mean an impending heart attack. There are other indicators also which can forewarn about impending heart attacks.
- The cholesterols in LDL and HDL are identical. The only difference between them is the carrier protein molecules (lipoprotein).
- Since only small size but large in number LDL particles have a tendency to form arterial plaque, a higher content of LDL in blood lipid profile may generally indicate only a possible danger of arterial blockage. Higher level of LDL does not necessarily mean onset of heart attack. However, the fear of it may do so.
How Can You Lower Cholesterol Naturally?
- Causative factors for high LDL/VLDL are: 1) genetic factors, 2) diseases such as diabetes, thyroid gland malfunctions, liver and the kidney disorders. Thus using cholesterol level reducing drugs such as Statin without checking these factors is meaningless.
- Kapalbhati, Bhastrika, Anulom – Vilom Pranayama can correct disorders of thyroid glands, pancreas, adrenal glands and tone up liver. The diaphragmatic motion in Pranayama is the key factor as it facilitates vigorous activity of the cisterna chyli reservoir (containing chyle) and the lymph that carries metabolic byproducts of tissues, muscles and the glands. This also results in efficient transport of chylomicrons to the toned up liver which inhibits formation of small size LDL & VLDL. Thus, barring genetic factors, all other factors which give rise to high LDL & VLDL are totally removable by resorting to Pranayama practice.
- In addition, Pranayama enables higher ‘in-body’ production of Coenzyme Q10 which plays a very vital role in manufacture of ATP, the fuel that runs cellular processes. Q10 is also a great heart protector. The likely hood of heart attacks become very high if Coenzyme Q10 is absent or its levels are low regardless of whether or not the lipid profile is healthy.
The Dark Side of Cholesterol Reducing Drugs
Cholesterol reducing drugs such as Statin inhibit cholesterol formation in liver but parallely reduce production of Coenzyme Q10. Such drugs have numerous side effects on the body as discussed above.
Curds can be Consumed as an alternative to Cholesterol Reducing Drugs
Recent research shows that the lactobacillus contained in curds have a very high cholesterol lowering potential and thus are strong alternative to Statin. People in several regions of rural India regularly consume significant amount of curds in the form of curd rice, lassi and they seldom encounter high cholesterol problem.
Best Possible Treatment for High Cholesterol Problems
Finally in my humble opinion , the best possible treatment for high cholesterol problem is healthy life style, avoiding junk food and yoga including Pranayama practice. Although Pranayama cannot remove the basic factors in daily life that may cause worries , fears, negative emotions etc, it can certainly reduce/eliminate the ill effects of these factors on the health. This is principally on account of tranquility of the mind achieved through Pranayama practice.