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Cholesterol


Introduction

Cholesterol is a lipid-like steroid substance produced by the liver and transported throughout the bloodstream in all mammals. It is an essential component of mammalian cell membranes, where it is required to establish proper membrane permeability and fluidity. In addition, cholesterol is an important precursor molecule for the biosynthesis of bile acids, steroid hormones, and several fat-soluble vitamins. The fact is our bodies need cholesterol. However, there is a difference between the cholesterol made by the body and dietary cholesterol. The cholesterol that the liver produces is vital to strengthening the membranes of each and every cell in the body. It is also important in the production of many other hormones in the body including estrogen, progesterone, cortisone, and aldosterone. These steroid hormones help the body manage stress and balance sodium and water in the body, not to mention regulate sexual function.

Blood cholesterol that primarily comes from diet is what doctors are most concerned about. There are two kinds of cholesterol: HDL (high density lipo-protein, or good) cholesterol, LDL/VLDL (low density and very low density lipo-proteins, or bad) cholesterol. Health care professionals recommend high HDL readings (over 60 mg/dl), which help to clear out the bad cholesterol. LDL levels (bad cholesterol) cause fat to be recirculated and deposited along organs and artery walls. LDL levels should be under 100 mg/dl. Triglycerides are a sugar- and carbohydrate-related blood fat that travel with cholesterol. High triglycerides cause blood cells to stick together, impairing circulation and leading to heart attack. A glycemic diet that is high in processed carbohydrate, sugars and damaged fats will cause triglyceride levels to increase. Heart attack rates are twice as high if your triglyceride level is above 250 mg/dl; ideal levels are under 150.

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Common Symptoms

Plaque formation on the artery walls; poor circulation; leg cramps and pain; high blood pressure; difficult breathing; cold hands and feet; dry skin and hair; palpitations; lethargy; dizziness; allergies and kidney trouble. Note: High cholesterol levels do not seem to increase heart disease risk in people 70 and older; and some cholesterol-lowering drugs are actually harmful. Ask about yours.

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Common Causes

Genetic predisposition; stress; poor quality diet high in processed sugars, hydrogenated fats, saturated fats and sugars; diet low in soluble fiber; essential fatty acid deficiency.

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Natural Treatment

Dietary intervention is the key to optimizing one's ratio of good to bad cholesterol (online or in person). However, most people have the misconception that cholesterol in foods will raise blood levels of cholesterol. In fact, food sources of cholesterol have a negligible effect on the blood levels; rather it is the way in which a food is prepared that will lead to artery clogging disease. For example, when a food containing cholesterol is brought to a high cooking temperature and a fat is added, a chemical alteration takes place which changes the structure of the cholesterol. The end result is a damaged fat that when consumed will elevate LDL levels and put one at risk for high cholesterol as well as triglycerides. Damaged fats, both saturated and hydrogenated, are the main contributors to heart health problems. Learning how to fit healthy unsaturated fats into your diet can actually improve blood cholesterol levels, as well as keep you full and contribute to brain health.

Triglycerides can be managed by following a low glycemic diet and using nutrient combining to balance blood sugar levels (online or in person). Stress management and exercise are also essential in triglyceride regulation. Appropriate muscle building exercises along with the consumption of specific essential fatty acids moderate quantities, can help raise HDL levels, thus helping clear out the LDL. For genetically prone cases of high cholesterol, therapeutic nutritional supplements are often recommended to optimize levels and prevent the need for medication. If you are taking medication, however, it is important that you learn which nutrients you may need to supplement your diet with as certain cholesterol medications may cause depletion of specific B vitamins as well as antioxidants. Liver support through diet and supplementation is also helpful since most cholesterol lowering medications affect the liver and it is the main producer of cholesterol in the body.

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References

Cholesterol. American Heart Association. 2009. Available at: http://www.americanheart.org/presenter.jhtml?identifier=4488. Accessed on October 21, 2009.

High cholesterol: what you need to know. National Cholesterol Education Program. 2005. Available at: http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/public/heart/chol/wyntk.htm. Accessed on October 21, 2009.

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