Understanding Cholesterol

Pick up just about any newspaper or magazine these days and you will find probably someone talking about cholesterol. Recipes to lower your cholesterol, new studies, new drugs. It seems everyone is concerned with lowering their cholesterol count.

What exactly is this stuff called cholesterol? By medical definition, it's a crystalline substance consisting of fats. It is found naturally in the brain, nerves, liver, blood and bile. Cholesterol is necessary for the proper function of the body and is produced mainly in the liver. It is used by the cells to build membranes, certain hormones and aids in digestion. Cholesterol travels from the liver through the bloodstream where it is delivered to the cells. The cells take what they need and the excess remains in the bloodstream. Excessive cholesterol often forms a plaque-like substance which sticks to the arterial walls and may eventually cause heart disease or stroke.

Researchers have discovered there are two types of cholesterol: low-density lipoproteins or LDL and high density lipoproteins or HDL. LDLs are the bad guys; HDLs are the good guys. HDLs actually work to remove excess cholesterol from the blood and tissues -- but their exact function is not clearly understood.

The National Cholesterol Education Program has set the safe level of cholesterol at 200mg/dl. A reading above 200 indicates potential for developing heart disease. A level of 200-239 is border line and those over 240 are at high risk. These levels are further broken down into HDL and LDL but for our discussion these numbers are sufficient.

Traditional as well as holistic medicine agree dietary changes are the best way to control your cholesterol levels. The Life Extension Foundation has recently done an extensive study on the new cholesterol-lowering drugs. The findings are conclusive. They do indeed lower cholesterol levels -- but at what price? Pharmacists and doctors also agree these drugs can carry some pretty hefty side effects -- including liver damage.

Here are some tips you may want to keep in mind if you are battling a high cholesterol count.

­­ Reduce meat and dairy intake

­­ Switch from polyunsaturated margarine and vegetable oils to high quality monounsaturated oils -- that would be olive oil, extra virgin

­­ Other good oils are safflower and sunflower, from the health food store please!

­­ Use a source of Omega 3 & 6 such as primrose, flax seed, or black currant seed. These oils have been scientifically proven to lower cholesterol.

­­ Some experts prefer fish oils which are also excellent in the fight against high cholesterol.

­­ The herbs cayenne, garlic, goldenseal, and Hawthorne berry are also beneficial for lowering cholesterol.

­­ Natural foods, such as whole grains, vegetables and fruits, are vital. Third world countries subsisting or maintaining on diets primarily high in natural whole foods do not suffer from heart attack or high cholesterol.

­­ Vitamins A, C, & E along with digestive enzymes are also useful.

If your cholesterol count is edging over the top these days, don't wait until the doctor orders you on drugs that may risk your health. Try a gradual diet change -- letting go of those fast foods, high fat foods and dairy. Work gradually into a diet of more fresh foods, raw or lightly steamed, good oils and plenty of high quality water. A gradual change will more likely stick without ''rebounding'' back with more weight or higher cholesterol counts.

Till next time, Rebecca.

Uploaded to The Zephyr Online July 18, 2000

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