Cholesterol: Unfairly Vilified?

Cholesterol is a flexible, fatty substance that is the precursor for all of the body’s steroid hormones, hormones that are absolutely essential for life.  Cholesterol is the raw material of our vital hormones.   The sexual hormones have a remarkable similarity in chemical structure to each other and with the original cholesterol parent from which they are derived.  These hormones determine our sexuality, control the reproductive process, and regulate blood sugar levels and mineral metabolism. This substance that we have been taught to fear happens to be the sole source for our androgens, estrogens and progesterone, and other  less well-known essential hormones.

Cholesterol is an essential component of mammalian cell membranes where it is required to establish proper membrane permeability and fluidity.  It allows us to make a significant amount of Vitamin D which we need to prevent high blood sugar, cancer, rickets and a host of other conditions.  It allow us to absorb essential fatty acids and fat soluble vitamins like D, E and A through its action on the bile.    It also serves as nature’s bandage, and repairs inflamed blood vessels so that they will not leak into our body cavity.  It is the body’s material for life.

What cholesterol does to protect the body from inflamed blood vessels.

Isn’t cholesterol dangerous to our hearts?  Not really.  Atherosclerosis is now considered by most researchers to be an inflammatory process. Cholesterol, the former villain, is now felt to be there in the plaques solely as an innocent bystander to the body’s inflammatory response.  The inflammation, usually caused by high blood insulin and fats from seed or rancid oils, is dangerous to our cardio vascular system.  This inflammation threatens to eat away the endothelium of the blood vessel which would be quite dangerous.  So the body responds by laying down soft layers of cholesterol to prevent this.  In most cases the cholesterol is flexible and can expand along with the blood vessel to let blood through.  Thus while cholesterol is correlated with heart disease, it does not cause heart disease.  It is the body’s solution to dangerous inflammation, not the cause of inflammatory cardiovascular disease.

The effect of low cholesterol on Vitamin D is troubling.  We have an epidemic of low vitamin D.  Part of this has to do with lifestyle:  while we evolved close to the Equator and didn’t wear much clothing, thus allowing about 25,000 iu of Vitamin D, we now live far to the north where sun rays are weaker, wear clothing most of the time and tend to work indoorsvitamind2 or to wear sunscreen.  Vitamin D deficiency is endemic. Our animal food sources are also D-deficient, often confined indoors and not grazing on grass.  A lack of vitamin D is a major factor in the pathology of at least 17 varieties of cancer as well as heart disease, stroke, hypertension, autoimmune diseases, diabetes, depression, chronic pain, osteoarthritis, osteoporosis, muscle weakness, muscle wasting, birth defects, periodontal disease, and more.   So with lower cholesterol we not only have impaired production of Vitamin D but we have impaired assimilation since bile is not properly produced.

With the powerful statin drugs, the bio-availability of natural cholesterol is being reduced to levels never before seen in large population groups. Crestor, lauds its ability to impair cholesterol biosynthesis as much as 52%, although its actual effect may be lower.  (Small actual effects look much greater when expressed as percentage changes.)  Still we are now lowering the building blocks of hormones that help us digest foods, sleep, sexually respond, age and think.

So what happens when someone takes a statin?  In most cases, the statin has little effect on longevity or heart disease.  It does reduce cholesterol and may reduce C Reactive Protein (CRP), a marker of inflammation.  The primary effect is probably due to  its anti-inflammatory activity, with the cholesterol-lowering being a side effect.  But it does this at the expense of Co-enzyme Q10, the body’s natural anti-inflammatory compound.

In fact in a recent test of the statin Crestor, CRP was reduced by less than 10%, the amount CRP is reduced by a cup of coffee when taken by diabetic women.  A couple of cups of coffee then could reduce inflammation more than a statin and would leave sexual functioning and vitamin absorption intact.

Kash Rizvi et al in their 2002 review of erectile dysfunction leave little doubt that a strong erectile-dysfunction6relationship exists between the taking of statin drugs and erectile dysfunction.  They reported 42 cases of erectile dysfunction associated with simvastatin in an Australian study with four having recurrence with rechallenge.  Bruckert et al concluded that erectile dysfunction is a frequent disorder in hyperlipidemic men treated with statins. Their study group consisted of 339 age-matched men 40-50 years of age. If these otherwise healthy men were on either a statin drug or a fibrate derivative, impotence was much more likely.  In a review of France and Spain’s adverse drug reports by Bagheri and others, 74 cases of impotence associated with statin drug use were reported. In 85% of these cases the condition regressed completely when the statin drug was stopped. Although most did not elect to rechallenge, those 6 in the French study who did reported return of ED.   It is likely that lower cholesterol, needed to form testosterone, is the cause of statin-derived sexual dysfunction.cholesterol1

The use of statins has also been associated with lower estrogen, insomnia, muscle pain.  While some of the muscle pain may be due to the CoQ10 depletion, the effect on mineral corticoids which are made from cholesterol may be a factor as well.

It is likely that we ought to focus on the underlying condition, inflammation, instead of treating cholesterol which is merely a marker, not the cause of cardiovascular disease.  By reducing cholesterol we reduce the material that makes us human, at our peril.

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