Cholesterol is an entirely natural substance, produced in the human body and other mammals that is a constituent of cell membranes and a precursor to other important proteins. It is the body’s method of transporting and processing cholesterol that is thought to be the problem. I say “thought to be”, because some studies have contradicted other studies when it comes to defining what the correlations with heart disease are. Complex proteins called low density lipoproteins (LDL’s) transport the cholesterol from the liver, where it is produced or processed around the bloodstream to where it is needed, which includes the cell walls. High density lipoproteins (HDL’s) carry the cholesterol back to the liver, where it is processed for excretion, which is thought to be the best direction for the stuff. The main thing to remember is that it is not cholesterol that you should be worried about, it is heart attacks.
Cholesterol used to be a generally demonized term until the idea of “good and bad” came about. Back then, the majority of people were not too sure what this substance was. All we knew was that it was present in cheeseburgers, it was very bad for us and it was probably planted by communists. Then scientists started discussing LDL/HDL ratios and reduction pathways and people started to think that maybe these were good molecules after all, and that maybe they just needed to learn the error of their ways.
The media has done these misconceptions no favors and it has driven us into a frenzy over good cholesterol, bad cholesterol and functional foods. The fact of the matter is that, as always, there is no quick answer and no easy way. If all we needed to do was to eat some margarine that was high in good cholesterol then we would be laughing all the way to the buffet. Cholesterol is just one of the risk factors in cardiovascular disease. Exercise, weight and a healthy lifestyle are the other essential factors. Stop smoking and drinking excessively and get fit. Obvious advice? Yes, and don’t say you didn’t know it already.
Of course it is always easier to take a pill than go jogging and there are some interesting drugs on the market today, with their attendant risks. There are also some other simple ways to lower your risk of heart attacks, by just eating well.
Vitamin C alongside its multitude of health benefits is a reduction in cardiovascular risk. Citrus fruits, many vegetables.
Pantothenic Acid available in eggs, milk, fish, whole grain cereals, broccoli.
Red Yeast Rice used in traditional Chinese medicine for years and is produced by fermenting with a particular yeast. This is what makes the Chinese dish Peking duck red and it is thought to reduce LDL levels. However I am sure cardiovascular surgeons would not recommend this high fat dish too many times a week.
Soy Isoflavones, Garlic and Gugul all help to lower total cholesterol and help the HDL, LDL ratio (a good thing).
CoQ10, Ester C and Vitamin E are a group of powerful antioxidants that prevent dangerous oxidation of cholesterol that can damage the arterial walls and encourage the buildup of plaque.
If you want to find which foods are harboring these nutrients – check the National Institute of Health’s Encyclopedia.
These are all also available in supplement form in health stores or online. Before you take anything, be sure to check for interaction with your medication first.