The Innocent Cholesterol

A recent cooking oil report released by the Consumer Council has triggered a revisit to the so-called “healthy” oil. Oil has often been discussed in the context of cholesterol, and you have been advised to use oil sparingly to prevent any cardiovascular disease. The topic of cholesterol appears to be forever confusing and let’s see what’s happening!

Low Cholesterol = Healthy?

Many people are doing annual body checks, and most of you feel relieved when you receive your report with flying colors (i.e., no bolded / red items flagged). You may not understand every single item on it, but I’m sure you will check out your lipid profile. You feel relieved when you see low LDL (Low-Density Lipoprotein or the so-called “bad” cholesterol), low total cholesterol unless accompanied by high HDL (High-Density Lipoprotein or the so-called “good” cholesterol).

Do you know that cholesterol provides structure for cellular membranes, myelin sheaths (for nerve transmission in the nervous system) and steroid hormones? LDL is responsible for transporting cholesterol and other fatty acids from the liver to the peripheral tissues for uptake and metabolism by the cells. In other words, it is the primary ingredient in keeping our cells intact. Without LDL, your systems will deteriorate / mal-function over time. The liver is responsible for 70-80% of the assembly of the lipoproteins, with food supplying the remaining 20-30%. Just think about that – can you imagine your liver spending time in assembling lipoproteins if your body doesn’t need them? I think your liver is smarter than that! When you restrict your diet to keep away from fat strictly, you’re only limiting the 20-30% and driving your liver work harder to make up what is demanded by the body.

Blaming the Innocent LDL

LDL has been linked to Atherosclerosis which is a chronic inflammatory condition caused by plaque deposits in the blood vessels. In fact, this is an oversimplification of the process: LDL is being transported to the lesion site of the cardiovascular vessel for blood vessel membrane wear and tear metabolism. When there is excessive oxidation, small dense LDL particles become oxidized and adhere to the endothelial walls of the vessels forming plaques.

Let’s picture the scenario in firefighting: a disastrous fire broke out and a large fleet of firefighting engines and firefighters are sent to the site. The firefighting fleet ends up blocking the street and traffic has to be re-diverted away from the location of the fire. The street is in effect your cardio vessel where there are lesion and oxidative stress; inflammation represents the fire, LDL is analogous to the firefighters trying to rescue/remediate the situation. Will you still blame the LDL (firefighters) for causing blockage to the vessel (street)? I hope not!

The Real Culprit

And can you imagine if you suppress LDL with cholesterol lowering drug, that’s like stopping firefighters and the fire can continue spread like inflammation will continue to happen in our body, with or without you noticing! Addressing the underlying inflammation issues is a better course of action, and I believe the following are great contributions to inflammation in our body:

  • Stress – Both physical and mental stress can lead to increase cortisol and lead to low-grade inflammation over time
  • Sugar – Refined sugar, in particular, is highly inflammatory and it can be found in a lot of low-fat food, so watch out for ingredient list always!

Inflammation leads to oxidized LDL adhesion to cardio vessels and plaque formed on the endothelial walls over time increasing the risk of atherosclerosis. Addressing Inflammation, oxidative stress and cholesterol holistically will be a much better approach to your overall balance in health.

Herbs that lower cholesterol holistically

Herbs can help to lower LDL, VLDL (Very Low-Density Lipoprotein where the small LDL originates). Most of these herbs are antioxidant and anti-inflammatory at the same time – Mother’s nature already has the answer for us holistically. A large number of them also work in enhancing the liver function and digestion, which is the foundation of the metabolism of fat. Here is a selection of those herbs:

  • Amla (Indian Gooseberry) is highly nutritive and one of the three berries in Triphala, which is a super bowel tonic. Amla can help to lower hs-CRP (highly sensitive C-reactive protein, a key inflammation marker), triglycerides. It is also a rich source of Vitamin C (1,100-1,700mg per 100g of fruit) that is essential to blood vessel healing.
  • Artichoke leaf is particularly useful with fat metabolism in liver, can prevent atherosclerosis, stimulate bile and help digestion and absorption
  • Dandelion leaf and root is a bitter tonic and can lower triglycerides
  • Dan Shen can support cardiovascular circulation, inhibit oxidation and contribute to reducing triglycerides
  • Hawthorn

    Hawthorn helps in restoring health to the circulatory system and can support normalizing blood pressure as well as lowering triglycerides.

  • He Shou Wu stimulates bile flow and enhances bowel function
  • Hibiscus flowers are useful for hypertension with metabolic syndrome and inhibits inflammation
  • Milk Thistle protects and supports regeneration of liver and supportive in lowering lipids and AST (aspartate aminotransferase) /ALT (alanine aminotransferase)

There has been increasing studies on the linkage between IBD (Inflammatory Bowel Disease and Cardiovascular health. As I have emphasized the importance of digestion as well as the liver, it is not surprising to see this linkage regarding fat metabolism and inflammation triggered response.

Inflammation, as the more important underlying cause of cardiovascular disease, demands more attention than the cholesterol. Start today with reducing stress, reducing sugar and add some of the above herbs into your soup or tea and leave the poor LDL alone!

References:

  • Blood Chemistry and CBC Analysis, Dicken Weatherby, Scott Ferguson. 2002.
  • Cardiovascular involvement in inflammatory bowel disease: Dangerous liaisons, Ana Maria Filimon, Lucian Negreanu, Michelle Doca, Andreea Ciobanu, Carmen Monica Preda, and Dragos Vinereanu, World J Gastroenterol. 2015 Sep 7; 21(33): 9688–9692.

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