What is Cholesterol?

Cholesterol! For the last forty years the general public has been served a steady diet of conflicting information about the substance. “Your cholesterol should be 5!” “Your cholesterol should be 200!” “Cholesterol has nothing to do with heart disease.” “Cholesterol is the cause of heart disease.”

So just to simplify things: cholesterol is a naturally occurring substance in the animal kingdom. It is essential, as a building block, for many cellular structures. It is manufactured in the animal/human body 24/7. This has only marginally to do with the dietary cholesterol in food. Even if you ate no cholesterol-containing food at all your body would still go on making cholesterol.

The problem is that when God started this process in homo sapiens (human beings) about 150,000 years ago there was not a lot of dietary cholesterol available.

Unfortunately dietary cholesterol was not the only source of blood cholesterol. Ingested fat is also a source. Absorbed through the wall of the intestine as fatty acids which are turned into triglycerides which contain cholesterol Any excess triglyceride is broken down into blood cholesterol. But, again, there was not a lot of fat around in 152,000 BC.

The snag to this developed around 12,000 years ago when humans stopped hunting animals – with the occasional kill – and started herding them instead. Thus having animal meat available every day. Even so this type of meat was very low in the saturated fat which shows up in the bloodstream as “bad” cholesterol. This “bad” cholesterol was made worse in more recent years with the huge increase in human consumption of sugar. A substance that was not available at all to our ancestors unless they wanted to put their hands into a bees nest.

In the 1950s, and increasingly thereafter, fast food outlets took over the major part of the food chain in the Western world. The use of artificial trans and cis fatty acids – some of which cannot actually be metabolised by humans – in food preparation created a perpetual motion of “bad” blood cholesterol production.

The plaque that shows up in many human arteries contains large amounts of this “bad” cholesterol. For individuals at increased risk this plaque may lead to heart attack and stroke. The countries of the world where heart attack and stroke do not occur at all have total blood cholesterols in the 4-5 mMol/L range with “Bad” Cholesterol levels of 2 mMol/L.

So if you have a family history of heart attack or stroke, or diabetes, or are a long term smoker (even if you have quit smoking), or hypertensive, or obese or any combination of those: then you are advised to get your “bad” blood cholesterol down to as low as you and your doctor can get it by whatever means available.

By Dr. Stafford W. Dobbin

A graduate of Queens University Belfast, Dr. Dobbin founded Heart Niagara in 1977. He established the first Department of Emergency Services in Niagara at the Greater Niagara General Hospital in 1976. Through Heart Niagara he initiated the teaching of Citizen Cardio-Pulmonary Resuscitation in Niagara and of Advanced Cardiac Life Support for Critical care personnel prior to the establishment of the Regional Paramedic programme. His initial design for Heart Niagara included a Cardiac Rehabilitation Programme for survivors of Cardiac events staffed by qualified Physicians and Nurses for which he was the Medical Director to 2002. And through Heart Niagara he started the Niagara Schools’ Healthy Heart Programme in 1987 and is the Medical Director. His EMS system for coverage of Mass Participation events was first used at the US Olympic Marathon trials in 1980 and he served on the first Executive of the International Marathon Directors Association. He is presently a partner in the Niagara Medical Group, a Family Health Team, in Niagara Falls.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in blog entries are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Heart Niagara.

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