The Cholesterol Myth and Why Cholesterol Is Not That Bad
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The boogeyman is an urban legend used to frighten kids into good behavior, but kids are not the only ones who believe in myths and urban legends. Adults, and especially seniors, believe in big, bad cholesterol. The difference is that cholesterol does exist and can be a source of health problems if the body is in a state of inflammation. But the same happens with sugar and even hemoglobin -the red pigment of the blood that carries oxygen. Both of these cause problems at high levels. Are we going too far in demonizing this molecule? If cholesterol is that bad, how come it is synthesized in the body?
In this article, we're reviewing scientific evidence to give you an honest look at cholesterol, what this molecule has to offer, and when it can actually cause real problems.
What is Cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a fatty molecule first reported in the blood in 1833 and chemically described in 1888 (1). Cholesterol is also found in the muscles, brain, our hormones, and pretty much everywhere inside the human body.
Cholesterol is made in the intestines and liver in a tiny organelle called the endoplasmic reticulum. All of the substances essential for our survival are created here, and it is particularly curious that cholesterol is included in this list as well. Synthetic versions of cholesterol are difficult to produce, but it has been recently created using a proprietary formula (2). Still, it is easy to obtain from natural sources because all living beings have cells, and these cells have cholesterol. An example of where dietary cholesterol can be used from natural sources is from the lanolin in lamb's wool.
Yes, every tissue in the body needs cholesterol. This substance makes up around 30% of the cell membrane and regulates membrane permeability. In other words, it helps your cells control what comes in the gate and what stays out.
Cholesterol provides structural protection for cells and is essential for cellular repair., and because of this, we need a substantial amount of cholesterol.
Most of us believe that cholesterol is bad for the walls of the arteries. Poor dietary habits and an unhealthy lifestyle cause inflammation and oxidative stress. In these instances, the arterial walls become less elastic and can crack (3). This damage to the circulatory system must be repaired, and that's where cholesterol comes in.
But you might ask, "Doesn't cholesterol plaque build up in the blood vessels?" That is because it has to fix a body that's being constantly broken down by inflammation. Sustained inflammation is what creates a build-up of atherosclerosis plaques. Without inflammation, atherosclerosis would not form. When it does, it potentially leads to heart disease (heart working too hard to pump blood through the system) or increases the possibility for stroke if that plaque or a blood clot becomes dislodged. Examples of lifestyle choices that cause inflammation covered later in the article.
But then, why is cholesterol constantly being attacked as a despicable enemy? Vilification of this molecule started when researchers discovered that a particle called LDL-cholesterol was behind atherosclerosis and other processes. They also found that lower LDL levels led to lower cardiovascular risk, and people started to call it "bad cholesterol" (4).
But LDL-cholesterol is not the same as cholesterol. To understand that, let us review the difference between cholesterol and lipoproteins.
Introducing Lipoproteins. What Does HDL and LDL Do and How Do They Work?
Cholesterol is a small molecule consisting of only 27 carbon atoms arranged in one five-membered ring and three six-membered rings (shown above). This is known as the tetracyclic ring, and it is found in all molecules derived from cholesterol, such as testosterone and other steroid hormones.
As such, cholesterol is radically different from lipoproteins. Lipoproteins are giant molecules acting like carriers of fatty substances. They are broadly divided into three categories:
HDL (good cholesterol): High-Density Lipoproteins are a significant carrier of fatty molecules, including cholesterol. It gathers fatty acids scattered all over the body and takes them for processing in the liver. It cleans the body from fat and high levels REDUCING cardiovascular risk. It also can get through the blood-brain barrier very easily.
LDL (bad cholesterol): Low-Density Lipoproteins are another considerable carrier of fatty molecules, including cholesterol. However, instead of gathering fatty acids, LDL spreads them throughout the body, delivering cholesterol and other fatty acids whenever needed. High levels INCREASE our cardiovascular risk.
Another essential molecule that is not the same as cholesterol is known as:
Triglycerides: These are another lipid found in the blood consisting of one glycerol molecule attached to three fatty acids. It can be a healthy or unhealthy molecule depending on the type of fatty acids it has attached to it.
By now, you have probably seen that lipids in the body are not necessarily harmful. However, strokes and cardiovascular diseases continue to rise. They are the primary cause of death in most countries, with over 26 million cases in the United States in 2018, according to the American Heart Association (5).
That's why it's now mandatory by Medicare that if someone is admitted to the hospital with a stroke, they are required to be discharged with an LDL-cholesterol lowering medication. These are broadly called statins and their primary method of action is to reduce LDL-cholesterol synthesis by the liver.
But upon reviewing what we just described above, isn't LDL useful to deliver cholesterol to several tissues? Isn't cholesterol required for cell repair? Studies show that cardiovascular risk declines with each 1-mmol/L decrease in LDL. But is there a limit to how low LDL can be? Our tissues need constant repair. They require cholesterol at all times. Are we taking it too far? If we do, there could be repercussions to our brain tissue, leading to adverse effects on cognition. Some researchers even suggest the possibility of neurodegeneration when brain cholesterol levels are too low (6).
Dr. Clarke – Why Cholesterol Is Not Only Required for Optimal Brain Health but Mandatory for Brain Performance
Cholesterol is the crux of everything. As noted above, it is a structural part of all cell membranes. It is also found inside the cell, outlining organelle membranes, protecting the innermost workings of the cell. Moreover, cholesterol is the raw material to create hormones we need for overall optimal health. These hormones are messengers that tell the body what to do, so cholesterol is instrumental in regulating these critical functions in your body.
But there's something most people do not know about cholesterol and the brain. This molecule is required to distribute Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10). What is this CoQ10, and why is it essential for the brain? CoQ10 is fuel for the mitochondria (the engines of the cell) inside a cell and is vital for the health of the human body. CoQ10 however, cannot be transported in water or blood. Thus, it is distributed through cholesterol carriers; primarily LDL through the lymphatic system. Eliminate this key transport mechanism, and the body's energy levels will drop due to lower cellular output (7). Put another way, if cholesterol is not present to carry CoQ10 to cells throughout the body, your energy levels will plummet.
What about hormones? In the brain, neurosteroids require cholesterol to be created. They include:
Pregnenolone: This substance is synthesized in the adrenal glands using cholesterol as the raw material. In the brain, it has anti-anxiety and anti-depressant functions. It reduces inflammation and mitigates memory loss (8, 9).
DHEA: Synthesis of DHEA happens in the adrenal glands, along with pregnenolone. It utilizes cholesterol and has critical neuroprotective potential for head injuries and neurodegenerative diseases. It prevents cognitive problems and delays brain aging (9).
Progesterone: Besides its effect on reproduction, progesterone in women improves cognition. It has a protective effect against cell damage, and it is created by the ovaries using cholesterol (10).
Estrogen: This is the most important sex hormone in women, also synthesized in the ovaries using cholesterol. It acts on the hippocampus, the source of cognition and short-term memory in the brain. It contributes to synapse formation and brain plasticity (11).
Testosterone: This is the most important sex hormone in men. It is synthesized in the testes and has the same tetracyclic ring cholesterol has. Besides reproduction, testosterone improves cognition and reduces depression in males (12).
When these neurosteroids are made from cholesterol and reach the brain, they drive the sigma one receptor to make new neurites pop out to make network contacts from one brain cell to the next. These connections drive the network effect to promote neuroplasticity and influence several neurotransmitters (13). This is how your brain communicates with itself.
You Need Cholesterol to Make New Brain Connections, and That's Just the Starting Point
If you give the brain cholesterol and everything is working in harmony, it will create new membranes and support the cells. This ingredient is required for correct neuronal function and necessary for protection.
In brain cell membranes, cholesterol has a close association with other phospholipids, such as phosphatidylserine, which helps the brain distribute cholesterol within the cell membrane. That is why phosphatidylserine complex is a part of the protocol used by Dr. Clarke to enhance brain health. This additional ingredient also helps protect the cells in your brain and facilitates the messages between them (14).
After doing some research, the notion that cholesterol is evil is neither reasonable nor factual when considering the latest scientific data. Everything has cholesterol, and without it, you can't do anything.
Many doctors have been indoctrinated to think that cholesterol is evil, and yet we know that it is the source of all of the lipids that we need to achieve brain tissue repair.
As you can see in this article, our main interest is the brain, but the whole body repairs itself using membranes consisting of 30% cholesterol. In addition, hormones and neurosteroids would not be synthesized without cholesterol. Naturally, if you limit cholesterol, you will deprive the brain of everything it needs to repair itself. You will also deprive the brain of mitochondrial energy coming from CoQ10. Thus, the DNA won't repair itself, the cells will decay, and all tissues will suffer if you keep blocking the natural pathways.
With that in mind, it is quite shocking to know that we still give massive doses of cholesterol-lowering drugs and falsely believe that there's no limit on how low cholesterol levels should be.
Inflammation is What You Should Really Be Worried About
Of course, very high cholesterol and LDL levels are not encouraged. But even if you have somewhat high LDL levels, you should be more concerned about inflammation than the actual cholesterol number.
As mentioned above, the take-home message is this:
WITHOUT INFLAMMATION, CHOLESTEROL WILL NOT BUILD UP IN ARTERIES OR CAUSE ADVERSE CARDIOVASCULAR OR CEREBRAL EVENTS.
While it is advised to avoid extremely high cholesterol levels, fighting off inflammation is even more important (15).
How do you fight inflammation?
- Adhering to a healthy diet
- Quit smoking and heavy alcohol consumption
- Exercising regularly
- Sleep 6-8 hours every night
Otherwise, when the body becomes inflamed, the liver begins to create cholesterol in an effort to repair damaged cells. But when this happens, repair takes the form of plaque coating the arterial walls, shrinking the diameter of the arteries, reducing blood flow back to the heart, blood clots begin to form behind the disrupted arterial flow, and can potentially dislodge and travel to the brain, resulting in a stroke. And it all started with inflammation (3, 15).
Meanwhile, it is essential to keep high HDL levels. These molecules redistribute cholesterol and are an excellent source for the brain. However, remember that the one that gives away this molecule is LDL, so your body needs both to recover and renew.
Recommended Dosing for Dietary Cholesterol
The exact dose of dietary cholesterol doesn't matter much because all cells have cholesterol. Eating a juicy beef steak or a vegan meal gives you a dietary load of cholesterol. But the fact that dietary cholesterol increases your blood cholesterol is also a myth.
In the 70s and 80s, the medical community and public at large thought cholesterol was a horrible thing. In 1985, Doctors Brown & Goldstein, who discovered the cholesterol molecule, stated that dietary cholesterol was dangerous and won the Nobel Prize. Thus, nobody ate eggs or shrimp, and in the 80s, the recommendation was not to eat more than two eggs per week. But now we know better because the body will adjust its output depending on how much you ingest. Newer studies show that even a very high cholesterol load is not unsafe, and it is not dangerous in dietary supplementation, either (16).
Therefore, should you worry about an elevated level of dietary cholesterol? The answer is no unless you have a severe metabolic problem that needs to be addressed.
Why Cholesterol is Used in Dr. Clarke's Neuro Protocol
People often ask why cholesterol is used in Dr. Clarke's Neuro Protocol. If you read this article carefully, the answer is now clear. Cholesterol protects the cells, encourages tissue repair, and creates the neurosteroids and neurohormones required for optimal brain cell function and regeneration.
The myth is busted. Dietary cholesterol is not bad and is very unlikely to change your blood cholesterol levels. It is safe, and the body will self-adjust these levels if it doesn’t need it. Meanwhile, it will promote CoQ10 transportation, ensuring brain energy, brain repair, and overall neuroprotection.
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