Cholesterol - A New PerspectiveBy: Jaime C. Cua, M.SNutritional BiochemistCholesterol has been given bad publicity over the last 35 years that the word “cholesterol” is automatically equated with cardiovascular diseases because it is often found deposited along with other fats, connective tissue and calcium in the inner lining of arteries where it narrows and eventually clogs them. Since cholesterol is involved in the progression of cardiovascular diseases that lead to stroke and heart attack, it is not surprising that a concern individual will often resort to “cholesterol-lowering” drugs and “cholesterol-free” dietary regime in an attempt to keep blood cholesterol to its lowest level.Unknown to most people, cholesterol performs many important functions vital to health. Adequate cholesterol ensures optimal cellular functions by maintaining healthy cell membranes. It serves as precursor for the synthesis of hormones, vitamin D and bile acids. It protects the skin from dehydration and acts as antioxidant when body’s supply of antioxidants is low. Because of such importance, some researchers suggest that having cholesterol in the diet gives human an evolutionary advantage. Adequate dietary cholesterol spares the need to manufacture endogenous cholesterol, thereby conserving energy which may otherwise be used in more vital cellular functions. Making cholesterol in the liver is tedious and long, involving 25-biochemical steps requiring energy at every step. It was therefore suggested that meat, egg and dairy eaters may be better adapted for survival than strict vegetarians.If cholesterol is important in human nutrition and is required for survival, why do so many people living today have harmful cholesterol deposits in their arteries? Some causative factors have been proposed which are related to the body’s ability to deal with cholesterol:(1) Some people cannot metabolize dietary cholesterol effectively;(2) The mechanism which regulates cholesterol level does not work properly,(3) High cholesterol diet contains too little dietary fibers that help remove cholesterol from the body.Proponents of Natural Medicine believe that the body’s inability to effectively deal with cholesterol is primarily caused by dietary imbalances, suboptimal intake of essential nutrients, and consumption of refined, processed food. Studies on primitive society have consistently prove the relationship between diet and cholesterol level. For instance, primitive people ingesting unrefined natural diet that is moderately high in cholesterol but which also contains sufficient quantities of dietary fibers and essential micronutrients, are able to keep blood cholesterol within normal range.Dr. Linus Pauling and Dr. Matthias Rath have presented a unified theory suggesting that the primary event in cholesterol build-up in arteries is not caused by high blood cholesterol but simply a result of weakened vascular walls which is related to suboptimal intake of nutrients particularly vitamin C. Several studies strongly suggest that cholesterol build up in arteries does not normally take place within a healthy cardiovascular system. It takes place only at the site of weakened portion of the vascular walls. When vascular walls are weakened or injured, the body responds by mobilizing glue-like protein molecule synthesized by the liver to plug these vascular “leaks”. This adhesive protein is closely associated with lipoprotein-a (Lp-a) which is rich in cholesterol. Thus, cholesterol deposit does not participate in the initial artery injury but was only involved in the process of stabilizing blood vessels. Rising blood cholesterol level is therefore a sign of a disease like a fever, not the disease itself. And so artificially lowering cholesterol, like reducing a fever with aspirin, hinders the body’s effort to protect itself.Restoring the strength and elasticity of the vascular walls should be the most important therapeutic aim of a comprehensive treatment of patients with cardiovascular diseases. This is related to the amount and strength of collagen and elastin whose synthesis is directly stimulated by vitamin C. Optimal intake of vitamin C has been shown to strengthen vascular walls and therefore eliminates the need for sticky Lp-a to stabilize the blood vessel. By simply increasing vitamin C intake, one would expect great reduction in cardiovascular risks. It comes to no surprise that cardiovascular disease is essentially unknown in animals producing their own vitamin C equivalent to several thousand milligrams daily in human.None of the currently available cholesterol-lowering drugs is known to significantly lower plasma Lp-a levels. This is expected since drugs do not participate in strengthening or stabilizing blood vessels. A popular cholesterol-lowering drug, simvastatin, works by inhibiting a specific liver enzyme involves in the synthesis of cholesterol. Blood cholesterol is expected to drop dramatically with this drug since less cholesterol will be produced by the liver. Unfortunately, this potent drug also impair biosynthesis of a nutrient Coenzyme Q10 due to common biochemical pathway shared by both. Coenzyme Q10 is a powerful antioxidant and is responsible for generation of 95% of the body’s energy. When synthesis of Coenzyme Q10 is impaired, chronic fatigue will be evident.Blood cholesterol is best normalized by combination of dietary factors. For instance, niacin (vitamin B3) and vitamin C when taken together can lower plasma Lp-a more effectively by increasing the concentration of a vitamin cofactor NAPDH needed to properly metabolize fats. Amino acids, specifically lysine and proline, prevent cholesterol build up by competitively interfering with the binding of Lp-a at the vascular lesions. Antioxidants, such as vitamin E, carotenoids, and selenium, protect vascular wall from oxidative damage. Eating raw and lightly cooked meat, egg and dairy products does not pose significant cardiovascular risks since cholesterol and lipoprotein content in these food are benign in its natural form. It is their oxidized counterpart that are harmful.Although the truth about the cholesterol has been slow to emerge from the fields of nutritional and biochemical research, new information is gradually coming forward which will change the way we look at cardiovascular diseases. It is quite possible that in the near future, medical problem that seemed very complex and even untreatable will be solved easily through individually-tailored diets and optimal intake of nutritional supplements.