March 18, 2006
Q: What is cholesterol and how can it be lowered naturally? - Layperson
A: Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like compound that belongs to a class of molecules called steroids. It's found in many foods, in your bloodstream and in all your body's cells. If you had a handful of cholesterol, it might feel like a soft, melted candle. Cholesterol is essential for:
The formation of cholesterol involves a series of complicated biochemical reactions that begin with the widespread 2-carbon molecule Acetyl CoA: Acetyl CoA (C2) --> mevalonate (C6) --> isopentenyl pyrophosphate (C5) --> squalene (C30) --> cholesterol (C27). Cholesterol is made primarily in your liver (about 1,000 milligrams a day), but it is also created by cells lining the small intestine and by individual cells in the body.
According to The American Heart Association, high levels of cholesterol are a risk factor for coronary heart disease, the nation's number one killer. Over 100 million Americans have cholesterol levels that exceed the recommended total and 20 percent of Americans have levels that are considered high. A very important fact is that some cholesterol is vital to human life. In this article, we will take a look at cholesterol, both why it is needed for normal human--and animal--functions and why at high levels and in many individuals, it can be deadly. We'll also describe what contributes to and the treatments for high cholesterol levels so that you can take steps to limit your health risks.the important fact that some cholesterol is vital to human life. In this article, we will take a look at cholesterol, both why it is needed for normal human--and animal--functions and why at high levels and in many individuals, it can be deadly. We'll also describe what contributes to and the treatments for high cholesterol levels so that you can take steps to limit your health risks.
It may surprise you to know that our bodies make all the cholesterol we need. When your doctor takes a blood test to measure your cholesterol level, the doctor is actually measuring the amount of circulating cholesterol in your blood, or your blood cholesterol level. About 85 percent of your blood cholesterol level is endogenous, which means it is produced by your body. The other 15 percent or so comes from an external source -- your diet. Your dietary cholesterol originates from meat, poultry, fish, seafood and dairy products. It's possible for some people to eat foods high in cholesterol and still have low blood cholesterol levels. Likewise, it's possible to eat foods low in cholesterol and have a high blood cholesterol level.
So, why is there so much talk about cholesterol in our diet? It's because the level of cholesterol already present in your blood can be increased by high consumption of cholesterol and saturated fat in your diet. This increase in dietary cholesterol has been associated with atherosclerosis, the build-up of plaques that can narrow or block blood vessels. (Think about what happens to your kitchen drain pipes when you pour chicken fat down the sink.) If the coronary arteries of the heart become blocked, a heart attack can occur. The blocked artery can also develop rough edges. This can cause plaques to break off and travel, obstructing blood vessels elsewhere in the body. A blocked blood vessel in the brain can trigger a stroke.
The average American man eats about 360 milligrams of cholesterol a day; the average woman eats between 220 and 260 milligrams daily. So how are we doing? The American Heart Association recommends that we limit our average daily cholesterol intake to less than 300 milligrams. Obviously, people with high levels of cholesterol in the blood should take in even less.
Comments about "good" and "bad" cholesterol refer to the type of carrier molecule that transports the cholesterol. These carrier molecules are made of protein and are called apoproteins. They are necessary because cholesterol and other fats (lipids) can't dissolve in water, which also means they can't dissolve in blood. When these apoproteins are joined with cholesterol, they form a compound called lipoproteins. The density of these lipoproteins is determined by the amount of protein in the molecule. "Bad" cholesterol is the low-density lipoprotein (LDL), the major cholesterol carrier in the blood. High levels of these LDLs are associated with atherosclerosis. "Good" cholesterol is the high-density lipoprotein (HDL); a greater level of HDL--think of this as drain cleaner you pour in the sink--is thought to provide some protection against artery blockage.
A high level of LDL in the blood may mean that cell membranes in the liver have reduced the number of LDL receptors due to increased amounts of cholesterol inside the cell. After a cell has used the cholesterol for its chemical needs and doesn't need any more, it reduces its number of LDL receptors. This enables LDL levels to accumulate in the blood. When this happens, the LDLs begin to deposit cholesterol on artery walls, forming thick plaques. In contrast, the HDLs--the "good" guys--act to remove this excess cholesterol and transport it to the liver for disposal.
A third group of carrier molecules, the very low-density lipoproteins (VLDL) are converted to LDL after delivering triglycerides to the muscles and adipose (fat) tissue.
What is LDL cholesterol? Low-density lipoprotein is the major cholesterol carrier in the
blood. If too much LDL cholesterol circulates in the blood, it can slowly build
up in the walls of the arteries feeding the heart and brain. Together with other
substances it can form plaque, a thick, hard deposit that can clog those
arteries. This condition is known as atherosclerosis. A clot (thrombus) that
forms near this plaque can block the blood flow to part of the heart muscle
and cause a heart attack. If a clot blocks the blood flow to part of the brain,
a stroke results. A high level of LDL cholesterol (160 mg/dL and above) reflects
an increased risk of heart disease. If you have heart disease, your LDL
cholesterol should be less than 100 mg/dL. That's why LDL cholesterol
is called "bad" cholesterol. Lower levels of LDL cholesterol reflect a
lower risk of heart disease. What is HDL cholesterol? About one-third to one-fourth of blood cholesterol is carried
by HDL. Medical experts think HDL tends to carry cholesterol away from the
arteries and back to the liver, where it's passed from the body. Some experts
believe HDL removes excess cholesterol from plaques and thus slows their
growth. HDL cholesterol is known as "good" cholesterol because a high HDL level
seems to protect against heart attack. The opposite is also true: a low HDL
level (less than 40 mg/dL in men; less than 50 mg/dL in women) indicates a
greater risk. A low HDL cholesterol level also may raise stroke risk. What is Lp(a) cholesterol? Lp(a) is a genetic variation of plasma LDL. A high level of
Lp(a) is an important risk factor for developing atherosclerosis prematurely.
How an increased Lp(a) contributes to heart disease isn't clear. The lesions in
artery walls contain substances that may interact with Lp(a), leading to the
buildup of fatty deposits.
What is LDL cholesterol?
Low-density lipoprotein is the major cholesterol carrier in the blood. If too much LDL cholesterol circulates in the blood, it can slowly build up in the walls of the arteries feeding the heart and brain. Together with other substances it can form plaque, a thick, hard deposit that can clog those arteries. This condition is known as atherosclerosis. A clot (thrombus) that forms near this plaque can block the blood flow to part of the heart muscle and cause a heart attack. If a clot blocks the blood flow to part of the brain, a stroke results. A high level of LDL cholesterol (160 mg/dL and above) reflects an increased risk of heart disease. If you have heart disease, your LDL cholesterol should be less than 100 mg/dL. That's why LDL cholesterol is called "bad" cholesterol. Lower levels of LDL cholesterol reflect a lower risk of heart disease.
What is HDL cholesterol?
About one-third to one-fourth of blood cholesterol is carried by HDL. Medical experts think HDL tends to carry cholesterol away from the arteries and back to the liver, where it's passed from the body. Some experts believe HDL removes excess cholesterol from plaques and thus slows their growth. HDL cholesterol is known as "good" cholesterol because a high HDL level seems to protect against heart attack. The opposite is also true: a low HDL level (less than 40 mg/dL in men; less than 50 mg/dL in women) indicates a greater risk. A low HDL cholesterol level also may raise stroke risk.
What is Lp(a) cholesterol?
Lp(a) is a genetic variation of plasma LDL. A high level of Lp(a) is an important risk factor for developing atherosclerosis prematurely. How an increased Lp(a) contributes to heart disease isn't clear. The lesions in artery walls contain substances that may interact with Lp(a), leading to the buildup of fatty deposits.
The levels of HDL, LDL and total cholesterol are all indicators for atherosclerosis and heart attack risk. People who have a cholesterol level of 275 or greater (200 or less is desirable) are at significant risk for a heart attack, despite a favorable HDL level. In addition, people who have normal cholesterol levels but low HDL levels are also at increased risk for a heart attack.
The new cholesterol-lowering drugs, the statins, do prevent cardio-vascular disease, but this is due to other mechanisms than cholesterol-lowering. Unfortunately, they also stimulate cancer in rodents, disturb the functions of the muscles, the heart and the brain and pregnant women taking statins may give birth to children with malformations more severe than those seen after thalidomide.
Homocysteine is formed by the body as a naturally synthesized byproduct of methionine ( a very important amino acid in your body) metabolism. Like cholesterol, homocysteine performs a necessary function in the body, after which, if the right cofactors are present, it will eventually convert to cysteine (and this is one of the amino acids needed to produce glutathione, which is very critical in your detoxifications pathways.) and other beneficial compounds such as ATP, (the energy molecule of the body) and S-adenosylmethionine (SAMe), creatine, choline, part of your RNA and DNA messangers and epinephrine..these are all critical elements of your healthy biochemistry.
The main sites of metabolism are in the kidney and liver - and good levels of folic acid are required to keep homocysteine low.
When left intact, it enters the bloodstream and begins attacking blood vessel walls, laying the foundation for heart disease, stroke and other cardiovascular diseases.
The clear message from new scientific findings is that there is no safe "normal range" for homocysteine. While commercial laboratories state that normal homocysteine can range from 5 to 15 micromoles per liter of blood, epidemiological data reveal that homocysteine levels above 6.3 cause a steep, progressive risk of heart attack (the American Heart Association's journal Circulation, Nov. 15, 1995, 2825-30). One study found each 3-unit increase in homocysteine equals a 35% increase in myocardial-infarction (heart-attack) risk (American Journal of Epidemiology, 1996, 143:845-59).
There are over 130 studies which show that increased homocysteint is a cardio vascular disease factor.
Many enzymes, or catalysts are involved in the complete metabolism of homocysteine. If any of these enzymes is defective or functions inefficiently, the body is less able to successfully process homocysteine. Although this enzyme dysfunction may be due to a mutated or defective gene, ( identified by Dr. Rima Rozen at McGill University in Montreal), more often this breakdown in metabolism is due to deficiencies of certain nutrients. . .particularly B-6, B-12 and folic acid.
When this function is disordered, whether due to genetic defect or nutrient deficiency, homocysteine accumulates and enters the bloodstream where it promotes oxidation of lipids, causes platelets to stick together, enhances the binding of lipoprotein (a) to fibrin and promotes free radical damage to the inside of arteries.
Factors which increase homocysteine:
Some have suggested that the obvious solution to reducing homocysteine would be to restrict methionine intake by restricting foods such as meats that are rich in methionine. Then the supermarket shelves would be lined with low methionine and methionine-free foods. That makes about as much sense as switching cabins on the Titanic. Methionine is a sulfur-containing amino acid that is involved in the synthesis of protein, important in the maintenance of cartilage, and needed for the formation of other important amino acids such as taurine and carnitine. Methionine is not at fault. The problem is when homocysteine cannot be converted.
Reducing Homocysteine Levels
The good news is...elevated homocysteine levels, whether due to nutrient
deficiencies or defective genes, can easily be normalized in virtually all
cases, simply and inexpensively, using a combination of nutritional supplements.
The most effective defense against homocysteine buildup is a combination of
vitamins B-6 and B-12, folio acid and trimethylglycine (TMG). So you have a
way to naturally lower cholesterol.
So you have a way to naturally lower cholesterol.
There are three biochemical pathways used by the body to reduce homocysteine. In one pathway TMG donates a methyl group which detoxifies homocysteine. In this reaction, TMG is reduced to DMG (dimethylglycine), that familiar-product sold as a supplement for its energizing effects. In the other routes, folic acid, B12 and B6 convert homocysteine into nontoxic substances. Some people can't utilize one or another of these pathways. That is why a combination of all these nutrients is most effective for lowering homocysteine. In some people vitamin B may not be efficiently converted to its active co-enzyme form, pyridoxyl-5-phosphate. In that case supplementing with pyridoxyl-5-phosphate would be necessary. There we go again..good health depends on nutrition and yet many medical types insist nutrition has nothing to do with overall health!
Trimethylglycine (aka TMG) is the biochemical term for betaine. TMG is able to donate methyl groups (a methyl group is one carbon molecule and three hydrogens..very, very important to our chemistries) to biochemical events and in the case of homocysteine this leads to the increased production of S-adenosyl-methionine (SAM or sometimes it is written SAMe) which is the bioactive form of the amino acid methionine…also a methyl donor. SAM has been used successfully to treat problems such as cirrhosis of the liver, depression, osteoarthritis and Fibromyalgia.
Methyl groups are thought to protect cellular DNA from mutation, a process which is also helped by good antioxidants. As people age, they often do not have enough available methyl groups to safeguard DNA. Abnormal methylation patterns are found in many people with cancer. Eating foods that contain methyl groups such as beets, green leafy vegetables and legumes is helpful, but these must be eaten in relatively large quantities several times a week. Therefore, dietary supplements such as TMG may often be necessary to provide the body with sufficient protective methyl groups.
Betaine comes from beet sugar and is extracted through a very complex process. Don’t think the betaine HCL you see in digestive supports is the same thing..it isn’t. It has not been shown that betaine HCL is a methyl donator..although it may be..it is very acidic and for long term use, would not be a good plan.
There are essentially two ways to lower homocysteine levels. One, the most common, would be to add methyl groups to it to convert it to methionine or SAMe.
This is accomplished, as mentioned, through TMG (which as its name suggests, has three methyl groups on each glycine molecule – glycine is another amino acid. They are transferred to homocysteine, but need the help of folic acid, vitamin B12, and zinc.
Another methyl donor of importance is choline and this remethylation of homocysteine does NOT need co-factors. One hitch, though, is that this process is only active in the liver and kidneys..so to protect the whole body, in particular the brain one should be sure to take a complex with all factors present.
The second pathway to lower homocysteine involves converting it into cysteine (an very important amino acid), which then through a cascade of chemistry becomes glutathione. This pathway is dependent on vitamin B6 and the exact amount needed to lower homocysteine from person to person can vary greatly. It is only the amino acid methionine which can create homocysteine and the amount of that in someone’s diet, really depends on the individual’s diet. One higher in red meat and chicken would be higher in methionine and so this person would need more B6 (and the other co-factors for that matter) to ensure the clearing of homocysteine.
Elevated homocysteine can also be caused by a genetic defect that blocks the trans-sulfuration pathway (the path which ultimately changes it to glutathione) by inducing a deficiency of the vitamin B6-dependent enzyme cystathionine-B-synthase. In this case, high doses of vitamin B6 are required to suppress excessive homocysteine accumulation. Since one would not want to take excessive doses of vitamin B6 (greater than 300 to 500 mg a day for a long time period), a homocysteine blood test can help determine whether you are taking enough vitamin B6 to keep homocysteine levels in a safe range. There are some people who lack an enzyme to convert vitamin B6 into its biologically active form, pyridoxal-5-phosphate. In this case, if low-cost vitamin B6 supplements do not sufficiently lower homocysteine levels, then a high-cost pyridoxal-5-phosphate supplement may be required. I generally suggest to my patients to take the bio-active form without thinking about the cheaper brands.
For many people, the daily intake of 500 mg of TMG, 800 mcg of folic acid, 1000 mcg of vitamin B12, 250 mg of choline, 250 mg of inositol, 30 mg of zinc, and 100 mg of vitamin B6 will keep homocysteine levels in a safe range. But the only way to really know is to have your blood tested to make sure your homocysteine levels are under 7. If homocysteine levels are too high, then up to 6 grams of TMG may be needed along with higher amounts of other remethylation cofactors. Some people with cystathione-B synthase deficiencies will require 500 mg a day or more of vitamin B6 to reduce homocysteine to a safe level. For the prevention of cardiovascular disease, you would want your homocysteine blood level to be under 7. For the prevention of aging, some people have suggested that an even lower level is desirable, but more research needs to be done before any scientific conclusions can be reached.
A Life Extension article (July, 1997), sites these cases of people with problems in these pathways. “People with these disorders frequently die of cardiovascular disease before reaching adulthood. In one case history report, a 16-year-old Japanese girl was unable to walk with or without support, and had severe peripheral neuropathy, muscle weakness and convulsions. Her vascular system was on the verge of collapse. B6 or B12 didn't help. Folic acid lowered homocysteine, but didn't improve her symptoms. Two months after adding TMG to the regimen, her homocysteine level dropped and she was able to walk with support. Seventeen months later, she was free from convulsions and able to walk normally again.
Cholesterol levels can be lowered through a number of natural methods. It is just as important or more so to maintain the proper ratio of LDL:HDL ratio.
Decreasing homocysteine levels will help lower cholesterol levels. This case history demonstrates the seesaw relationship between homocysteine and SAM. The girls SAM levels went from undetectable to near normal after the first two months of treatment while her homocysteine levels fell dramatically. If these nutrients can overcome a genetic disorder, consider how powerful they can be in reducing the risks associated with elevated homocysteine in the general population. Some people who have been taking this homocysteine lowering nutrient combination for more than a decade reported many benefits including fewer colds, more energy, increased endurance and lower blood sugar levels.”
Natural and Herbal Supplements: Numerous
studies have shown that natural and herbal supplements such as Chromium-GTF,
Guggul, Octacosanol, Policosanol, Pantethine, Beta-Sitosterol,Curcumin,
Fish-Oil, Niacin, Garlic, Soluble fiber , Sytrinol, and Beta Carotene are effective in controlling the high cholesterol
and thus reducing the risk of heart disease. Some of t hese and
others are detailed below:
The so-called French Paradox — the association between red wine and decreased heart disease — has been attributed to resveratrol, a compound found in grapes, which acts as an antioxidant. Most recently scientists have identified a compound call saponin, found in the skins and seeds of red grapes, that effectively blocks the absorption of cholesterol.
All the same powerful Healthy Heart
Antioxidants and Resveratrol found in premium red wine are now available without
alcohol, calories, sugar, preservatives or artificial color in a
Doctor-Approved, easy-to swallow, one-a-day capsule called Well
Cholestasys™ consists of all-natural ingredients that are essential in making it safe and effective. It contains no chemically generated compounds, fillers, or artificial additives and unlike pharmaceutical drugs, does not require a prescription and has no negative side effects. Cholestasys™ is another remarkable product from Techmedica Health™ Inc. and Dr. Charles C. Thao's scientific research team who together continue to provide quality healthcare solutions in the world, for over 30 years now! Dr. Charles C. Thao is one of the world's leading naturopathic medical doctors in his field.
Below is a short explanation of each ingredient in cholestasys™ and it’s proven benefit (often over centuries of use) in safely normalizing cholesterol levels and promoting good health.
There are a number of factors that influence a person's cholesterol levels. They include diet, age, weight, gender, genetics, diseases and lifestyle.
It's important to note that only foods of animal origin contain cholesterol. Lack of awareness of this fact has led to some confusing labels at the grocery store. For example, some items that are high in saturated fats from plant sources bear labels claiming that they are 100 percent cholesterol free. The statement may be true, but it's generally misleading because it implies that the product is definitely beneficial to your health.
Always remember that risk factors for high cholesterol and cardiovascular disease don't exist in a vacuum--they tend to amplify each other. Reducing the risk of a cardiovascular disease involves eliminating all of the risk factors that we can control and seeking medical advise for those we can't.
What can I do to reduce my cholesterol?
There is evidence that water-soluble fibers can aid in lowering cholesterol; these foods include the fiber in oat or corn bran, beans and legumes, pectin found in apples and other fruits, and guar that is used as a thickener. Although highly touted by the media and health food stores, the phospholipid Lecithin has not been confirmed as a reducer of blood cholesterol levels.
If you are overweight, trying to lose weight and including aerobic exercise in your routine can help raise those desirable HDL levels. Diet and exercise alone can decrease cholesterol levels by up to 15 percent.
It probably comes as no surprise to you that, if you smoke, you should quit to avoid a wide range of health problems, including lower HDL levels and increased risk of heart attack.
Any one or combination of methods will help to lower cholesterol. Consult an appropriate heathcare profesional knowledgeable in these areas. Those who suffer any disease states or are pregnant, should use extra caution.
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DISCLAIMER: The information in this column, is NOT intended to diagnose and/or treat any health related issues and is provided solely for informational purposes only. Consult the appropriate healthcare professional before making any changes to your healthcare regime. Even what may seem like simple changes in the diet for example, can interact with, and alter, the efficiency of medications and/or the body's response to the medications. Many herbs and supplements exert powerful medicinal effects. Neither the author, nor the website designers, assume any responsibility for the reader's use or misuse of this information.