Cholesterol is protective and researchers have the evidence to prove it! The drug companies would have us believe that this is nonsense, but the fact remains that there are many, many studies that definitively show that cholesterol does help to protect the body from disease. Cholesterol is crucial for energy production, immunity, fat metabolism, thyroid hormone activity, liver metabolic pathways, stress tolerance, adrenal function, sex hormone syntheses and brain function.
– Higher cholesterol levels has shown protection in patients from postoperative infections. Patients with chronic heart failure and those undergoing abdominal surgery both showed an increase in mortality when low cholesterol levels were present.
– An analysis of 19 studies (including 68,406 deaths), found a strong association between low cholesterol and deaths due to gastrointestinal and respiratory disease, most from uncontrolled infections.
– A similar study involving over 100,000 individuals over 15 years found a strong correlation between low cholesterol and the risk of being admitted to hospital due to infection with influenza or pneumonia.
– Higher cholesterol levels in cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy show preventative tendancies against fatal bacterial infections resulting from neutropenia (very low levels of white blood cells).
– Researchers have found that high serum cholesterol levels were positively associated with longevity (ie. is protective for healthy ageing), and when researchers conducted analyses of a large number of studies, they found that high cholesterol in the elderly is a not predictor of cardiovascular disease.
Cholesterol is immunoprotective
A review of these studies concluded that cholesterol has immunoprotective properties. The authors of this review admit that high cholesterol has been shown to be a risk factor for coronary heart disease in young and middle aged men only, but this risk may also be explained by other lifestyle factors such as high workloads, urbanisation and poor work/life balance that are commonly encountered by members of this age group. In fact, the age group expected to be most at risk from cardiovascular disease (aged over 75), actually shows a reduced rate of illness, even when blood cholesterol levels are shown to be high.
In many populations, the association between total cholesterol and mortality is simply not present. For example, Canadian and Russian men, and Maori populations. Conversely, there is an association between increasing total cholesterol and a reduced number of deaths from cardiovascular disease.
To date, no experiment has succeeded in producing a heart attack using hypercholesterolaemia (elevated cholesterol) alone. This is because cholesterol is not the cause of heart disease. Injury to the heart muscle and blood vessels is caused by oxidative damage, resulting in the build up of atherosclerotic plaques as the body attempts to heal itself.
At present, around 2.6 million Australians are currently taking a statin to lower their cholesterol levels on the basis that this will prevent cardiovascular disease. But is this really necessary when evidence shows that cholesterol levels cannot and should not be used as an indicator of risk?
Eating a balanced diet, with both saturated and unsaturated fats is important for the health of the human body. Problems arise when too much processed food is consumed, which is inflammatory and fuels oxidative processes within the body causing the damage that leads to cardiovascular disease.
Technical information, atherogenesis and cardiovascular disease.
According to the response to injury hypothesis of atherogenesis, there are at least 2 pathways leading to the inflammatory and proliferative lesions of the arterial intima. The first involves monocyte and platelet interaction induced by hypercholesterolaemia. The 2nd pathway involves direct stimulation of the endothelium by a number of factors including smoking, the metabolic consequences of diabetes, hyperhomocysteinemia, iron overload, copper deficiency, oxidised cholesterol and micro-organisms. There is much evidence to support roles for these factors, but the degree to which each of them participates remain uncertain. However, lack of exposure-response in the trials between changes in LDL cholesterol and clinical angiographic outcomes, the inverse association between change of cholesterol and angiographic changes seen in the observational studies, the significant increase in complicated atherosclerotic lesions in the treatment group after cholesterol lowering by diet, and most of all, the fact that high cholesterol predicts longevity rather than mortality in old people, suggests that the role, if any, of high cholesterol must be trivial. The most likely explanation for these findings is that rather than promoting atherosclerosis, high cholesterol may be protective, possibly through it beneficial influence on the immune system.
Source: Ravnskov, U. High Cholesterol May Protect Against Infections & Atherosclerosis. QJM. 96 (12): 927-934.
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