Archive | October 2013

GOOD OR BAD CHOLESTEROL: what’s the good oil?

GOOD OR BAD CHOLESTEROL: what’s the good oil?

I have always had “high” cholesterol. Despite having been under-weight all my life, virtually vegetarian for 40 years and a runner for 27, nothing I have done or not done, eaten or not eaten changed the result. Then a few years ago a distinction was made between LDL (bad) and HDL (good) cholesterols. My samples were always high in HDL & low in the “bad” variety, therefore indicating an overall high score but on analysis revealed there was little chance of any health risk.

Our bodies need cholesterol. Consisting of various lipids (fats), they combine with protein particles which help shunt them along the bloodstream. Cholesterol is found in every cell in the body and is needed for producing hormones, such as oestrogen, for example. While a build-up of the small, dense, less pliable LDL particles can cause blockages in arteries, the HDL variety can act as a broom, sweeping away harmful cholesterols. Even then, not all LDLs are “bad”, just the very tiny dense particles that can press through artery walls causing oxidization, becoming rancid then creating infection.  

For many decades, health specialists have been urging people to reduce sources of animal fats while increasing the consumption of fresh fruit and vegetables along with grains. Common sense tells us that this is optimal. Many of us have followed a healthy eating pattern for decades thinking we have been doing the right thing, yet still finding our LDL levels are not dropping. This is partially due to the body manufacturing its own cholesterol, so that when levels drop, more is produced to maintain balance.

New evidence is emerging, however, that shows many leading heart specialists in the US are now beginning to question whether a high cholesterol count of (the “bad”) LDL’s  is as detrimental to cardio-vascular disease as had once been believed. Over the years, numerous cardiologists have noted that while some people with high LDL counts showed no ill-health, others with low amounts of the “bad” cholesterol sometimes developed heart disease. What was happening here?

While at this point, specialists and researchers in the field are not sure what all this means, it begs the question: firstly, have the pharmaceutical companies been ripping people off by recommending doctors to prescribe their medications, and secondly, are animal fats the main cause of high levels of the more harmful LDL variety? 

In Australia, new medications are evaluated by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) before they can be made available to the public. The practices and performance of the TGA are scrutinized by a committee made up of industries connected with pharmaceutical companies, natural health products and government departments such as Finance, Industry, Science and Technology, etc. Additionally, the approval of drugs by similar international organizations in the US, Canada and The EU, for example, can also be given the tick of approval here. Now, this all might sound quite democratic.

New drugs, however, are therefore finally approved for use by the relevant Ministers who could be under the influence of powerful, self-interested industries. The case to push one medication over another can be at the mercy of politicians with a hidden agenda.  

Likewise, the vilification of one food source over another by agri-businesses which are motivated by profits rather than the health of the general populace can be advantageous when one has friends in Parliament. Here too, sitting members might also have ulterior motives. Certain politicians can be lobbied by agri-businesses wanting the stamp of approval for their particular produce by pushing the line that eating grains, for example, is better for health than eating animal products. Such a case occurred in the US where Senator George McGovern, a major wheat grower without any scientific research, campaigned to encourage the populace to eat more carbohydrates. It has long been known by researchers, however, those wheat products which often contain sugar, cause tooth decay. Moreover, refined grains are also high on the glycaemic index which can lead to type ll diabetes. This too, can lead to heart disease.

The jury is still out on the case of whether high levels of LDL cholesterol can lead to cardio-vascular disease, as well as if in fact it is animal fats which cause the levels to be heightened.

What to do? Eat in moderation, exercise regularly, and lower stress levels. Be responsible for your own health by researching what the science is saying rather than jumping on the band-wagon of the latest health fad. Do not suddenly stop taking prescribed medications without consulting your doctor. The jury is not yet in.