We have heard a lot in the news about the changes in the statin drug guidelines. Most of the time when we have a informal conversation about statins, it is about someone who has tried them and had immediate side effects such as immediate pain or someone who has been on them for a long time developing severe memory loss or causing diabetes! We don’t hear much more about what the statins do besides lowering cholesterol and that cholesterol is like glob that sticks to our pipelines causing them to bust.

Why does a person have high cholesterol to begin with? What is cholesterol? Are there different forms? Does cholesterol have a purpose?

It is certainly more complex than high cholesterol = heart attack. The new guidelines recommend not relying on cholesterol numbers alone, since they really aren’t science based. The numbers of total cholesterol below 200 and LDL less than 100 came from a study of white males who had heart attacks, certainly not a good representation for any other ethnicity or for women. Considering the combined risk factors of family history, age and health along side of cholesterol numbers was proposed by the American Heart Association (AMA) but has always been a part of our individual patient plans here at Journey of Health.

The unique molecule of cholesterol is used for many things in the body. First of all, it acts as the base molecule that many of our hormones are made of, so it should not surprise us that when we go through menopause or andropause (for men), our cholesterol numbers change. Instead of using up the entire cholesterol molecule up to make hormones, we have some left over as our body adjusts to the change. It is also the base molecule for Vitamin D, recycles bile, and is essential in making parts for your immune function.

It is one of the main components of the cell membrane to allow transfer of cells into and out of our cells. Cholesterol also makes up 50% of our brain. The common side effects of cholesterol lowering drugs include muscle aches and memory changes. This makes sense since we need cholesterol in both areas to function properly.

Other actions of cholesterol include the antioxidant and even anti-viral effects of cholesterol. This is why it forms plaques on the inside of our vessels, as a repair mechanism. So the question is why do the inside of the vessels need repaired? The damage may be caused by excessive oxidation to the inside of the vessels or high blood pressure.

High cholesterol used to be considered 240 and above but has been changed to 200 and above. Cholesterol-lowering drugs rarely solve the problem: neither does avoiding saturated fats since only 10% of our cholesterol is affected by diet. Over 60% of biopsies of arterial plaques in one study were found to be poly-saturated fat while less than 30% had saturated fat components. Diet does play a role but we need cholesterol throughout our body for so many functions

About half the heart attacks do not have high cholesterol markers on a basic lipid panel. In our office, we take your vessel health very seriously, protecting it with diet advice, botanicals, and nutrients as needed. We also run several unique lipid panels such as the Boston Health Lab and the VAP, both well documented in scientific literature to improve cardiovascular outcomes. They identify the specific breakdown of the LDL and HDL particles as well as inflammatory markers to be able to specifically treat your body’s needs

Do not become of guinea pig, or tester, of the new risk guideline calculator. It is a proposed model, not well tested, and only one thing to consider when assessing your heart health and overall wellbeing.