Believe It or Not…You Need Cholesterol!

by Rosa Kincaid, MD

Cholesterol, the soft, waxy substance in your bloodstream and also present in every cell of your body is vital to life. Cholesterol has a bad reputation and it is time to better understand this crucial molecule. Cholesterol is present in the membranes of all cells, it is the precursor to all hormones, integral to the production of Vitamin D and necessary for the digestion of fats. If it does all this good, then what is all the bad press about high cholesterol? As usual, we must be able to discern fact from fiction when it comes to our health – cholesterol numbers included. First a primer on our modern view of cholesterol.

According to conventional medicine there is high-density lipoprotein (HDL), it is the good cholesterol – think the “H” stands for happy/good cholesterol. It keeps the bad cholesterol from sticking to the sides of your arteries and possibly prevents heart disease. Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) is the bad cholesterol – think the “L” stands for lousy/bad.

It circulates in your bloodstream and may build up forming plaque that sticks to the sides of your arteries making them narrow and less flexible (atherosclerosis). If a clot forms in one of the narrow arteries that lead to your brain or heart, a stroke or heart attack happens. Additionally, there are triglycerides – elevated levels of which have been linked to heart disease and diabetes. Triglycerides rise from eating too many grain-based carbohydrates, sugars, smoking, excessive alcohol intake, lack of exercise and being overweight/obese.

New on the scene is the ability to view cholesterol with ever more detail. We now know there is also Lipoprotein a or Lp(a), which is LDL cholesterol plus apoprotein a. Elevated Lp(a) levels are a well established risk factor for heart disease, yet few practitioners think to check for it when running conventional blood tests.

While there are many guidelines from well meaning organizations urging the population to lower cholesterol numbers, the admonition is too simplistic. If statin drugs are used to lower cholesterol numbers there are high-risk side effects that can’t be ignored, including muscle pain and liver damage. If cholesterol numbers are too low, regardless of how it happens, one runs the risk of hormonal imbalances, digestive difficulties and more.

Now there’s more to learn. With the ability to see ever-smaller cholesterol particles, we know that cholesterol is cholesterol is cholesterol. It’s what is attached to the cholesterol molecule (the specific protein, i.e. Lp(a)) that identifies its function. Simply stated, our ability to see and categorize more “types” of cholesterol, allows us to better predict who is prone to heart disease and stroke. These new and innovative tests provide information that allows LDL particles to be classified by size, making it clearer for the practitioner to see who is at risk for disease and the best course of action.

Other cutting edge testing includes examining genetic markers, making therapy truly individualized. Genetic testing is done at the same time as advanced lipid testing and provides rich information, allowing the physician to know which treatment plans will work for you specifically.

With this knowledge, prevention is possible. And, with prevention you have two clear choices: conventional medicine where prescription medication solves the problem by reliving the symptom or a holistic approach, where not only the symptom is addressed but the source, too, utilizing lifestyle modification including dietary changes and supplementing with vitamins and minerals in a focused manner. These changes often lower the risk factors for diabetes, heart disease and stroke, without interrupting healthy levels of cholesterol.

So what are healthy cholesterol levels? The answer is “it’s individualized”. That is why the new lipid and genetic tests are so valuable. The best advice, with or without testing, is to eat a predominately plant-based diet with plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, change your oils to olive and coconut and enjoy raw nuts and seeds. Additionally, get daily exercise, avoid smoking, excess alcohol and address your emotional stressors.

Should you need help in managing your cholesterol numbers, advanced lipid testing is now available and covered by most major insurance companies. Often included in these panels are tests to measure levels of inflammation, insulin and Vitamin D. Interpreted together, the results are good information to help you improve your health and vitality.

Please contact Dr. Kincaid’s office to inquire about advanced lipid and genetic testing to manage your cholesterol at 314-531-0008. Dr. Kincaid is a medical doctor who has been practicing medicine since 1984 and offering holistic treatment in St. Louis since 1999.