Cholesterol, Heart Disease, and Depression; It may not be quite what we thought!
Cholesterol is one of the most important molecules in the body, and in our efforts to reduce it we may be causing a tremendous amount of harm. Heart disease is a problem in this country but not because of high cholesterol – the culprit is inflammation in our arteries, and the causes are many. There is a complex relationship between inflammation, heart disease and high cholesterol; but as we so often do, we have missed the cause of the disease and have been unsuccessfully treating a symptom.
The liver manufactures 90% of the cholesterol that is in our body, and for a good reason. We need cholesterol for a number of purposes: to manufacture sex hormones and stress hormones, to make bile salts so that we can digest fats, and to provide stability to the structure of every cell membrane; cholesterol acts as the glue that holds our cells together. There are also numerous studies that document low cholesterol’s (below 160 total) contribution to depression (including postpartum), increased violent tendencies, suicide, and an increase in accidental death. High cholesterol is correlated with an increase in longevity.
Our understanding of how cholesterol works and its relationship to coronary health and arteriosclerosis has changed dramatically in the last ten years. Our biggest concerns about high cholesterol revolve around the idea that if cholesterol is high, it will cause plaque build up and a clogging of the arteries. It is true that if there is a build up of cholesterol in the arteries and that if for some reason it is released, then this can result in a heart attack or stroke. But what causes this build up to occur in the first place? By addressing this cause we can certainly prevent and even reverse this disease more effectively.
As discussed in the book The Homocysteine Revolution by Kilmer McCulley, M.D., a major causative factor in coronary artery disease is homocysteinuria, or high homocysteine. This genetic condition will cause inflammation in the arteries in 10% of the population, resulting in early and deadly arteriosclerosis. Some individuals have a diminished ability to break down homocysteine as they age. Smoking cigarettes and high serum iron (which is often overlooked) are two other examples of irritants that increase inflammation, thereby contributing to arteriosclerosis.
Dr. McCulley’s work was discounted and discredited for many years partly because the treatment for homocysteinuria is simply the administration of several B vitamins, which is an inexpensive and non-pharmaceutical approach. But his findings demonstrate the role of inflammation in coronary disease, and are of the utmost significance. When one considers that inflammation is a major contributing factor, it allows for many more treatment options that are non-toxic and that do not require the use of cholesterol-lowering drugs, which have numerous side effects. Lipitor and Baycol are two of the notable drugs that have recently been in the press for their lethal side effects. The liver toxicity of these drugs has been known since their inception, and was considered an acceptable risk. However, with the knowledge that we now have about cholesterol, reconsidering this “acceptable risk” is critical.
According to Joseph Mercola, M.D. in his web page, http://www.ehealthynews.com, if the new AMA guidelines for cholesterol levels are adopted by the traditional medical community, half of the population of this country would eventually be on these drugs. Many alternative medicine professionals consider a total cholesterol level from 210-220 to be optimal. The traditional medical community considers levels over 200 as too high. More important however, are the HDL/LDL ratios. HDL and LDL are what are commonly called “good” and “bad” cholesterol. One rule of thumb is to look at the HDL (the “good” cholesterol), which would be 70 optimally.
When considering how to treat high cholesterol (over 250-260, depending on the HDL), one must look at liver function, since it is the main producer of cholesterol. Therefore, whatever is toxic to the liver will interfere with its proper or optimal function, whether the cholesterol is high or low. Low cholesterol levels indicate the inability of the liver to manufacture enough cholesterol. High cholesterol levels often indicate an over-production of cholesterol by the liver, in an effort to maintain equilibrium in the presence of toxins throughout the body. These toxins would include, but are not limited to, pharmaceutical, over-the-counter, and recreational drugs, such as hormone replacement therapy and birth control pills; margarine and trans fats; alcohol, sugar, pesticides, insecticides, and pollutants in general, the hormones and antibiotics found in animal products (especially those not organically raised), stress, coffee, cigarettes and so on.
These toxic substances are causes of inflammation, and their elimination from the diet can be invaluable in treating and preventing heart disease. But other interventions also may be necessary with the help of a healthcare professional. It has been well documented that, along with the dietary management described in the previous paragraph, the use of properly balanced minerals, proteolytic enzymes (these help with the digestion of proteins, thereby decreasing inflammation); vitamins, good quality protein and good fats, can go a long way in treating and reversing heart disease. In some cases, the use of herbs, acupuncture, stress management/therapy, homeopathy and other noninvasive therapies, will further enhance this detoxification and healing process.
It is well known that there are populations in Northern Italy that have high levels of cholesterol and yet heart disease is low. Cholesterol is clearly not a problem for them. High cholesterol simply reflects the effort the body makes to try to self regulate and create homeostasis. It is a symptom that is likely to correct itself or at least not be a problem when the rest of the body, and the liver in particular, is given a chance to heal and operate as it was meant to. In our effort to lower cholesterol, we are creating many other problems that are worse than the disease itself. We are not listening to our bodies and are ignoring the wisdom it has to offer.