LDL Cholesterol Isn’t Entirely Bad

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“Dear Pharmacist,

Would you elaborate on cholesterol, and what LDL and HDL numbers mean.”

–C.J. Dallas, Texas

Answer: There’s mass confusion, everyone thinks cholesterol is bad. Medical authorities and television commercials have convinced some people that the lower your LDL number, the healthier you are.

You should sit down for this: Cholesterol is a strong and wonderful anti-inflammatory and a potent antioxidant. Shocked? Because I bet you thought it was bad and that you should get rid of this bad awful cholesterol asap!  Obviously, you don’t want levels to run amok, but there is a point where you could lower excessively, and that’s unhealthy.

Well-designed studies have repeatedly demonstrated that cholesterol can block two different pathways responsible for inflammation and pain, 5-LOX and 5-COX. For the record, prescribed anti-inflammatories often work on those two pathways, but if you have enough natural cholesterol, it is doing the work for you… without cramping your legs and making you weak!

We commonly refer to our “bad” LDL cholesterol and our “good” HDL cholesterol. I’ve even used those terms myself because people automatically understand, but they’re silly. LDL and HDL are not even made of cholesterol! They are just fatty proteins, hence the name “lipoprotein” where “lipo” means fatty and “protein” means just that. (Stick with me, we are getting to the fun part.)

There is no such thing as “good” or “bad” cholesterol, why would your body make something bad for you anyway? LDL stands for low density lipoprotein, and HDL stands for high density lipoprotein.  LDL is nothing more than a carrier molecule, a pick-up truck that shuttles cholesterol (fat) to the tissues. You don’t want too many deliveries of fat to your arteries and organs so doctors are correct in trying to tame LDL levels.  HDL removes the fat from your tissues and returns it to the liver. Excellent! That’s why you are trying to raise HDL all the time, while lowering LDL.

Balance is key. Total annihilation of LDL (and cholesterol) makes your life miserable. This LDL, the “pick-up truck” also shuttles nutrients and antioxidants such as vitamin E which has anti-cancer properties. LDL helps you make steroid hormones such as pregnenolone, cortisol, DHEA, estrogen and testosterone so you can feel youthful, happy, strong and fertile and much more.

I’m in your head right now, so let me tell you do not suddenly stop taking your medications, good gracious that is not at all what I’m trying to say. Just understand that your body has a set-point where you feel healthy and strong. Control them, but don’t chase the numbers down too low! Natural considerations include niacin, guggul fish oils, astaxanthin and soluble fiber. Discuss changes to your medication/supplement regimen with your pharmacist and physician(s).

Clarification from last week: Neither Forteo or Evista are bisphosphonate drugs, they work by a totally unique mechanism of action.