Nutritional Therapist London UK Jill Barber Life To The Power Of Food
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Cholesterol; what’s all the fuss about?

Cholesterol is a type of fat that is in all our cell membranes.  What probably isn’t common knowledge is that it is vital for functions such as nerve transmission, the manufacture of vitamin D and the formation of bile (which helps us digest fat).


Around 80% of cholesterol is produced in your liver, with the other 20% coming from your diet.  It’s only found in animal products, not in vegetable oils like avocado or olive.  Shellfish, for example, contain very little fat, but a high level of cholesterol, whilst nut butters are high in fat and low in cholesterol.


Cholesterol has to travel in the bloodstream and in order to do so, it needs a protein carrier called a lipoprotein, of which there are two main types: LDL (or “bad), which carries cholesterol to the artery wall, and HDL (“good”), which helps to return cholesterol to the liver.  High LDL can cause damaged and inflamed arterial walls, also depositing saturated fats and calcium, called arterial plaque or atheroma. This build up can lead to strokes and heart attacks. This is one of the reasons why there is such fear around cholesterol.


Let’s look at the facts. The balance of these two lipoproteins in the blood is more important than the total cholesterol.  When we have our cholesterol tested by doctors, the results look at the total cholesterol taking no account of the ratio of Good to Bad. The total amount of cholesterol that Dr’s look for is around 5 (although this was higher in the past). Anything higher and they are likely to prescribe Statins.


Studies of the benefits of Statins lowering cholesterol have over the years shown only one side of this drug. In the noughties only studies showing the benefits of Statins were published but in the 21st century that all changed and people have looked closer at Statins. Statins are know to have many side effects but it’s now thought that the antioxidants that Statins contain may be beneficial because of the anti-inflammation properties as well as their ability to lower cholesterol.

A paper back in 2008 by the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine and the UC San Diego's Statin Study group cites nearly 900 studies on the adverse effects of statins.  They conclude that muscle problems are the best known of statin drugs' adverse side effects, but cognitive problems and peripheral neuropathy, or pain or numbness in the extremities like fingers and toes, are also widely reported.  A spectrum of other problems, ranging from blood glucose elevations to tendon problems, can also occur as side effects from statins. Statins' benefits have not been found to exceed their risks in those over 70 or 75 years old, even those with heart disease.

The paper also summarises powerful evidence that statin‐induced injury to the function of the body's energy‐producing cells, called mitochondria, underlies many of the adverse effects that occur to patients taking statin drugs.

One casualty is Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10), a powerful antioxidant, which is an essential component of the mitochondria and is involved in the production of energy. Statins affect this enzyme resulting in reduced production of CoQ10 as well as cholesterol. It is therefore advisable that CoQ10 is supplemented for patients taking statins.