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What is the Deal with Cholesterol?

Everyone has certain assumptions about cholesterol, me included.  The common thought is that it is bad, and when your cholesterol is too high; you’re at risk of heart disease.  This seems to be true, however; some doctors say that there is a lot of mis-information on the subject.  It’s hard to gauge what’s the absolute truth, because there are so many conflicting ideas on the subject.  This judgement, however, I will leave up to you.

First, what is cholesterol?  Cholesterol is a necessary substance found in your bloodstream, and actually; in every cell in your entire body.  It helps cells function properly by producing cell membranes, hormones, vitamin D, and bile acids.  It is also important for neurological function as well.  There are two types of cholesterol:  High-density lipoprotein (HDL) and Low-density lipoprotein (LDL).   HDL has been dubbed the “good” cholesterol, and LDL is considered the “bad” cholesterol.

Conventional thought is that when your LDL count is too high, plaque builds up in your arteries leading to those familiar heart conditions.  A high HDL is considered to be a preventative measure against this negative effect from LDL cholesterol.  According to the American Heart Association, LDL levels are optimum if they are below 100 mg.  Conversely, HDL levels are optimum if they are above 60 mg.  Using other cholesterol factors like triglycerides, the total optimum cholesterol level should be less than 200mg.

Some doctors, like Dr. Joseph Mercola, warn against thinking in these general terms.  He believes that these numbers are not an accurate way to monitor a healthy cholesterol level, especially because it promotes a dangerous “lower is better” type of thought process.  He, and other doctors, believe that there are the same amount of health risks for a low cholesterol level as a cholesterol level that is too high.

Potential health risks for a cholesterol level that is too low include:  depression, increase in violence and aggression, higher risk of cancer, higher risk of parkinson’s disease, and decreases your body’s ability to absorb vitamin D from sunlight.  These are all quite scary potential health risks related to low cholesterol levels.  There are some studies on the relation of these health risks and low cholesterol, but I don’t believe they’re absolutely definitive.  Bottom line is, if you exercise regularly and eat healthy, you probably won’t have to worry about all this cholesterol rhetoric anyway.