Cholesterol: friend or foe?
Despite the hype about cholesterol levels, 50% of heart attacks have normal readings prior to the catastrophic event.
CHOLESTEROL has such notoriety that whenever someone has a heart attack, it is always the first suspect. My friends come in all shapes and sizes, but two buddies come to mind.
The first is quite well endowed in the middle, eats what he sees, finds it hard to spare time for exercises, but is comforted by normal cholesterol levels. The other is mean and lean without an extra ounce of fat, watches his diet, runs marathons “part time”, and yet “suffers” from high cholesterol.
If I had to trade places, the choice would be the latter. Despite the hype about cholesterol levels, 50% of heart attacks have normal readings prior to the catastrophic event.
More than two decades ago, we classified risks of heart attack into major and minor. The three accepted major risk factors were, and still are, hypertension, high cholesterol, and smoking. Heart disease was the number one killer then. Today, medicine is making
Atherosclerosis is unavoidable but it is alarming when it happens prematurely as this accelerates the risk of dying unexpectedly and prematurely. amazing advances with new drugs, diagnostic tools, and therapeutic techniques that have made old timers like myself obsolete. Yet, heart disease is still the chart topper in current-day mortality statistics.
At the risk of ruffling some feathers, diagnosis and treatment is like treating a sick tree with noxious chemical sprays on the leaves. Perhaps it may make good sense to nurture the roots before the tree becomes sick.
Quoting an article titled Are You Courting A Heart Attack by yours truly ( Sunday Star, July 21, 1991), it was stated that “Death due to heart attacks will continue to rise for at least another decade before we can see the results of health education efforts. Awareness towards the importance of preventive health is rather limited, even among the ‘ welleducated’ segment of our population. The prevailing attitude of ‘I don’t feel it, I don’t care’ should be discarded because, by the time you feel it, it will be too late.”
Twenty years later, the incidence of heart disease has in fact escalated and here we are still barking up the same tree, but missing the forest. However, the song that I am going to sing today bears the same title as the one 20 years ago, but the lyrics have certainly been rewritten. There is much better understanding of the genesis of heart disease today. Cholesterol is only one of the characters in this intricate play.
The origin of the story begins with the architect’s design of the human body. In the blueprints are the designated role of cholesterol. In an ideal state of harmonious equilibrium, cholesterol is not the bad guy it is portrayed to be. It is meant to carry out various crucial functions.
The membrane of every living cell in any tissue and organ is composed of cholesterol as its building block. There would be no sex and reproduction without cholesterol as both male and female hormones are dependent on its constant supply to keep the juices flowing.
Fat-soluble vitamins, A, D, E, and K have cholesterol incorporated within. Bile salts are made up of cholesterol and aids in the digestion of fat itself. Cholesterol also has a good heart in the opposing sense that it tries to heal heart disease but itself becomes embroiled in a bitter battle and gets in the cross-fire. Like the unfortunate scapegoat, it is ostracised as the scoundrel of heart disease.
On the average, the adult human body has in its reserve 35g of cholesterol. Dietary intake hovers around 200mg per day. The bulk of cholesterol is manufactured by our liver, estimated to be around 1g daily. We are therefore “absorbers” and “producers”. Here is some bad news. When cholesterol intake is reduced, the internal production steps up a notch as compensation.