Agent provo­ca­teur

Choles­terol has al­ways been painted as the bad guy in heart dis­ease, but the real trou­ble­maker may be some­thing else.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - HEALTH - By Dr C.S. FOO

IN the his­tory of mankind, wars have been waged through­out the cen­turies. Be­hind ev­ery con­flict, there is al­ways an ini­tia­tor that pro­vokes re­volt or an­ni­hi­la­tion, and sets the stage for bat­tle.

There will also be the col­lab­o­ra­tors who fan the fires of dis­cord, and the rebels who fight for the cause.

Cer­tainly, there has never been a bat­tle with­out col­lat­eral dam­age.

In the chron­i­cles of war within the body, choles­terol is the un­wit­ting rebel.

In its at­tempt to patch up the wounds of ar­te­rial dam­age, it it­self is drawn into a web of de­ceit, which – with the help of other col­lab­o­ra­tors – sets ablaze the fires of in­flam­ma­tion within artery walls.

As this waxy agent be­comes in­volved in the com­plex for­ma­tion of ath­er­o­scle­ro­sis (the fore­run­ner of heart dis­ease), the good work choles­terol does in main­tain­ing cell mem­brane in­tegrity, keep­ing hor­mones in bal­ance, and sus­tain­ing cel­lu­lar func­tions goes un­no­ticed.

In­stead of be­ing the good guy, choles­terol has gained no­to­ri­ety as the bad guy of heart dis­ease.

In or­der to keep our body func­tion­ing, the net­work of wa­ter­ways known as the ar­ter­ies need to be kept open and clear to de­liver nu­tri­ents, oxy­gen, hor­mones and other es­sen­tial sub­stances to the or­gans.

If blood sup­ply is cut off, or­gans will per­ish – and so will the body’s owner.

One such or­gan is the heart, but what hap­pens here can oc­cur else­where as well.

In my pre­vi­ous ar­ti­cle ( Choles­terol: Friend or Foe?, StarTwo, Oct 6), I dis­cussed the role of choles­terol in the devel­op­ment of heart dis­ease.

I noted that it is not just the over­all choles­terol lev­els that are im­por­tant, but more cru­cially, the lev­els of LDL-choles­terol.

We now know that as LDL-choles­terol be­comes ox­i­dised, it lit­er­ally “sticks” un­der the in­ner lin­ing of ar­te­rial walls, form­ing a fatty sludge that sets off in­flam­ma­tion.

Spe­cialised white blood cells, like an ef­fi­cient army, try to clean up the mess.

But in the process, they cause much col­lat­eral dam­age, with the scars of bat­tle show­ing up as fi­bro­sis and hard­en­ing of the artery walls, thus, paving the way for high blood pres­sure, heart dis­ease and stroke.

The real cul­prit

To re­duce the ca­su­al­ties of war, the real in­sti­ga­tors of un­rest should be un­masked and neu­tralised. In this case, it is the trou­ble­maker called ho­mo­cys­teine.

Hid­den in­sti­ga­tor: Meat is a rich source of ho­mo­cys­teine, as are eggs and dairy prod­ucts.

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