Cholesterol: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (2)

Part 2 of 3

Preface

Welcome back to our exploration of the intricate interplay among cholesterol, blood vessel health and organ function. In part 1, we delved into the repercussions of a blood vessel occlusion exceeding 70% on vital organs. We highlighted the pivotal moment where individuals, grappling with arteries facing this level of blockage, confront two critical choices.

As we resume our journey today, we pick up where we left off, delving into the nuances of these two crucial options. If you missed the initial segment, catch up here: https://conquestoflongevity.com/cholesterol-the-good-the-bad-and-the-ugly/.

 Let’s continue unraveling the complexities of vascular health and the decisions individuals face in navigating its challenges.

The first of the two major choices involve rolling up our sleeves, getting our acts together, moving our bodies, and embodying the design we were initially meant for. Did you say, ‘what’s that design’? That’s eating only what we need to survive healthily, and keeping our bodies moving from the time that we’re up until our bedtime when we retire. I know that it’s difficult to do, but I trust that if you give it your best, you can do it! 

Bring it on!

Okay, guess what’s the other option? Well, the other is to go for medications that aim at lowering our cholesterol levels, and this option comes with a list of pros and cons. But it all boils down to this: meds are for the weak and the sick! If I am the one who despises working out and I don’t like moving around much, and if I love eating and drinking, then I would pick the easy way of popping a few daily pills into whatever else I love to take into my body!

Can the pills be our ultimate shortcut to health?

I even see myself taking my pills at bedtime with a glass of cold water. Wait, wait, wait… no, this isn’t the right way that I like to do it! This is how the story should go: … a pill or two of cholesterol-dropping meds with a glass of hot milk may be a much better way for someone like me who adores owning more food. Wait a minute, adding a little chocolate to the milk will only boost the taste of my meds to the heavens! Wait another minute! I love having my meds while I am lying flat on the couch with a bowl of butter-glazed popcorn by my side and the empty bottles of beer dropped here and there in the background! Does this last picture sound more familiar to you? 

Chills… just thinking about it!

Well, which option would you prefer? Please don’t deceive yourself by saying, ‘I wish I could have done the former, but I ended up with the latter because of this or that reason!’ See, I caught you off-guard this time! This is how the entire world gains control over us by capitalizing on our most primal weaknesses! Beware that multi-billion-dollar industries are built on how to exploit our primal desires! What I just said is not new to you! I bet you remember what got hold of Pinocchio, and as a result, he had to suffer dearly for it in that story! I’ll tell you, that story wasn’t only meant for children! It was meant for us so that we don’t follow our lazy and fun-seeking natures so readily and so spontaneously!

Why is it that the hard choices seem to be better for our well-being?

The Cautious Approach:  I think there’s a final option that some of us may like to consider. Can you guess what it is? It involves taking control of our health by ditching repetitive eating habits, incorporating more physical activity into our daily lives, and collaborating with our healthcare provider to gradually reduce medication dosage until we have blood cholesterol under our full control on our own terms.

We Asked for It: Our bodies are incredible—they’ve been helping us survive for millions of years, and they’re still doing an amazing job today. But, let’s be honest, suddenly thinking we’re cholesterol experts just because our medical know-how has improved feels a bit off, doesn’t it? Perhaps it’s because we’re consuming way more greasy food these days. It’s a bit disheartening to think that our modern medicine might be more focused on making money for big companies than on keeping us healthy. Have our health needs become just another thing traded on the stock market? Yet, in a strange way, we’re part of this too. The same big companies we might criticize have gotten so big because they’ve given us what we asked for. We needed help, we paid for it, and they’ve grown in return. It’s like a dance—sometimes awkward, sometimes not what we expected, but we’re all part of it. We’re the ones shaping the future of our healthcare, and that’s something worth thinking about.

But, no matter how I look at this, I can’t stop myself from shouting out loud, ‘credit our genetics!’ Our bodies inherently know what’s beneficial for us, and being lazy and excessively indulgent has never been part of the plan for our bodies.

Oxidized versus Unoxidized Cholesterol!

When cholesterol is deposited in the body, it undergoes oxidation, similar to metal left by the roadside. This oxidative process, reminiscent of aging, impacts compounds, and cholesterol is no exception. The body can manage surplus unoxidized cholesterol to some extent, but a significant portion deposited in various areas tends to become unmanageable as it undergoes oxidation over time. In a nutshell what I am saying is this: our body can reasonably do much with cholesterol, but as I am about to explain oxidized cholesterol is the major culprit in damaging our blood vessels. 

No one likes oxidized rubble piles!

The Role of Macrophages: Now, it’s time for me to introduce a key character in the cholesterol narrative—the macrophages (literally, big eaters), specialized immune cells adept at eliminating unwanted substances. Whether battling foreign microbes or managing excess beneficial compounds, these “giant cells” play vital roles. Impressively large, each macrophage can engulf up to 12 red blood cells. Attracted to cholesterol build-ups in blood vessel walls, they commence devouring these molecules. Not only do macrophages utilize some for their own nourishment, but they also transport excess cholesterol to our livers for disposal as biliary acids.

Macrophages: the giant sea squids of the immune system!

The destiny of Oxidized and Non-oxidized Cholesterol

 When a cholesterol molecule undergoes oxidation, macrophages face challenges in dealing with them. The accumulation of oxidized cholesterol in macrophages not only leads to their obesity but eventually results in their demise due to excessive waste build-up. Medical professionals aptly term these deceased (or partially dead and immobile) macrophages on vessel walls as ‘foam cells.’ Intriguingly, foam cells set off a chain reaction, attracting more immune cells to the congestion site, fostering additional foam cell formation, and causing further damage to vessel walls.

Foam cells, transformed macrophages, are the main culprits behind vessel blockages!

Can we minimize the oxidation of excess cholesterol? Including reducing compounds like vitamin C, vitamin E, CoQ10, or selenium in our routine is a known strategy. Their role is to combat the oxidation and rancidity of fats and other compounds. Collectively, they are called antioxidants! However, delving deeply into this topic exceeds the scope of this article, as there’s much ground to cover before reaching a reasonable conclusion for this blog episode.

What’s the buzz about antioxidants?

Transportation of Fatty Compounds in the Body

Fats and fatty compounds travel in our bloodstream within conglomerations known as fat vesicles. These vesicles act as vehicles or cargo ships for fats, carrying a variety of fatty compounds, including our favorite vitamins D and K, omega-3 fats, and cholesterol. Notably, triglycerides and fatty acids are key constituents, serving as quick fuels for many tissues.

Imagine our blood, saturated with fat after indulgent meals!

Our Bodily Navigation System for Fats and Oils

Our body utilizes a clever transportation system to ensure that fat cargoes reach their intended destinations. Tiny proteins, known as apo-proteins, act like microchips and are tagged to each vesicle (cargo), marking them for proper unloading at their final destinations. The term describing the lipid-tagged vesicles is ‘lipoprotein’.

Selective Delivery of Fat Cargoes 

Lipoproteins are selectively taken up by specific tissues because they have receptors (docking stations) that recognize particular apoproteins. This selective delivery mechanism ensures efficient unloading at designated sites in the body.

Our bodies know where to unload the oil!

Who Should be Concerned about Cholesterol?

While many of us didn’t think much about cholesterol in our youth, genetic defects affecting lipoprotein receptor functions can lead to lingering fatty compounds in the bloodstream for some unlucky individuals. These defects often pose health risks, as these surplus fats may be deposited in inappropriate locations, potentially affecting vital bodily organs.

If you’re one of those who likes to toss around jazzy medical terms to dazzle your acquaintances, you may want to remember the term ‘hyperlipoproteinemic’ for referring to these unlucky individuals! So, what disease are they suffering from? ‘Hyperlipoproteinemia!’ If you’re curious about the meaning of ‘hyperlipoproteinemia,’ it refers to elevated levels of lipoproteins or fatty compounds in our blood. By the way, if the latter term is too tricky to remember, you can use ‘hyperlipidemia’ instead!

For the rest of us, if we find ourselves dealing with an excess of fat and cholesterol in our bloodstream, we have brought it upon ourselves!

Maybe you like to dazzle them with this word?

Hold on tight! The grand finale of our cholesterol journey is just around the corner, poised to reshape your perspective. Stay tuned until next week for the unveiling of the cholesterol saga’s conclusion.

To Be Continued…

Dr. Eftekar (Dr. E) is the founder and head coach of the Center for Conquest of Longevity and Northwestern Medical Review. A unique attribute of Dr. E is his well-rounded academic background that, in addition to the science of medicine, extends over several other disciplines such as physiology of aging and longevity, philosophy of science and medicine, and integrated kinesiology.

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