By Dr. Mercola
There's some serious confusion about cholesterol, and whether high cholesterol levels are responsible for heart disease.
Chris Masterjohn, who recently received his PhD in nutritional sciences from the University of Connecticut, has published five peer-reviewed papers on vitamins and supplementation, and he's currently researching fat-soluble supplements – A, D, and K – at the University of Illinois. (Please note that the opinions expressed here represent Dr. Masterjohn's own positions, and may not represent the position of the University of Illinois.)
He also maintains a blog, The Daily Lipid1, and his website, Cholesterol-And-Health.com2, which are dedicated to the issue of cholesterol. He's also active with the Weston A. Price Foundation.
Cholesterol has been demonized since the early 1950's, following the popularization of Ancel Keys' flawed research. As a result, people now spend tens of billions of dollars on cholesterol-reducing drugs each year, thinking they have to lower this "dangerous" molecule lest they keel over from a heart attack.
As a testament to the power of this incredibly effective marketing system, Lipitor was the number one selling drug for 2011. This also reveals why challenging this belief system is met by such intense resistance. There are very powerful, financially-motivated forces backing the continued belief in the cholesterol myth.
Cholesterol is Essential for a Healthy Life
The Weston A. Price Foundation has been a major leader in helping people understand the truth about cholesterol, and Dr. Masterjohn has also lectured on this important topic."If we want to understand why cholesterol is really an incredibly important molecule and is really our friend rather than our enemy, I think what we should look at is the question, "What happens without cholesterol?" he says.In those rare cases where a baby is born with Smith-Lemli-Opitz syndrome, the child is susceptible to and can present a wide range of defects, such as:
... [L]ook at Smith-Lemli-Opitz syndrome or SLOS, which is a symptom of genetic deficiency in cholesterol. It's when people can't make enough cholesterol on their own. In order to actually have this full-blown syndrome, it's a recessive trait, which means you need a defective gene for cholesterol synthesis from your father, and you need one from your mother as well. Now, the number of people who carry this defective gene in the population is about one to three percent of the population. However, the number of babies who are born with Smith-Lemli-Opitz syndrome is far lower than we would expect. ... It turns out that if [the fetus] has both of these genes and the unborn child can't synthesize its own cholesterol, then this usually results in spontaneous abortion. So right away we see that cholesterol is needed for life itself..."
Autism or mental retardation Failure to thrive Physical defects in hands, feet and/or internal organs Visual problems Increased susceptibility to infection Digestive problems
Cholesterol is Essential for Cellular Function
What this tells us is that cholesterol deficiency impacts virtually every aspect of your health. One of the primary reasons for this widespread effect is because cholesterol plays a critical role within your cell membranes. Your body is composed of trillions of cells that need to interact with each other. Cholesterol is one of the molecules that allow for these interactions to take place. For example, cholesterol is the precursor to bile acids, so without sufficient amounts of cholesterol, your digestive system can be adversely affected.
It also plays an essential role in your brain, which contains about 25 percent of the cholesterol in your body. It is critical for synapse formation, i.e. the connections between your neurons, which allow you to think, learn new things, and form memories. In fact, there's reason to believe that low-fat diets and/or cholesterol-lowering drugs may cause or contribute to Alzheimer's disease3. Low cholesterol levels have also been linked to violent behavior, due to adverse changes in brain chemistry.
Furthermore, you need cholesterol to produce steroid hormones, including your sex hormones. Vitamin D is also synthesized from a close relative of cholesterol: 7-dehydrocholesterol.
To further reinforce the importance of cholesterol, I want to remind you of the work of Dr. Stephanie Seneff, who also works with the Weston A. Price Foundation. One of her theories is that cholesterol combines with sulfur to form cholesterol sulfate, and that this cholesterol sulfate helps thin your blood by serving as a reservoir for the electron donations you receive when walking barefoot on the earth (also called grounding). She believes that, via this blood-thinning mechanism, cholesterol sulfate may provide natural protection against heart disease. In fact, she goes so far as to hypothesize that heart disease is likely the result of cholesterol deficiency — which of course is the complete opposite of the conventional view.