100 million Americans are diagnosed with borderline to high cholesterol. Annually, 800,000 thousand Americans die from heart disease, stroke, and cardiovascular diseases. Despite the abundance of education on the topic, many Americans are surprised and confused on their diagnosis. Many report eating a seemingly low-cholesterol diet and being physically active. Many undergo drastic diet changes including consuming artificial, low-calorie, low-fat food. Many are prescribed cholesterol-regulating medication; Lipitor, the leading cholesterol medication is a $10.7 billion dollar industry. Seemingly, the education is there, the foods are there, the medication is there. Why is high cholesterol still such a significant problem; it does not fit?

Excerpts from my article:

Importance of Cholesterol

Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance found in all cells of the body. Cholesterol is made in the liver and is also found in some of the foods we eat. It is responsible for providing cell structural support, preserving the water-resistant skin barrier, and conducting nervous impulses. It is needed to make hormones such as testosterone, estrogen, progesterone, aldosterone, and cortisone. Without aldosterone your body cannot regulate water and sodium levels. Without cortisone your body cannot cope with stress; this is an important factor that will come up later. Together with sun exposure, cholesterol is required to produce vitamin D. It is also needed to synthesize bile acids that help digest fat and absorb vitamins. Without a doubt, cholesterol is needed in the body to function. There are various schools of thought on the role of cholesterol and the problems that it can cause; however, many do not look at the function of cholesterol. Functionally, cholesterol is part of an immune reaction to a need for healing in the body and making it run efficiently.

Atherosclerosis Plaque Formation, Western Medicine View

The common perception is that “bad” LDL cholesterol adheres to the artery walls, forms a plaque, clogs arteries, and leads to heart disease, a stroke or heart attack. Functionally, the LDL involvement in atherosclerosis is an inflammatory process that begins with a tear in the artery wall between the inner and outer layers. Tears can be caused from a variety of dietary and lifestyle processes, including: free-radicals and pollutants from cigarette smoking, sugar, alcohol, overcooked protein, auto/diesel exhaust; homocysteine; psychological stress; microbial infection; excessive omega- 6 fatty acid intake; inadequate omega-3 fat intake; inadequate vitamin C intake; inadequate vitamin E intake; inadequate vitamin B6 from overconsumption of protein; and, pain medications. All of these factors have been shown to exert an atherogenic effect, unrelated to elevated serum cholesterol.

Damage and tears to the artery wall triggers an immune inflammatory process to repair the injury. The damaged endothelium secretes chemo-kines to attract and bind monocytes. These monocytes differentiate into macrophages that protect the area from infection by engulfing and disposing of any foreign objects. LDL cholesterol attaches to the wound, is engulfed by macrophages and crosses the endothelium layer becoming oxidized, foam cells. Calcium is deposited and the artery lining hardens. Over time, and with increased damage to the endothelium, large plaques form and impede blood flow. An accumulation of cholesterol in the blood and the hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis) that accompanies this buildup narrows the space that blood can flow through. Over time, the function of the artery will diminish and blood supply to the heart will decrease. High cholesterol is factor in cardiovascular disease, its presence indicates a potential for strokes and heart attack. The vascular inflammatory process demonstrates that LDL “bad” cholesterol is not the cause of high cholesterol, but a factor in the process. High levels of LDL cholesterol can be a good indicator of artery damage and a signal to change lifestyle habits.

Atherosclerosis, Traditional Chinese Medicine View

In TCM, atherosclerosis involves several factors: inflammation and internal heat, drying of fluids and vessel walls, and accumulation of dampness (lipids) in the blood from the body trying to cool off the blood. Inflammation is a process of heat being created in the body from daily moderate repression of emotion, involving an internal conflict. [17] Heat can be due to an overactive nervous system from the emotions of anxiety, worry, obsession, and emotional shock. It involves two opposing forces: an “irresistible force” of active energy and an “immovable object” of repression which creates stagnation. Slow-building anger and resentment that is not expressed directly can turn to rage. There are other lifestyle habits that can create heat, including caffeine, and recreational stimulants such as cocaine and amphetamines. Overwork and excess exercise can tire out the Liver and the blood that store it, creating stagnation. This stagnant energy generates heat. The function of the Liver is to store blood, thus the heated blood accumulates in the Liver and then eventually works its way through the circulatory system and causes inflammation of the blood vessels. The heated blood expands against the vessels and causes them to distend and become weak.

Simultaneously, the body tries to cool off the system with the yin fluids from the Kidney. Continual need for yin fluids leads to depletion of yin and the body becomes dry. The vicious cycle of generating heat and needing to cool off the blood by using fluids causes more fluids to be used which makes the nerves irritable, creating more heat and needing more fluids. Blood vessels lose their flexibility and begin to harden. As a result, the body begins to patch up the vessels with cholesterol and plaques form, creating atherosclerosis. Repeated attempts to cool the blood off drain the yin fluids and do not allow the Kidney to mist and cool off the Heart, causing Heart deficiency and high blood pressure. The causal link between emotions and atherosclerosis is visible.

Sugar and High Cholesterol

“The implication is that free-radical damage (leading to) atherosclerotic lesions is definitely mediated by nutrition.  There is a link between the amount of free radicals and what and how much you eat. We see free radical cell damage when the body attempts to defend against stress.” Free radical damage results in less energy, and also causes deterioration of the organs and systems of the body. Free radicals are implicated in more than 80% of degenerative disease and hasten the aging process.

See the full research article here: Atherosclerosis: The link between sugar, stress, high cholesterol, and the formation of atheromas (plaques).