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Cholesterol, Wellness and Nutrition

One of a Kind

You are one of a kind-and not just in looks or personality. You're also "biochemically" unique. That means that your body's DNA is just a little different than anyone else. And that means that your body's processes and chemistry are also unique. That's why we're not surprised when people have different reactions to the same medication or diet.

We see this uniqueness come into play in various situations relating to the health of our patients. One important example relates to individual differences in cholesterol levels. And the subsequent incidence of coronary artery disease. It is widely accepted there is a relationship between the two. But cholesterol's role in heart disease and its proper management are fairly controversial.

The Good, Bad and Ugly

What does this mean? There are two types of cholesterol. The "good" cholesterol, HDL, helps remove the plaque in blood vessels. And the bad form, LDL, does the opposite. It actually sticks to the blood vessel wall and causes a build-up of material called plaque. It is not a pretty situation when vessel walls begin to narrow with plaque. In response the heart has to pump harder and becomes stressed. That's heart disease.
Your goal, then, ought to be to have high levels of HDL and low levels of LDL. The total elevation and balance between the types of cholesterol are the important considerations. This "total cholesterol ratio" is one important measure of your coronary heart disease risk. In other words, as the cholesterol number increases, so does the risk. With proper wellness treatment and nutrition balance can be achieved to reduce risk.

One Size Doesn't Fit All

There is no universal approach to dealing with elevated cholesterol. It has many causes. Yet, if you believe the TV ads, a particular pill is "the" solution. However, this is far too simplistic an answer. We believe that a wise approach considers many factors. And one of the most important relates to those unique differences we talked about at the beginning of this article. This is why our Six Steps to Wellness approach helps us identify a treatment that is unique to you.

This diet...that diet...

It can get pretty confusing. Some experts promote the American Heart Association's diet. It's low in bad cholesterol and saturated fat. To reduce saturated fat, unsaturated fat is substituted. But total fat shouldn't exceed 10 percent of total calories.

On the other hand, this dietary change for the general population is not accepted by the National Research Council. They don't believe there is a significant cause and effect relationship between cholesterol intake (in food eaten) and serum cholesterol (levels in the blood). Consequently, that group doesn't make any specific dietary recommendations concerning cholesterol for the healthy person. A Total Health Scan allows us to identify precisely what your body needs.

So What's a Body to Do?

It is good to know your own cholesterol level. It's easy to have your blood cholesterol tested periodically through a simple blood test. This is especially important if you are at increased risk. Some of these risk factors are thyroid deficiency, heart or stroke heredity, advancing age, liver congestion, smoking, obesity and poor circulation.

Together we can evaluate whether any nutritional supplements or dietary changes are necessary for you. As long as you're generally a healthy eater, major changes in your diet might not be necessary for you. And could even have harmful effects. But the key term here is a "generally healthy diet."

Get "Real"

So, what does that mean? Most of the foods we eat this day are "processed." This means artificial colors, chemicals, and preservatives are added. And good things like vitamins, minerals, and fiber are depleted. The bottom line is that you don't always know what you're eating. We see patients who have good intentions about reducing cholesterol levels but usually fail because they rely too much on processed foods that are generally high in cholesterol.

Good for Business

One example can be found in commonly used "hydrogenated" vegetable oils. These are processed to change them from their natural state. This is done by adding an extra hydrogen molecule to the fat molecule. This causes the oil to solidify. Why do food processors do this? It's so it can spread more easily, as with peanut butter. Hydrogenation also helps prevent the oil from becoming rancid. Economically this is good for the producer. It increases shelf life and increases sales.

Bad for Health

But is it good for us, the consumers? These hydrogenated oils may have more saturated fat than even butter, whole milk or meat. On the other hand, they have few or no vitamins and minerals. Many people include margarine in their diet to increase vegetable oil consumption. Unfortunately, hydrogenation of vegetable oils defeats the purpose of adding them to the diet. So the "cure" in the end is worse than the original problem.

Not All Created Equally

All natural vegetable oils are not of the desirable polyunsaturated variety. Palm kernel and coconut oils are often used in artificial creamers, non-dairy toppings, and other processed foods. These are highly saturated vegetable oils that should be avoided. The low cost of these oils makes them attractive. Yet, is economy only a valid consideration when it comes to our health?

Not All Bad

Interestingly, cholesterol is not a substance that can or should be completely avoided. In fact, cholesterol is necessary in proper amounts. It is the raw material from which some hormones are produced. Many of our patients are surprised to find our bodies also can manufacture it. In fact, nearly all body tissues are capable of producing cholesterol. The body's cholesterol levels tend to remain stable. This is regardless of the amount of cholesterol ingested. And, when you eat less cholesterol, your body tends to make more. In this way, the body maintains relatively stable levels of cholesterol.

Confused? Don't Be!

If you do have high cholesterol, it can generally be treated through diet, weight management and exercise. We can help you design a plan to bring your cholesterol to appropriate levels. And even if your levels are within normal ranges those things are still keys to healthy living.

Eat smart. Living a healthy life involves knowing what you're eating. Eat whole grains. Eat lots of fresh fruits and vegetables every day. Focus on meats like chicken and fish that are lower in fat and cholesterol. Get enough exercise. Did you know that exercise actually increases the levels of good cholesterol in your blood? Get enough sleep. And learn to control stress. All of these things will help make you healthier and happier!

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