I think we’ve all gone a little crazy over cholesterol. A naturally occurring part of our perfectly designed human bodies, it has become the grand boogeyman of ill-health. And I just don’t buy it. Like the appendix, it is there for a damn good reason. Unlike the appendix, we actually know what that damn good reason is:
We routinely get tiny tears in the walls of our blood vessels. A burst of exertion or spike in blood pressure can cause them, and they are just a part of life. When they occur, LDL, the ‘bad’ cholesterol rushes in to save the day. It is a less dense version of cholesterol and it quickly sticks to the newly formed lesion, keeping it from rupturing. Because it is gooey, like well worked chewing gum, other stuff sticks to it, notably more LDL cholesterol. Over time, this glob of gunk can build up eventually blocking the flow of blood and, whamo – you have a heart attack or stroke.
HDL, the ‘good’ cholesterol is more dense, less sticky. It scavenges the blood system looking for deposits of LDL cholesterol and acts like a concrete mason with a trowel, smoothing off the sticky sludge and making it less likely to clump and clog.
To keep the two kinds of cholesterol straight in my mind, I think: LDL = Lousey, HDL = Happy; but that further emphasizes the notion that one is ‘good’ and the other is ‘bad.’
They’re both good. They are a great team! And we need both of them working in healthy levels to keep our veins and vessels from tearing open every time we get excited. To simply define cholesterol as evil and declare the less of it the better is an overreaction to say the least. Sure, too much LDL cholesterol galumphing through your body, sticking to itself is not a good thing; but some is great!
A while back, the pharmaceutical industry came to us with Statins – a new class of drug that worked to lower cholesterol levels. Statin drugs have been wildly popular and prescriptions have been written by the truckload. I once heard a Cardiologist declare that, in his opinion, everyone should be on a Statin! When I mentioned that to my own beloved Md, he said, ‘He might be right.’ So our medical community is pretty well united in embracing these drugs.
Still, a nagging thought is stuck in my brain like LDL cholesterol on an arterial wall: Cholesterol is natural. Statin drugs are not. Hmmmm.
Last summer I had a routine Lipid Panel done. It measures cholesterol and triglycerides and other fatty substances in the blood. My total Cholesterol was a healthy 195 but my LDL and Triglycerides were on the high end of normal. My doctor declared that I had breached the Triglyceride threshold that Kaiser Permanente computers had set for Statin therapy and started to write me a prescription. I stopped him. No way. Uh-uh. I was proud of my Cholesterol number and was not going to put that foreign substance in my body. We argued a bit. Finally we made a deal. I would work on diet and exercise for six months and we’d retest. If I was still over the edge, I’d take the Statin.
In December when the test was run again, my Cholesterol had actually dropped below 190 but Triglycerides were still on the high side of normal. I’d lost the bet. And I filled the prescription that day.
Here’s the thing: since December I’ve been . . . sluggish. That’s the only word for it. It has been most noticeable when I try to write or create anything. Normally, writing is an effortless joy for me. But, for the last four months, it has been difficult. I’ve spent whole days writing a simple blog post! I had about decided that I’d gone over the hump of old age, that my brain was now shot and it would only get worse with the years – time for the rocking chair and the afghan.
But then, a few weeks back, I saw my doctor again. We did another Lipid Panel to see how the Statin was working. My numbers were off the scale . . . in the good direction. As I sat at my computer looking at them I was horrified! I had no Cholesterol at all . . . or very little. LDL and Triglycerides were bumping the bottom of the scale and total Cholesterol had dropped to 120.
I started Googling for information about Low Cholesterol. I found an article citing a couple of studies that linked Statins to decreased energy, depression and increased incidence of death from unnatural causes (i.e. suicide). Though nobody is really sure, speculation is that a certain level of cholesterol is necessary for proper neural function, that low levels interfere with production of serotonin in the brain. The studies were small and controversial. They weren’t the mammoth undertakings that cause the FDA to sit up and take notice. But I noticed. Finally I realized that the onset of my own sluggishness coincided with the beginning of my Statin therapy.
For me, no amount of preventative therapy to control a naturally occurring substance in my body is worth being slow and stupid. So, I quit taking the stuff. In three days I felt like myself again.
Now hear this: I am not a doctor. I’m not even a scientist. I don’t pretend to know or understand the complexities of the human body or how the balance of Cholesterol in the body is controlled. Following my example would be worse than foolhardy; it would be stupid! But I know this: I feel better in subtle but significant ways when not taking the drug. My total Cholesterol has never been high and my LDL and Triglycerides were always in the normal range, though near the top. Your situation may be different. I knew a man in Georgia years ago whose body just manufactured cholesterol. He could become a fat fee vegan and he’d still be through the roof. He is someone who should never go off his Statin. You may be too. But if you’re on a Statin and your thinking processes seem slower than normal, (I’m just sayin’) talk with your doctor.