The Magic of Cholesterol

doc_ahof_group4_cropped_small_145By Duane Graveline MD, MPH

Statins and Mitochondrial Damage Part 5 of 11

Why is it that at the time statin drugs first were marketed, doctors had such rudimentary knowledge of the true role of cholesterol in the human body?  Just as I draft this sentence on 5 October 2009, Prof. Ernest Arenas of the Karolinska Institute(10) announces, "Cholesterol vital for brain development." 

After some 40 years of brainwashing about the evils of cholesterol and the necessity to avoid such cholesterol-rich foods as butter, whole milk and eggs, doctors were convinced that cholesterol was the cause of heart attacks and strokes and should be reduced at all costs.

Of course, this was passed on to patients, with the result that today you can use the word cholesterol to frighten small children.  In 1999, some 10 years after the marketing of statins began, the first serious adverse reports started to arrive at Medwatch, FDA's post-marketing surveillance system.

A peculiar form of amnesia appeared wherein the victim abruptly lost the ability to formulate new memory, along with reports of other evidence of cognitive dysfunction, such as confusion, disorientation, forgetfulness and a dementia resembling that of Alzheimer's disease.
Then came Prieger's landmark publication in 2001 of the vital role of cholesterol in the formation and function of memory synapses, followed by one research report after another documenting the importance of cholesterol and the wide ranging demand for cholesterol in so many of our vital bodily functions, including nerve, muscle and even personality. 

Many of these problems seemed to be permanent, persisting for years after the offending statin was stopped, and resistant to all traditional treatment.  Increased rate of mitochondrial mutations began to be reported and more recently we have found that our dependence for cholesterol begins even at the molecular level where cholesterol is necessary for such fundamental electrochemical reactions as mitochondrial sodium, potassium and proton exchange in our ATP synthesis.

It seems that everywhere we look, we find a critical role for cholesterol. How then can such a ubiquitous and vital biochemical be harmful? The reality is that cholesterol, in its natural form, cannot be harmful. Cholesterol is irrelevant to atherosclerosis. Far from being harmful, cholesterol is perhaps the most important biochemical in our bodies. 40 years of anti-cholesterol brainwashing has been nothing but a massive "con" job. With immense profit to the drug, food and health care industry and the promise of extra years of life in return for lowered cholesterol, it was a win/win situation that spread like wildfire.

Cholesterol is not only the most common organic molecule in our brains, it is also distributed intimately throughout the entire body.  Additionally, cholesterol is the precursor for a whole class of hormones known as the steroid hormones that are absolutely critical for life as we know it. Such hormones include estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, aldosterone, cortisol and calcitrol (vitamin D). 

These hormones determine our sexuality, control the reproductive process, and regulate blood sugar levels and mineral metabolism.  Beyond this, there is yet another class of cholesterol's steroid offspring without which our metabolic well-being might be in serious jeopardy:  the production of bile acids.  Bile makes it possible for us to emulsify fats and other nutrients.  Without bile, we could not digest and absorb the fats in our diet and must slowly starve.

Additionally, cholesterol is an essential constituent of the membrane surrounding every cell.  The presence of cholesterol in this fatty double layer of the cell wall adjusts the fluidity and rigidity of this membrane to the proper value for both cell stability and function. 

Only in the past decade have we learned that cholesterol contributes much more than stability to bipolar layer function.  Biochemists such as Thomas Haines (11), while diligently studying this fatty double-layered membrane, have revealed some astounding new information bearing on the role of the lipids involved as gate-keepers in the basic process of transfer of sodium and proton ions though the tiny pores in our double layered membranes. 

Dolichols and coenzyme Q10 have long been known to be principle players in this control function.  Only recently has it been discovered that cholesterol also is critical to this gatekeeper role.
The subject of cholesterol depletion now provokes major concerns (12) with a summary on Wikipedia:

10. Arenas J. Karolinski Institute, October 2009
11. Haines T.   
12. Wainwright G and others. Arch Med Sci 5. 2009

Duane Graveline MD MPH
Former USAF Flight Surgeon
Former NASA Astronaut
Retired Family Doctor

11. Statins and Mitochondrial Damage - Conclusion
Updated September 2013

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