The Ins and Outs of Cholesterol

Firstly, let’s get some perspective on cholesterol. It is a “lipid” or type of fat that is needed deepfriedbutterby almost every cell in the body. Cholesterol has so many functions in the body that we can’t live without it and as we need so much, we manufacture (up to 75%) and recycle what is necessary in addition to what is eaten in the diet. Some of its functions are:  providing a lining inside our cells to allow the free flowing of nutrients in and waste products out; nerve insulation and brain function (the brain needs lots of cholesterol), producing bile, hormone production (including sex hormones), the formation of vitamin D3 in our skin in sunlight (UVB rays) and contributing to a healthy immune system. Low levels of blood cholesterol can indicate an underlying disease and needs investigation. (There is more here about the benefits of cholesterol to the body.)

“I can’t help saying “what’s next?”

We have been able to test the blood cholesterol levels since the early to middle of the twentieth century, but at that time and for many years subsequently, total cholesterol was the “important” factor. The upper limit for total cholesterol was decided upon but then changed in the 1990s. Since then, many more things have changed. The ratio of high-density lipoprotein (hdl or so-called “good” cholesterol) to low-density lipoprotein (ldl or so-called “bad” cholesterol) became vital.  Then someone decided that, actually, it was the ratio between hdl, ldl and triglycerides (another blood fat) that was important. Moving rapidly on – today the important thing is the ratio between the two types of bad cholesterol and that’s where we are now. I told myself I would try not to put too much of my own slant on these facts, but I can’t help saying “what’s next”? We thought we knew the facts about illness 100 years ago and 50 years ago…and we think the same now. This is why I believe perspective is important when you are faced with health decisions. Our ancestors had no idea what their cholesterols were – they didn’t need to because when the correct diet is eaten, the body looks after itself – and they had no choice with their diet. They just ate what was available, which was a far cry from the diet we eat today. WE have not evolved sufficiently for this diet and that is where the trouble lies.

Eating our modern diet has played havoc with our cholesterol levels and there is no doubt that this disruption is harmful. Total cholesterol is not a good indicator of potential heart file0001982270186disease but raised triglycerides are. It has been shown that the two types of ldl particles are important – one being light and fluffy and the other being small and dense. The light fluffy ldl is not a problem at all, but the small dense type is the problem associated with heart disease as it creates inflammation in the body – and the body does not like inflammation. In the arteries (or anywhere for that matter), inflammation will summon all the repair mechanisms at its disposal – including cholesterol and then BINGO! Long-term, cardio-vascular disease will ensue.

A total cholesterol reading can only ever be a guide so if you have been advised that you should see a doctor regarding your test it would be a very good idea to ask if you can have your triglycerides and the two types of ldl particles differentiated.  Worth a mention – half of first-time heart attack patients have total cholesterol levels within the normal range. What does that lead you to think?

Be mindful that, due to the body’s great need for cholesterol, it will manufacture it from any food you eat. If you are supplying your body with the wrong building blocks, you may end up with the wrong stuff or the wrong ratios. I have met a vegan with “high cholesterol! NO animal fat in the diet.

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The Life-Giving Sun

Well summer does seem to be here doesn’t it? One day of sun and a thunderstorm! It’s all good – nature needs both and frankly, so do we. The sun gives us huge amounts of vitamin D3 amongst other things.

I am still largely opposed taking supplements of vitamin D3. I have written many times about the problems with taking supplements and maintain my stance. Buying them is fraught because we don’t know how they have been made or whether they contain what they are supposed to contain and even if they do, whether it’s in the right form for humans to absorb! It is just too costly and complicated

We need the sun for our lives

Let’s take the benefits of the sun. Everyone knows that the sun makes vitamin D3 in our file000336228048(1)skins. Just think about that for a moment. Isn’t it absolutely astounding? This is just one example of how we are dependent upon our environment. (There are many others but I’ll save them for another time.) We need the sun for our lives – literally in every sense. We cannot survive without it and we become sick if deprived of it. We would not be here without the sun – and neither would anything else. It is vital that we appreciate and accept this fact. Our to-date evolution, over hundreds of thousands of years has depended upon the sun more than anything else. Most other factors in life have alternatives or can be foregone for a while.

..we have an epidemic of diseases associated with vitamin D deficiency

There is much evidence that certain diseases are more prevalent the further north in the hemisphere one looks. But we have lived in these places for many thousands of years and these diseases were not prevalent in our ancestors. “Modern” diseases are to be evidenced from remains that are less than 10,000 years old – giving grounds for the popular belief that these illnesses started during the time when we became farmers and had more permanent forms of shelter. Personally, I doubt that many of these illnesses were due to lack of sun exposure – we were very much outdoor people at this time. Their health change was more to do with their rapidly changing diet but as time continued, even more permanent buildings were constructed and much work was done indoors.

Even in the last couple of hundred years or so, we spent much time outside – walking (to get from one place to another, not necessarily for pleasure), farming, gardening and doing all those other necessary jobs that involve us stepping outside the house. Not anymore. Bringing it bang up to date, we travel to our place of work by car where we then enter an artificially lit, windowed building which allows no UVB light to enter. We travel home by car and spend the rest of the day inside. For many, the main source of UVB light is once a year on holiday. And then what do we do? Smother ourselves in sunscreen! We are in real trouble. Now, here in the northern hemisphere, we have an epidemic of diseases associated with vitamin D deficiency – and it is true – the further north you look, the more of these diseases you find.

How we obtained our vitamin D through pre-history

If you accept that we originated in Africa about 100,000 years ago and migrated northwards, you will also understand that at this time our skins were dark which protected us from the relentless equatorial sun whilst still allowing us to obtain the benefits. The northward journey took time – no jumping on Easyjet and arriving a few hours later! It possibly took thousands of years to inhabit the most northerly areas. Remember that at this time the Asia and Europe we know now, didn’t exist and the countries were merged making the migration easier.

As we very gradually moved northwards, our skins lightened. Why do think that was? In order that we could still benefit from the now much weaker and less reliable UVB rays from the sun! Our skins had to lighten in order to scavenge these less frequent rays at a much quicker rate than our African cousins – and the further north you live – the paler your skin will be and the faster you will get your dose of vitamin D! So, given that we need the same levels of vitamin D, the same amount can be obtained in just a few minutes if your recent ancestry is Scottish, a bit longer if you’re English but much longer if you are dark-skinned and living in Africa!

Vitamin D3 is not really a vitamin. It is a pre-steroid hormone and as such, can affect your DNA (unlike true vitamins). My take on this, is that many of the diseases that we label as genetic may in fact be acquired. Chronic vitamin D deficiency can be passed to our offspring. I have lots of reasons for believing this but one factor that I have come across many times when I am asking people about their health, is the “Welsh Tale” as I have named it. If someone has several generations of miners in their family, there is more risk of disease in that person. I’m sure you get the connection. Another scenario which is well documented is that of recent immigrants (within a few generations) to the northern hemisphere. It is this group of people who are the sickest in the western world – more diabetes, heart disease, obesity etc. Whilst there is a dietary factor, there is also a lack of vitamin D from the sun. Life is indoors and even if some time is spent in the sun, it is rarely enough for vitamin D to form. Each generation does seem to have lighter skin even if both parents are dark-skinned – nature knows what has to be done, but this takes time.

Sunbathe!

To prevent vitamin D deficiency, we must sunbathe. It must be taken like medicine. If the sun is high in the sky and your shadow is shorter than you are tall, the UVB rays are reaching Earth. Depending on your skin colour, sunbathe as near to naked as possible for as long as it takes your skin to go pink. Not red. When this has been achieved, cover up, use sunscreen (try to find a non-toxic one or use coconut oil which offers a little protection) or go indoors.

Don’t use soap/shower gel for at least 24 hours as this will remove the skin oils that contain the vitamin D. Use just water on the main parts and maybe just a little soap where you feel you must. Moisturise your skin with something natural such as coconut oil. With this amount of sun exposure you can make up to 20,000 IU of vitamin D but your body will stop the manufacture when it has sufficient to deal with. This takes 24 – 48 hours – then you can go out and make some more! You won’t find this quantity in a supplement and indeed, if you took this amount, it would be harmful.

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Since the fat-soluble vitamins work together, make sure you get plenty of vitamins A and K2 as well. Cheese is a good source especially Brie and Gouda.

Vitamin D is just one reason why we need the sun but there are others. For example, there is evidence that we need it for energy – just like plants. Lots of people feel energised when in the sun. Also, UV light through our eyes regulates our Circadian rhythms, thus helping us sleep. There will be more evidence to come I feel quite sure. Here is another article about the effects the sun has on us.

I have written about it before, but for completeness, I will give you a run-down of the diseases that seem (research is showing) to be related to vitamin D deficiency: around twenty types of cancer; diabetes; depression; heart disease; bone abnormalities; auto-immune diseases; infections. More about vitamin D3 here.

This is one way to boost your health enormously – it’s all of the above and more – and you can do it for free! Now what are you doing here? Outside you go!

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The “Buzzword” Vitamin

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When I started my nursing career in 1973, I was taught very little about nutrition. Vitamin D was to help calcium into the bones for growth and strength and really, it had very little other use. Also – it was called vitamin D only – not D2 or D3 as you may have heard more recently.

This is yet again, the problem with science – it seems helpful until the next bit of science comes along and changes everything. So at this time we are aware that there are two forms of vitamin D that have some importance for us as humans – D2 and D3. D2 is present in plants and not as bio-available to us as D3, which is obtained from animal sources and the sun. Another recent discovery is that in order for vitamin D3 to be used properly, vitamin K2 needs to be present. And vitamin A. And several minerals..

I named my business “Your Good Health – Naturally” for a very specific reason which I am sure you can guess. If we eat the diet we are programmed for and emulate (impossible to live the exact same life) the lifestyle we evolved with, we get what we need for life, health and reproduction. And this is in spite of the constantly changing “evidence” that science brings us.

I suspect that over the next decade, we will see vitamin D split into other analogues. New science is already showing that vitamin D from the sun is water soluble and can travel easily in the blood, but vitamin D from food is fat-soluble and in fact, needs fat for its absorption if it is contained in non fatty sources (eg. vegetables). I wonder how long it will take before science shows us that it is also used differently in the body!

It wasn’t so long ago in our history that we spent a great deal more time outside. Children played outside in all weathers. When I was young, we had two TV channels and no computers to keep us indoors. We saw the sun at all times of the day and no sun-screen was applied, since it hadn’t been invented. Sun-tan lotion (to attract the sun to make tanning quicker) was around in the 1960s as I remember and we were encouraged to be in the sun as it gave us vitamin D. What on Earth has gone wrong? People of the western world are now vitamin D deficient – to epidemic proportions.  If we are to remain disease-free, things have to change.

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So why do we need vitamin D? Before I address that, I must first emphasise that nutrients work together, not in isolation. The trouble is, when we hear that something is good for us, we then overdo it – “if some is good, more must be better”. We often buy supplements. but please, get professional help with this if you intend to take them. Vitamin D3 on its own can be harmful. Vitamin D3 helps the absorption of calcium but is is vitamin K2 that directs it to bones and teeth – away from arteries where it causes damage.

We now know that vitamin D3 (which is the form our bodies use easily) is needed for countless processes in the body. In fact, the bottom line is that we cannot live without proper levels of vitamin D.

(The UK RDA for vitamin D will protect against bone diseases but we need far more than this for optimum health. If half an hour in the sun can produce 20,000 units of vitamin D in our skin, the UK RDA, at a mere 2-400 units, is woefully inadequate.)

Children and babies have died from this deficiency and adults become ill and die from the diseases that are associated with the deficiency – but their conditions are rarely attributed to it as blood levels of vitamin D are not routinely tested. Due to all the known processes in the body where vitamin D3 takes a part, it is not difficult to imagine what might happen if it is not present in the needed amounts.

Immunity is compromised along with all that this entails: pathogenic infections are not effectively fought; potentially cancerous cells may not be destroyed; asthma and eczema are more prevalent as are other allergies; incidences of gut problems such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis are more evident as are the symptoms in established disease.
Interestingly, the incidence of malignant melanomas (which some authorities believe to be due to the sun’s rays) are less common in those with optimum levels. There are about twenty different types of cancer that are known to have a connection with vitamin D deficiency.

Bone density is severely compromised without adequate levels of vitamin D.  Rickets is the name for this condition in children and osteomalacia in adults. Babies have been known to be born with the condition and their bones remain fragile instead of being strengthened by mineral deposits. This condition at its worst is incompatible with life. The condition is evident as the legs become bowed in children and adults. Osteoporosis is also a bone thinning disease where vitamin D deficiency may at least in part, be implicated. Don’t forget the K2 too!

It is now thought that vitamin D3 is involved with cholesterol regulation, the occurrence of mental disturbances such as dementia and depression, heart disease and the onset and progression of multiple sclerosis.

Such terrible consequences from a deficiency that is entirely preventable – for free. In Britain, during the months of April to September the sun rises high enough in the sky for the UVB rays (which are the ones needed to form vitamin D3 in our skin) to reach us here in the Northern Hemisphere. UVB rays are short in comparison to UVA rays – which are available from dawn to dusk. The easiest way to gauge if the sun is right is to look at your shadow. If it is shorter than you are tall, the UVB rays are present and you can strip off! Be sensible here – if your skin is fair, five minutes a side is sufficient. If you have black skin, you must start with about thirty minutes a side. Unfortunately, black-skinned people suffer the most in the Western world as it takes that much longer for the UVB rays to penetrate. It is none-the-less, absolutely vital they sunbathe if they are to stay healthy. The amount of sunshine needed to be effective, also depends where you are. The more northerly the position, the longer it will take and if you are on holiday in the Med, less time will be needed. Your skin should be slightly pink, not red. Do NOT go to sleep in the sun – you are very likely to burn! After this time, it is best to cover up or sit in shade but if you must, use a sunscreen that is as natural as possible. The usual sun-screens have many unpleasant and damaging chemicals in them. Your skin will quite happily absorb these into your body where they have absolutely no place. (Best to use water only for showering after sun exposure, to prevent washing away those precious skin oils.)

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If your ancestors were from the Northern Hemisphere, you are adequately equipped for life here. The fact that our livers can store huge amounts of vitamin D means that even though there is no UVB sunlight during the winter months, we will be fine if we have adequate stores. If we haven’t, maybe a D3 and K2 supplement would be useful for a few months. Please seek advice regarding this.
People whose ancestry is nearer the Equator should take extra care. The storage space for vitamin D may not be the same as people from more northerly climes, due to the intensity, frequency and duration of sunlight in equatorial countries.  Nature doesn’t change what it does very quickly, meaning that we have to.

There are many foods that contain vitamin D. D2 is present in leafy green vegetables but some people have trouble converting it to the D3 that is needed for humans and some other mammals. To maximise the absorption of D3 from plants, serve vegetables with a knob of butter or in a creamy sauce. Animal foods that are rich in D3 – eggs, full-fat dairy, offal, shellfish and other surface swimming fish. Meat (and especially offal) that has the highest levels of D3 will be from animals that are reared outside on pasture where they can eat grass and weeds that contain abundant D2 which they will convert to D3. These are foods that are nutrient-dense all round and should be included in our diet anyway.

In 2012 we had a lousy summer. During the winter of that year, I dropped my “no supplements” rule and took a D3/K2 supplement until April. Maybe there are some occasions when it is a good idea, as the above, but also you might want to do this if you have dark skin or if you have not been able to sunbathe much when the sun was out. To me though, ”naturally” is always the best.

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Where Does Your Source of Vitamin K2 Come From?

Here is yet another study showing how fraught it can be to take supplements.

Natural foods (that is – not skimmed, not low-fat, not high fibre, not cholesterol-free, not added vitamins or in any other way fiddled with) are our source of nutrients. If you eat processed foods and take supplements, you are just consuming what someone else thinks you should have. We are programmed for a hunter-gatherer diet primarily, with some good quality dairy thrown in and it is this that ensures our health. (If you eat a bar of chocolate occasionally, your body won’t mind!)

In this article, it is shown that if you are taking calcium (the mineral for bone strength) and vitamin D3 (to aid calcium’s absorption) then you have to also ensure that you are taking adequate vitamin K2 either as a supplement or in the food you eat. K2 is the vitamin that steers the calcium to the bones to be deposited. Without it, you risk the calcium being deposited in your arteries (which used to be called “hardening of the arteries”) leading to high blood-pressure and heart disease.

172677_8674The article refers to supplements but I urge you to address the problem with your diet. Getting the balance just right with supplements is complicated but also, why pay for them when you have to eat anyway? Natural foods often contain all the nutrients needed to allow the body to carry out its necessary functions. What is difficult about eating cheeses such as Gouda, Edam, and Brie? Other foods containing K2 include liver, whole raw milk and good organic bacon. I know which I prefer.

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