Survival of the Hypercholesterolemic

 

Yesterday I went to the Department of Motor Vehicles in Mooresville, North Carolina. I spent three hours and 40 minutes in that place waiting for 14 numbers before me to be called. Thankfully, out in my car I had found an old book of mine I had read a few years ago entitled “Survival of the Sickest.”

This book relates common, mostly deadly illnesses to their evolutionary origins, which were often for the benefit of the human.

I opened up to the chapter written on hypercholesterolemia (high cholesterol). “Cholesterol” is the buzz word in the health world these days–”this New Drug lowers cholesterol,” “don’t eat eggs because they’re high in cholesterol!” “This product, now made with whole grains to lower cholesterol and improve heart health!” “Such and Such Brand Baby Carrots–Low in Cholesterol!” Cholesterol is this dark, evil villain hiding in your arteries, blocking your blood flow and strangling your heart. Eggs are bad for you, but white slime they pass off as “all natural egg product” is better for you. Cheerios is the new wonder food. Artificial sweeteners are now fortified with fiber to lower your cholesterol while simultaneously poisoning your liver and neural tissue!! But I digress….

Our discussion on high cholesterol and the nutritional implications will resume in the future. Eat your eggs in the meantime until that blog post. Delicious, free-range, never grain-fed eggs fried in coconut oil.

In Dr. Sharon Moalem’s book, he hypothesizes that some people are predisposed to high cholesterol for a very important reason–vitamin D. It all starts with the sun. The sun promotes high vitamin D while depleting the body’s stores of folic acid (vitamin B9). The body needs both of these nutrients to survive. Vitamin D can be obtained from the foods we eat, and we can also make it in our skin when we are exposed to ultraviolet B rays from the sun. We cannot make folic acid, we can only get it from foods we eat. However, there is a margin of optimal UV exposure to promote healthy vitamin D and folic acid levels–too much sun and you’ll get plenty of vitamin D and deplete folic acid… too little sun and you’ll have plenty of folic acid, but not enough vitamin D. This is where melanin comes in–melanin is the pigment made in our skin that gives our skin the beautiful shades of the human races–from the rich ebony of a native African, to the milk white of a Scandinavian. Depending on what region your ancestors are from, the amount of melanin expressed in your skin was made to allow a certain amount of ultraviolet light from the sun in so you can make enough vitamin D, preserve your folic acid stores, and protect you from developing deadly melanomas. Those people from equatorial regions are generally darker complected, and those from higher latitudes are generally lighter complected. More sun = darker skin; less sun = lighter skin.

Ok so what’s this have to do with cholesterol? In order for our bodies to make vitamin D, we need that evil, scary villain cholesterol as a precursor. So ultraviolet B rays from the sun + cholesterol = vitamin D. …ever wonder why those of African descent are predisposed to high cholesterol? Their skin did not allow enough sunlight in to make sufficient vitamin D, so they needed cholesterol readily available and circulating to synthesize the vitamin for the small amount of ultraviolet light that did penetrate the skin. They had to shift the tables a bit–raise cholesterol because sunlight penetrating the skin was filtered by the melanin pigments. This is the same for some of Northern European descent–their environment was generally more cloudy, less sunlight year-round, they needed cholesterol ready and available when the opportunity presented.

Now, we aren’t all living in the geographic locations of our ancestors. And here in America, our “traditional American” diet of high saturated fats promotes high cholesterol synthesis. When your genes AND your environment is against you, you’re a prime candidate for statin therapy–medication. Unfortunately, the pharmaceutical companies are cashing in on this… and your liver and muscles paying the price of statin side effects.

Already some doctors are prescribing a good ol’ dose of UVB rays to help lower cholesterol. Combine that with an impeccable diet, some nutrient supplements to help your body do what it does best, and we could destroy the market for statins…. or so the theory goes.

 

 

Moalem S, Prince J. Survival of the Sickest. 2008. HarperCollins Publishers. New York, New York.