Criticized for Decades - Now a Nutritional Superhero?
October 15, 2011
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By Dr. Mercola
Dr. Stephanie Seneff is a senior research scientist at MIT where she has been conducting research in computer science for over three decades. She also has an undergraduate degree in biology from MIT, and a minor in food and nutrition. She's affiliated with the Weston A. Price Foundation and will be speaking at their November Dallas conference, and so will I.
I previously published the first summary of this interview, which addressed the importance of sulfur for heart- and cardiovascular health. The issues of cholesterol and sulfur are closely interrelated, and both are also dependent on sun exposure for their effectiveness, as is the vitamin D synthesized in your skin, all of which was addressed in part one.
Here, I will summarize Dr. Seneff's stance on cholesterol, which she believes conventional medicine is seriously confused about.
"I always have believed that cholesterol is a very, very important nutrient," she says. "Cholesterol is to animals as chlorophyll is to plants. It basically gives us mobility – the ability to move and it gives the nervous system the ability to think."
The Importance of Dietary Cholesterol
About 80-90 percent of the cholesterol in your body is produced by your liver, which has led to the faulty assumption that cholesterol from dietary sources can, and should, be avoided.
"I get very annoyed when I hear this, and we hear it a lot—that your body can make all the cholesterol it needs and therefore you don't need it in your diet," Dr. Seneff says.
"... [I]t's true that your body can synthesize cholesterol, [and that] it's not an essential nutrient like some other things are. However, foods that contain cholesterol contain a lot of other things that are very important to you; that are critical nutrients. Cholesterol is associated for example with choline, and all the fat-soluble vitamins – vitamin A, vitamin D, vitamin E, vitamin K, zinc, iron."
Cholesterol is a marker. Meaning, you may not necessarily need the dietary cholesterol itself, but you do need the other micronutrients that are associated with it in the foods that contain them. And you need those micronutrients in conjunction with cholesterol in order for them to be properly digested.
Why Limiting Dietary Cholesterol May Harm Your Health
Dr. Seneff actually believes it's difficult to get "too much" cholesterol in your diet, particularly in the standard American diet. But you may very well be getting too little, and that can cause problems.
For example, 25 percent of the cholesterol in your body is in your brain, even though your brain is only two percent of your body's weight. The cholesterol is absolutely essential for neuron transport, so it's easy to understand why lack of cholesterol can negatively affect your brain function. But impaired memory and dementia are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to low cholesterol's impact on your brain. Having too little of this beneficial compound also:
Dr. Seneff also points to the research by Weston A. Price; a dentist by profession who traveled all around the world studying the health effects of indigenous diets. Interestingly enough, many indigenous diets are shockingly high in dietary cholesterol based on today's conventional medical standards. Foods like caviar, liver, and the adrenal glands of bears were highly valued in some cultures that also had very low rates of heart disease and other modern diseases.
Dr. Seneff believes, as do I, that placing an upper limit on dietary cholesterol, especially such a LOW upper limit as is now recommended, is likely causing far more harm than good.
See Dr. Stephanie Seneff
and I Speak in November
Heart Disease May be a Cholesterol Deficiency Problem...
Considering the fact that conventional medicine has been telling us that heart disease is due to elevated cholesterol and recommends lowering cholesterol levels as much as possible, Dr. Seneff's claims may come as a complete shock:
"Heart disease, I think, is a cholesterol deficiency problem, and in particular a cholesterol sulfate deficiency problem...
Through her research, she has developed a theory in which the mechanism we call "cardiovascular disease" (of which arterial plaque is a hallmark) is actually your body's way to compensate for not having enough cholesterol sulfate. To understand how this works, you have to understand the interrelated workings of cholesterol, sulfur, and vitamin D from sun exposure.
Cholesterol sulfate is produced in large amounts in your skin when it is exposed to sunshine. When you are deficient in cholesterol sulfate from lack of sun exposure, your body employs another mechanism to increase it, as it is essential for optimal heart- and brain function. It does this by taking damaged LDL and turning it into plaque. Within the plaque, your blood platelets separate out the beneficial HDL cholesterol, and through a process involving homocysteine as a source of sulfate, the platelets go on to produce the cholesterol sulfate your heart and brain needs. However, this plaque also causes the unfortunate side effect of increasing your risk of cardiovascular disease.
So how do you get out of this detrimental cycle?
Dr. Seneff believes that high serum cholesterol and low serum cholesterol sulfate go hand-in-hand, and that the ideal way to bring down your LDL (so-called "bad" cholesterol, which is associated with cardiovascular disease) is to get appropriate amounts of sunlight exposure on your skin.
"In this way, your skin will produce cholesterol sulfate, which will then flow freely through the blood—not packaged up inside LDL—and therefore your liver doesn't have to make so much LDL. So the LDL goes down. In fact... there is a complete inverse relationship between sunlight and cardiovascular disease – the more sunlight, the less cardiovascular disease."
What this also means is that when you artificially lower your cholesterol with a statin drug, which effectively reduces the bioavailability of cholesterol to that plaque but doesn't address the root problem, your body is not able to create the cholesterol sulfate your heart needs anymore, and as a result you end up with acute heart failure.
Cholesterol During Pregnancy
Cholesterol sulfate is also essential for babies in utero. A woman has about 1.5 units of cholesterol sulfate normally in her blood. When she gets pregnant, her blood levels of cholesterol sulfate steadily rise, and it also begins to accumulate in the villi in the placenta—which is where nutrients are transferred from the placenta to the baby. At the end of pregnancy the cholesterol sulfate in the villi rises to levels of about 24 units!
Interestingly enough, when a mother has high serum cholesterol, the baby's levels are typically low. But the child also tends to have fatty deposits in his arteries...despite the fact that fatty deposits are supposed to be associated with high cholesterol.
Why is this? Dr. Seneff explains:
"The deposits are there, I think, to start this cholesterol sulfate program that's replacing the one that isn't happening... Children who have adequate cholesterol sulfate delivered from their mother do not have fatty deposits... It's bizarre, but the high cholesterol associated with fatty deposits in the adult (that's causing heart disease) is a solution, not a cause."
This truly is a complete turnaround in thinking compared to the conventional paradigm! Furthermore:
"The worst thing you can do is to clobber the LDL... because you're going to radically increase your risk of ending up with heart failure," Dr. Seneff says.
How Fructose Consumption Hinders Optimal Cholesterol Function
Your liver can make cholesterol, but it requires effort. As Dr. Seneff points out, it's a complex process involving some 25 to 30-steps. Now, one factor that most people are unaware of is that when your liver is busy processing fructose (which your liver turns into fat), it severely hampers its ability to make cholesterol. This is yet another important facet that explains how and why excessive fructose consumption is so detrimental to your health.
According to Dr. Seneff:
"If you're eating a high fructose diet, which most people in America are, one of the things your liver is going to have to do is to turn that fructose into fat... and it needs cholesterol to store the fat but it can't make cholesterol while it's processing fructose... So when there are high levels of glucose in the blood, your liver is kind of caught in a hard place because it can't make the cholesterol it needs to store the fat that it is producing from the fructose...
I think in many cases, people are facing a cholesterol deficiency because they don't have it in the diet, [and] because the liver is working overtime on other things."
Did You Know?
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Tying it All Together...
All in all, Dr. Seneff's research makes a very compelling case for the vital importance of getting appropriate sun exposure and avoiding fructose in your diet. To summarize into layman's terms the two inter-related disease processes just described would look something like this:
|Lack of sun exposure → cholesterol sulfate deficiency → plaque formation (to produce cholesterol sulfate to protect heart) → cardiovascular disease
|High fructose consumption → over-taxed liver → impaired cholesterol formation → cholesterol deficiency → plaque formation to compensate for cholesterol sulfate deficiency → cardiovascular disease
The reversal of this disease process would then look like this:
|Appropriate sun exposure + low-sugar diet = optimal cholesterol production in your liver + optimal cholesterol sulfate production in your skin → healthy cholesterol levels and absence of arterial plaque
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