Obesity and Cholesterol
Obesity (a body mass index of 30 or greater) is a common condition that affects many millions of people around the world. In the United States, it has become epidemic. (2) What people often do not realize though, is that obesity is not a disease in itself. Obesity is a symptom of many other potential illnesses, conditions and diseases and can also be defined as a “chronic energy excess.” (3) The most prevalent of these conditions is heart disease and some cancers, but there is a rising tide of type 2 diabetes also related to obesity. Obesity develops through the layering of excess body-fat. (4) This can happen due to two reasons. The primary one is that most people consume far more food than they should be during one day. (5) The second reason is that they are to a large extent consuming the wrong types of food. Some advocate low-fat diets (6) and others low-carbohydrate ones. (7)
What further complicates obesity is that it is intimately related to cholesterol. (8) (9) (10) There are three types of cholesterol that are created in the human body and each one has a specific function in a healthy metabolism. (11) Lower or higher than balanced levels in any of the types of cholesterol types can lead to a seriously compromised metabolism and contribute to becoming overweight and obese. Body-fat is actually now known to be an organ of the body and has been called adipose tissue in recent years. (12) (13) A small amount of body-fat is normal in a balanced human body, because it releases a number of hormones that are directly related to the metabolism, as well as having the ability to store energy for times when food is not available. (14) Insulin, created by the pancreas and a substance required for a healthy, functioning human body is also intimately related to the entire process. (15) (16)
Cholesterol, insulin, metabolism, the endocrine system, adipose tissue, the digestive system, the neural system are all intricately linked. Becoming obese thus throws the entire system out of balance.
Good cholesterol and bad cholesterol
Many people think of cholesterol in a dualistic fashion – good and evil. This is a stereotype often portrayed by the media, (17) (18) but utterly misses the point. Cholesterol is actually a waxy steroid (19) that is created in the liver and the intestines and works intimately with the entire human anatomy. (20) The simple version, and the version displayed by a standard cholesterol test taken at any medical facility, is that there are three types of cholesterol, VLDL (very-low-density lipoprotein), LDL (low-density lipoprotein) and HDL (high-density lipoprotein). (21) There are optimal ranges in each type (22) (23) that allow the body to function in harmony and what the media often portrays is that high cholesterol is bad, while low cholesterol is good. This is a fallacy that was largely borne out of inadequate scientific knowledge. Over the past few decades though, many studies have been done that show how low cholesterol can also be a huge problem (24) (25) and the ideal is to stay between the ranges that are shown by science and prescribed by various health organizations around the world.
The function of cholesterol
Cholesterol’s function is highly varied, but the main functions are building and maintaining membranes of cells, transporting molecules in-, out of- and between cells, sending signals from the brain to the other parts of the body through the bloodstream, regulating, and maintaining the metabolism. (26)
How cholesterol interacts with the body
There are a number of other substances created by various organs in the body that react directly with cholesterol. The main ones are triglycerides (created by the liver through the conversion of carbohydrates and sugar to glycogen), (27) insulin (created by the pancreas), (28) and hormones and proteins such as leptin (created by body-fat or adipose tissue). (29) Triglycerides are a type of sugar molecule (three glucose molecules as the name suggests) that is responsible for transporting oxygen around the body and creating energy that the body needs to function. (30) Insulin is responsible for controlling triglycerides (increased lipid synthesis) (31) in addition to preventing the use of fat as an energy source; (32) both of these functions can increase obesity if there is too much insulin in the bloodstream, by way of a vicious cycle. (33) Leptin has (among other functions) one of appetite-regulation. (34) An abundance of cholesterol in the bloodstream is also particularly relevant as high levels of cholesterol can clog up the arteries causing a condition known as athelosclerosis. (35) All of these substances can and do send signals to each other and any imbalance in any of them will eventually unbalance the entire mechanism.
Obesity and cholesterol; metabolic syndrome
Obesity has been linked to cardio-vascular illness and cholesterol has been linked to obesity, but the relationship isn’t that simple. A condition known as metabolic syndrome (36) is the result of any imbalances with regards to these substances in the body. The insulin created by the pancreas, the leptin created by body-fat and the triglycerides created by the liver also play a complicated role in the relationship.
Obesity is an epidemic caused by consuming nutritionally inappropriate foods coupled with a sedentary lifestyle, low in physical and mental activity. The process works as follows:
1) Simple and complex sugars (sucrose, fructose and carbohydrates) are consumed and through the digestive process and a chemical process known as the Krebs cycle (37) are stored as glycogen (38) in the liver, then around various parts of the body as fat.
2) Insulin is supposed to regulate the amount of sugar (triglycerides) in the bloodstream. At any one time, your body should be in a constant state of converting sugar to body-fat, then through another mechanism simultaneously converting it to fuel. Insulin also prevents body-fat from being used as fuel. A person who consumes excess amounts of sugar (in any state) will end up with stores of body-fat around the body, due to the extreme effects of an overabundance of insulin.
3) Body-fat releases a protein called leptin which is supposed to regulate appetite.
4) As the bloodstream is flooded with triglycerides, the pancreas creates vast amounts of insulin to keep up. Eventually, it cannot, so more cholesterol is created in the body to transport it to become fat stores.
5) As the fat stores become larger around the body, the leptin protein also floods the bloodstream, causing a “desensitization” effect, rendering the body immune to the appetite-suppressant effects of leptin.
6) The vicious cycle continues, until a number of things can happen. a) The liver may break down and cease to function because of all the work it is doing to convert sugar (a toxin) to body-fat. b) The pancreas may break down because it is working too hard to keep up with (and failing at) regulating the triglycerides in the bloodstream. c) The bloodstream has too much cholesterol in it, which leads to artery clogging and heart disease.
Thus, when you understand the fine balance of the molecular process in the body, you can see how cholesterol, insulin, triglycerides and obesity are related. Obesity is an epidemic which is one of the first symptoms of a number of very serious life-threatening diseases, such as cardio-vascular disease, pulmonary embolism, type 2 diabetes, liver cirrhosis and several cancers.
The solution is quite simple: Lose the excess weight! A human body that has an ideal body mass index has only 10-15% body-fat, while a female body should have no more than 25%. Having less doesn’t hurt either, especially if you work on converting it to muscle mass!