It is, in fact, an oily liquid that is essential for your body's health. You cannot do without it. Why then are people telling you that it is bad for you?
Let's have a closer look at cholesterol, then, and try to resolve this paradox. Cholesterol is needed to make cell membranes and also some hormones and other components your body needs, and the main transportation system used is the bloodstream and its network of pipes leading all parts of the body. Because the blood is aqueous, and cholesterol is an oil, they do not mix. In order for the cholesterol to be transported to the parts of your body where it is needed, it uses a transport system, a bit like a taxicab.
The cabs used by cholesterol are called lipoproteins, which carry cholesterol and other fats around your body. There are a number of different kinds of lipoprotein, but the two we are concerned about are low density lipoprotein (LDL) and high density lipoprotein (HDL). Low density lipoprotein is the main cholesterol carrier in your blood, and if too much cholesterol carried by LDL circulates rounds the blood, cholesterol deposits can build up on the artery walls of your heart and brain.
This can eventually build up into a hard lining called plaque, and eventually effectively narrow the arteries. This reduces the blood flow, and is called atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries. If these are coronary arteries it is called coronary artery disease, and you are at increased risk of a heart attack. If they are arteries in the brain, they are called cerebral vascular disease, and you are at risk of having a stroke. Either of these two serious effects can result in death, and can be caused by a blood clot.
An LDL cholesterol level of 160 mg/dl (milligrams/deciliter) is very dangerous, and if you have heart problems your cholesterol level should be below 100. However, about a third to a quarter of your body's cholesterol content is carried by high density lipoproteins, that are believed to carry cholesterol from the blood to the liver where it is processes and expelled from the body. A high level of HDL cholesterol is therefore good for you and a low level of HDL in your body (less than 40 mg/dl for men and 50 for women) can also be dangerous.
You ingest cholesterol from animal sourced foods, such as meats, eggs and dairy products. Fruits and vegetables contain none. However, the liver produces about 1 gram (1000 mg) of cholesterol a day, while you consume only 150 - 200 mg from your diet. An American male can consume an average of around 340 mg per day, while it should be limited to below 300. Saturated fatty acids and trans fats are responsible for the body's cholesterol production, and you can get these from vegetarian as well as animal sources.
So how can you reduce your cholesterol? You can get prescription medicines such as statins, bile acid sequestrants and fibrates, but all have some effect on your liver. They generally work by requiring your liver to use up cholesterol to make up for deficiency created by the drug, or by creating less LDL cholesterol, so an overdose can be very dangerous and all of them have specific side effects that you should ask your doctor about. Statins might also need an enzyme supplement since they can deplete the enzyme Co-Q10 that can lead to heart problems. You must ask your doctor about this.
A natural treatment for high LDL cholesterol levels is red rice yeast. This is produced by fermenting of red yeast called Monascus purpureus over rice. It is what gives Peking duck its characteristic red coloring, and is used in other forms of Chinese cookery. It is also a traditional Chinese remedy for indigestion, diarrhea and poor circulation, and contains a natural statin called lovastatin that inhibits the production of an enzyme that promotes the production of cholesterol by the liver.
Unfortunately, when the FDA found that the red rice yeast contained lovastatin, it insisted it be recalled since it contained an uncontrolled pharmaceutical ingredient. There is now an ongoing legal battle about whether red rice yeast is a pharmaceutical drug or a dietary supplement. The rice is still commonly sold.
However, due to the unclear legal situation the rice containing lovastatin can still be purchased online, and studies have shown it to significantly lower LDL cholesterol when compared to a placebo. The mevinolin that contains the lovastatin is a natural product, occurring naturally in red rice yeast, and lovastatin is not the only active ingredient. If you decide to try it, make sure that you are not using any other cholesterol treatments at the same time, and that you have no existing liver condition.
Like statins, it works by reducing the Coenzyme Q-10 reductase content of your body, which reduces the need for the liver to produce cholesterol. However, some studies have shown that red rice yeast is more effective that pharmaceutical statins and reduces cholesterol by a greater amount with fewer health problems. However, like all natural remedies that are taken for serious conditions, your physician might have the last say.
There is still a considerable debate being carried out on the effects of cholesterol on the body, with both camps firmly entrenched. However, the bulk of scientific and medical evidence suggests that too high a LDL cholesterol level in the blood can lead to artherosclerosis, and there is no debating the effects of that condition! It is safer to reduce your cholesterol level than to let it be, and a natural means of doing that must be better than using prescription drugs.
Red rice yeast has been shown to be effective and the Chinese have yet to be shown to have suffered the predicted side effects of statins. However, as with any cure for a serious condition, the patient should be aware of the potential problems and their symptoms, and consult their doctor before taking any remedy.