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Cholesterol - A Research Study

By Fred A. Kummerow, Retired Professor, Department of Food and Nutrition

If you read a newspaper, surf the internet, listen to television ads, and/or take the advice of most physicians, you would think cholesterol is bad and should be cur out of the diet because of its link to heart disease. This leaves the wrong impression about cholesterol.

Since the word "cholesterol" is so prevalent in the discussion of diet and heart disease, we need to first understand what it really is and its purpose in our bodies. Did you know that cholesterol is necessary for every cell of the human body to exist, and without cholesterol, humans beings could not exist? People make their own cholesterol because their bodies need it to live.

A typical adult male naturally makes about 900 milligrams (mg) of cholesterol in his liver each day unless that cholesterol is obtained in his diet. A typical diet now contains approximately 400 mg of cholesterol. Most foods that contain cholesterol also are the greatest sources of protein, such as eggs, dairy, and meat products. It is protein that carries cholesterol successfully through the arteries and veins in the body and allows for its appropriate use. If protein sources are cut from the diet because of concern about their cholesterol content, we are actually creating more, not fewer problems since protein must perform not only a cholesterol-carrying function, but also serve as building blocks for cells (and we are made up of 50,000 trillion cells).

We are born with cholesterol already surrounding (and protecting) our cells, and with the ability to make more of it in our cells, although most of it is made in our liver. Cholesterol is essential for all animal life, but not as a nutrient or source of food. Its role is to help make membranes.

Without cholesterol, our bodies couldn't replace cells when needed so that we can keep on living. Cholesterol is needed to make a membrane that encases every one of the 50,000 trillion cells in the body, so a lot of cholesterol is required. Cholesterol is a good and necessary compound, not a bad one.

In actuality, without cholesterol we could not exist. Cholesterol in our blood helps cells replace themselves and protect the working elements in the cells.

These working elements are the parts that

  1. Convert food into energy.
  2. Contain the nucleus, which is how the cell reproduced itself.
  3. Manufacture protein and other elements needs by the cell.
All animals, including human beings, have and require each of their cells to be encased by a cholesterol-containing membrane. Thus experiments on the effects of cholesterol the diet can be conducted on animals such as pigs, chickens, and rats, instead of on human beings.

Knowing how much cholesterol is naturally make in our bodies also helps us to understand more about cholesterol. One study showed that 840-910 mg, and another 367-1407mg, of cholesterol are made from acetyl CoA in the liver during a 24 hour period. This means each day that amount of cholesterol needs to be produced by the liver or furnished through food sources for normal cell functioning.

If you eat foods containing cholesterol, your liver makes less cholesterol. One study showed that only 34-63% of dietary cholesterol is absorbed through the intestinal tract, and probably less if you eat lots of fiber. Your body has a mechanism that stops the making of cholesterol in the liver so as to regulate the amount in the blood each day. This ensures that you have enough, but not too much, cholesterol for your body use.

A study with pigs showed that atherosclerosis could occur in their aging coronary arteries, even without feeding them cholesterol; aging is clearly a risk factor and obviously one that cannot be avoided. Pathologist could not tell any differences in atherosclerosis in pigs and atherosclerosis in humans. To blame cholesterol, a life-giving substance, for heart disease is shortsighted.

Our bodies need cholesterol and cannot exist without it. We need to move research efforts into studying how cholesterol is used in the body.

Fred A. Kummerow is a retired professor from the department of Food Science and Nutrition, Emeritus. He is a writer of more than 300 publications. He has been the Honorary Member of Purkinje Society of the Czechoslovakian Medical Society, Romanian Society of Physiology National Academy of Science, and Visitor Exchanges to Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania, and the FSU Chairman, two National Science Foundations Sponsor, cell membrane workshops (Cluj, Romania, 1981; NY, 1982) Reviewer, USDA and NSF proposals. He is the writer of “Cholesterol won’t kill you but Trans Fat could”. For Further information on his articles kindly contact Dr. Kummerow at

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