Medical Report: Hypercholesteremia and Tai Chi
Eric L. Zielinski
Although the reasons explaining why are hotly debated, the general consensus in the medical community is that elevated levels of cholesterol (hypercholesteremia) is a primary risk factor for heart disease. One camp claims that that cholesterol is the main instigator in arterial occlusion much like septic sludge clogging up a drain pipe; whereas the other group supports the theory that cholesterol damages the inner walls of blood vessels and causes a dangerous inflammatory cascade that will lead to plaque build-up and atherosclerosis. In either case, the global health care system has waged war against cholesterol for decades now and, in spite of the billions of dollars spent on costly drug and surgical interventions every year, cardiovascular disease remains the number cause of death worldwide. It is, therefore, exciting to learn that research supports natural, non-invasive approaches like Tai Chi may help.
Cholesterol is a steroid alcohol, a waxy lipid-soluble substance found only in animal tissues. Since less than half of the required cholesterol in the body is made by the liver and intestines the remaining amount needs to be eaten. In fact, cholesterol is so absolutely vital for human life that if we do not consume enough of it in our diet (about 6 to 8 eggs yolks worth per day), the liver will be stressed to make up the difference. Ultimately, this may cause liver damage and can lead to significant health issues. The significance of cholesterol is seen by its necessary contribution to the following:
It is believed that if dietary intake of fats and high cholesterol foods exceed the immediate fuel needs of the liver, the excess is converted to low density lipoproteins (LDL) – commonly referred to as “bad cholesterol”
Not so simple in its formation, high density lipoproteins (HDL) are created by a number of mechanisms. Not much is known of HDL’\s, but it is believed that they possess a very unique quality. In a process known as “reverse cholesterol transport,” they are purported to remove cholesterol crystals from cholesterol-saturated cells and return them to the liver for further processing into bile acids and other particles. Thus, the title commonly given to HDL’s, “Good Cholesterol.”
Medical Research and Management
Due to their oxidated, free-radical nature, excess LDL presented in the blood are readily attacked by macrophages (scavenger cells) near arterial endothelial cells. Because macrophages are not subject to down-regulation, the continued presence of oxidatively modified LDL causes them to get absorbed into the cell membrane, resulting in injury (lesion formation). Becoming engorged with lipids, macrophages form foam cells, which accumulate in the subendothelial space and develop the first signs of atherosclerotic plaque (i.e. fatty streak). This is believed to induce an inflammatory response, triggering atherosclerosis.
Therefore, medical management centers on reducing LDLs and increasing high density lipoproteins HDLs through a variety of methods.
Some physicians will approach lifestyle behaviors before prescribing drug therapies for mild to moderate cases. Examples of this include diet, exercise, smoking cessation and stress-relief techniques. Others are more prone to prescribe drugs immediately, which all depends on personal preference.
Typically, the first medicine prescribed to treat hypercholesterolemia are statins. These inhibit HMG-CoA reductase, a crucial enzyme needed for cholesterol production, thus lowering LDL and triglyceride production in the liver. Statins are also known for raising HDLs, though, to a lesser degree. There is strong inference that they have a role in decreasing inflammation leading to atheromatous plaques. The side effects can be serious: muscle and liver toxicity; kidney failure; peripheral neuropathy; reduction of Coenzyme Q10.
The IMS Institute For Healthcare Informatics stated in their most recent report, “The Use of Medicines in the United States: Review of 2010,” that spending on lipid regulators increased by $160 million in 2010. More than 255 million prescriptions were issued for these drugs in 2010, making them the most commonly prescribed medication in the U.S.
According to WebMD, B-complex vitamin, nicotinic acid (niacin), has been used for decades to lower LDLs and triglycerides and raise HDLs. Also known for increasing cholesterol size, niacin prevents bad cholesterols from migrating into arterial walls and oxidizing though, recent research suggests that niacin is not associated with lowered risk of CVD. Side effects include: flushing; itching; tingling; headache. Examples include Nicolar and Niaspan.
Research showing Tai Chi’s ability to help decrease hypercholesteremia
In 2011, University of Miami, School of Medicine conducted a review of literature to determine the widespread effects Tai Chi has on the body. In addition to outlining the various benefits related to psychological disorder, pain syndromes and immune conditions like diabetes and HIV, researchers discovered that “cardiovascular changes following Tai Chi include decreased heart rate and blood pressure, increased vagal activity and decreased cholesterol.” As seen above, cholesterol plays a global role in the body. Subsequently, properly managing it is best achieved by taking a holistic approach to health and wellness. Mind-body interventions like Tai Chi, for instance, have a profound effect on every component of the body and contributes greatly to heart health and balanced cholesterol levels.
As the research supporting Tai Chi’s ability to normalize blood lipids grows, it is vital for physicians to balance more aggressive treatments with alternative solutions. One day it is our hope that Tai Chi will become an integral component to the regular management of cardiovascular disease. It is cost-effective, proven to be completely safe and has an astounding effect on overall health and wellness.