Author Archive: Colin Chambers



Cholesterol gets a lot of bad publicity but the truth is that it is an essential part of all cells and so it is no real surprise that it is abundant in the human body. The prevailing theory is that cholesterol is the cause of modern diseases but how strong is the evidence to support this theory? and what, if anything could be the alternative explanation?

What is Cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a chemical that is abundant in the membrane of every cell in your body. It is a type of fat with the structure of a steroid.

read more at cholesterol and cell membranes.

What does it do for us?

Cholesterol essentially keeps the cell membrane from turning to mush. Which means it keeps the cells in your body intact because it is a structural component of the cell membrane.

Why do we worry about it?

So cholesterol is prevalent in all cells and does useful things for us so why should we be worrying about it? The general evidence is that a correlation between high levels of a certain types of particle (LDL) that transports fats like cholesterol and high levels of heart and vascular problems like heart disease and stroke. It is also clear that high levels of LDLs containing cholesterol also often occur in people with fatty streaks and plaques in their arteries which are related to heart problems aswell

What I think really causes high cholesterol

The idea that cholesterol is the culprit only makes sense when you are looking for a scape goat to blame or something to fix with drugs because it doesn’t answer the question of why cholesterol is increasing or what makes it dangerous.

You see LDL cholesterol levels also have a correlation with lack of activity and general lack of fitness and one important aspect of being fit is the ability to recover quickly. For example fit people recover heart rate, blood pressure, glucose and fat blood levels faster than unfit people. Those are just a few of the measures but most if not all measures of health are improved in fit people

So when you consider the role of cholesterol as a support for both the cell structure and processes that the cell membrane performs then the story becomes clearer. As our populations have become less active and better fed they have become less fit. Being less fit means their bodies are much worse at both repairing the daily damage that occurs to cells throughout the body and managing the excess energy that is being consumed,

If cells are not repaired properly then their contents would start to leak out and be found around the body and cholesterol would obviously start to form cell membranes in the wrong place. Given that cholesterol is a core part of cells it is also a core part of the cell recovery process. So where repairs are occurring you would expect to find a lot of cholesterol just like there are lots of bricks and mortar in a building site.

The excess energy becomes a problem because all energy is dangerous when it is not stored properly. We know this from energy sources we use like electricity, wind and fossil fuels which in the right place are safe, but very unsafe in the wrong place. Fuels in the body are the same and can start to cause big problems. Carbohydrate, fats and proteins are also dangerous if they are not properly handled. So the body of an unfit individual will not handle energy properly which will lead to even more damage.

This explanation shows why ldls with high cholesterol would be more prevalent than hdls that have low cholesterol but gives a practice explanation about how the situation occurred and how to fix it that is also backed up by research. The ratio of hdl to ldl simply reflects your bodies ability to repair existing damage to cells and reduce further damage from rogue energy.

I have deliberately kept this explanation short and punchy instead of going in depth into the science because I feel it is more important that you understand the story. If you want to know more then please ask and I would be more than happy to share but for now it’s more important that you understand on a cellular level just why your body needs to move throughout the day just as much as it needs to breath. Breathing provides oxygen and remove carbon dioxide but movement gets nutrients to where they are needed and makes your body keeping everything working as it should and in line with what you need for your life.

If you want to know more then check out a different view on cholesterol, what factors make us kick the bucket? and Can you manage Coronary Heart Disease through physical activity?

Check out my other articles to learn more about preventing obesity, heart disease and Diabetes, dementia and alzheimers and even Cancer through exercise


hyperphysics: cholesterol

cholesterol and cell membranes.

Ageing well requires staying fit


Ageing is many peoples greatest fear because many believe that to age is to wane, that life doesn’t get any better but I for one haven’t seen that to be true. Working in a gym gave me an excellent insight because I saw people from all walks of life and in all stages. What I like to remind myself every so often is that the healthiest and fittest people there, and particularly the happiest were sometimes the eldest.

Now don’t get me wrong, age is a big challenge and putting the miles on the clock is going to add some wear and tear but I do like to see the body and mind just like a car. The question being, what kind of miles are you putting on and how do you drive?

In the same way that driving aggressively can cause your car to wear out sooner or by simply not maintaining it properly the body ages badly when not cared for. The fact is that working in the gym I met many people who didn’t just look younger than they were they lived younger too. I got the chance to get to know them personally and get an insight into whether their good health was luck and genetics or whether they themselves had a greater part to play.

The answer I found is that just like with a car it is luck the exact version you are given but the greatest impact on how you age is in how you take care of what you have. For example one of the ladies I knew is an inspiration to this day because I thought she was 60 and doing well for her age. To make conversation I asked her what she was training for to which she replied she was going on a skiing holiday in a few weeks. Skiing is in my eyes on of the most intense activities there is so you have to be pretty darn fit even to do it let alone be any good. This lady was treating it like a normal thing and I thought how great it is to be able to do something this intense as a normal activity at 60. Good for her, I thought, just think of all the other cool things she must be able to do that many of her age can’t like run around with her children because unfortunately even climbing stairs is a challenge for many at that age.



Because I worked in a gym I knew people ages because it’s part of prescribing the right activities and such so I had a quick check and found she was in fact 80. Yep you read that right, an 80 year old grandma thought nothing of popping across to the alps for a bit of skiing. Now that is a woman to be inspired by isn’t it. So the question is Was this exceptional health down to luck and genes. Not really because when I put the question to her she said she was always active through her life and didn’t want to let herself go. Her attitude determined her health, not her genes.

Maybe this is a lucky find but she was not the only person at this gym who had the same result. Several people I found were experiencing health 20 years younger than their nominal age. The pattern I found was that they all had the same attitude that they must use their body or lose it so they chose to maintain it well. The fact is that the body doesn’t just need a yearly check up but a more regular one a few times a week. In fact that’s what cars are like because they still need to be used regularly, often every day, in order to function properly. In fact most cars need to be given a decent run regularly enough to keep themselves working properly.

These insights didn’t just apply in the gym I worked in. When I look wider I find the same story every where. Being older can and should mean the same health and happiness you knew when you were younger. To those who maintain their body properly this is invariably the case.

So that is my personal experience so far and I wanted to see what the existing research has to say. For now though, as a working dad I have found plenty of fascinating insights but haven’t had the time to put them into an interesting story. I list them below so you can look through them.

I falso ound Dave Hughes ‏@HughesDC_MCMP particularly useful

“Favourable impact of sprint exercise on aging muscle” … -Fibre type % in different age groups

So, that is what I have so far. Please let me know what you think and what else you would like to know.

Photo Credit: Older man: Neil. Moralee, Skiier: sunflowerdave (professional loungist) via Compfight cc

Being more active improves your ability to prevent damage and recover

merry go round

The overwhelming feeling I get when reviewing all I’ve learned about the benefits of exercise is that the most important benefit you get is the ability to recover from any risk you take or damage or injury you incur.

Take this tweet

FFA transporters move to the plasma membrane during endurance exercise to bring more fat into the muscle. Our muscles are smart #GSSIXP

I need to find the actual source for this insight, unfortunately Kimberley didn’t cite an article because she was tweeting from a conference. That aside it’s becoming increasingly clear that all fuels that humans use for energy are dangerous when not controlled properly. Not surprising when you consider that all fuels we use outside the body like wood, oil and gas are also dangerous when not used and stored properly.

It turns out that fat, sugar and protein are all dangerous if not properly controlled. So too are other chemicals used by the body. Salt being an obvious example because one researcher, marc peletier specifically attributes salt regulation to heart disease.

So the good news is that exercise is natures way of regulating all these dangerous chemicals. The bad news is that not all the research is conclusive yet so let me give you a quick run down of what I have found.

  • Sugar: AKA Carbohydrate: Your exercise performance depends greatly on your ability to use sugar so exercise improves your ability to control and use it. Exercise targets the Glucose transporters specifically type 4 which are regulated by insulin which ensures the body can regulate sugar properly
  • Fat: Fat is of course the fuel you want to use the most of yet most people don’t know that your ability to burn fat depends on your ability to mobilise it but also your ability to use carbohyrdate. The saying goes that “You can only burn fat in a carbohydrate  flame” so of course exercise improves sugar and fat mobilisation and use. Insulin also controls fat release but the mechanism is yet to be fully understood. New evidence is coming to light but whether that includes insulin response we will find out.
  • Protein: Protein is half sugar and half amine. The amine part is toxic in large quantities so just like sugar it needs tight regulation. Exercise requires protein partly for fuel but mainly for building and repair work. What exercise does is push the body to become more able to handle the forces applied to it. Therefore it becomes less likely to break under strain. At the same time it creates a strong need to use protein and thus the systems to regulate protein become efficient and tightly regulated.
  • Salt: Salt and salts are actually crucial to the body because they have very useful chemical properties. Two very important functions are to help draw water in and out of the body as required making it easier to regulate water and keep the whole body healthy. The other is to supply the calcium and sodium required by nerves in saltatory conduction. Your entire nervous system including your brain, spine and motor circuits require specific amounts of calcium to repeatedly send message around the body
  • Water: The biggest improvement your body makes when you exercise is in water regulation. This is because every system in the body works better when water is controlled properly. Plenty of studies show that carbohydrate and fat don’t get digested or used properly if the water around them is not correct which is the basis of the sports drinks industry. Exercise puts the greatest strain possible on the bodies ability to supply, transport and regulate water and so it is no surprise that exercise forces the body to keep the required systems up to date.

As you can see from this analysis exercise puts a great and regular demand on all the body as a whole. This act itself forces the body to bring itself up to standard and reminds the body how it is supposed to work and that it must prepare for challenges. The challenge of exercise no longer exists in modern sedentary life and we haven’t yet evolved to handle this. So without the regular challenge of movement the body and its systems fall into disrepair. This is the reason that obesity, heart disease, diabetes and other diseases of western life are all being recognised as the result of the body not working as it normally would and that those who are regularly active suffer much less from these diseases if they suffer at all.

Coming from this angle you see from my list that several keys aspects of the body are kept functioning by activity. From the ability to use fuel to the ability to supply water. At the same time the improvements made to bodily systems to make this happen reduce the damage caused when these systems are not maintained.

Related articles

Purging cells in mice is found to combat aging ills  senescent cells hasten aging in the tissues in which they accumulate. Exercise and calorie restriction are two important ways to encourage this purging process. Exercise though is much more important in preparing the body to do the process well. Calorie restriction can trigger the process but it has an arbitrary focus, as likely to purge heart muscle cells and faulty ones. Exercise forces the body to be more practical and calculating. Building up the resources and workflow to purge effectively rather than randomly. Directing the efforts of calorie restriction in a more organised and beneficial way.

The mathematics of weight loss: Ruben Meerman at TEDxQUT really well presented explanation of the basics of weight loss. You lose weight by eating less and moving more and breathing. He cuts right through many of the myths and explains specifically what happens. Doesn’t cover the challenges of doing this. Just focuses on the specific reliable equations that you should actually care about. I would like to see if it helps people understand the process itself more and believe in it.

The underappreciated Role of Muscle in Health and Disease Muscle isn’t susceptible to cancer. We don’t yet know why but we’re learning. Muscles affect us more than we know encouraging the transfer of sugar around our body and reducing insulin resistance and diabetes.

The Role of Water Homeostasis in Muscle Function and Frailty explores the relationship with recovers of water in cells and surrounding tissues and frailty through loss of muscle function. It is a complex and very important topic related to ageing. It highlights that as we age we require more self care not less to help our bodies retain the recovery abilities that we take for advantage when we are younger.

These are the things I already know and this talk by Jamie Scott adds even more to why being strong can give you a happy future

Nutrition: A problem of supply and demand

A core concept to understand in maximising health is that our bodies are constantly managing supply and demand.

We have evolved to expect continual change and be ready for both the best and the worst which requires the ability to predict future demand. This is as true for energy as it is for other nutrients like vitamins and minerals. All nutrients are dangerous in too high a quantity and our bodies are designed to store and use them within certain limits. Thus a fine balance is what it aims for along with the ability to manage the situation if too much or too little is taken up. These cases require buffer systems to ensure no major problems occur.

The impact of this was highlighted to me when I learnt about a study that looked into the effects of both supply and demand on nutrients. In this case it was vitamin D.

The overall concept is about balance. Creating demand within the body is critical for it to make proper use of the supply. Good supply is not enough it even risks flooding your body with nutrients it’s unable to properly manage. Leading to damage and side effects.