If you have elevated cholesterol and or take statin medication, you need to read this.
Mostly we all think cholesterol is bad for us, this is because it’s what we have been told over the last 50 years or more.Cholesterol is often described as “artery clogging” and is used as an indicator of heart disease, and it is that relationship we will look at today.
Most people believe the less cholesterol they have in their diet the better.
What would you think if I said nothing could be further from the truth?
The presumption that cholesterol is bad for you has now been brought into serious question.
I’m reading a book, called The Great Cholesterol Myth. This is in effect a “book report” I’m sharing many of the ideas within the book.
It says that elevated cholesterol is a non existent disease.
Are raised cholesterol a hazard to health?
Today I will explain as simply as possible how and why cholesterol is NOT as bad as you may believe.
Virtually every cell in the human body can make cholesterol. Most of the cholesterol found in your body is made by the liver and NOT from the food you eat.
Important Bile acids, vitamin D and steroid hormones (sex hormones) are all derived from cholesterol.
Cholesterol you would think is therefore essential and reducing it would logically affect other areas, if it is SO important.
However as you probably know, billions of pounds are made selling drugs which will reduce cholesterol, called statins. You may take simvastatin if your doctor has identified “high cholesterol”.
In more recent years, the use of statins has not only being brought into question, but some doctors (especially in the US) will not prescribe them anymore.
Doctors ask serious questions about the widespread use of statins
Statins deplete the body of a nutrient vital for heart function
Statins & antibiotic combinations increase risk of serious side effects
Cholesterol is a waxy substance that is an important part of our cell membranes (we have around 75 trillion cells in our bodies).
As I said, contrary to what you may believe, most of the cholesterol in your body is made in the liver, and a small amount is absorbed from your diet. (It is also believed that our livers have a natural feedback mechanism that regulates cholesterol production in response to our diet. When we eat more, it makes less, and when we eat less it makes more.)
Cholesterol travels around the body as lipoproteins, the most common being high density lipoproteins (HDL’s) and low density lipoproteins (LDL’s).
The traditional approach to cholesterol and the design of the drugs to treat it, believed that LDL’s were the bad guys and HDL’s were good and acted as “scavengers”, they ate LDL’s. This approach is now thought to be a bit too simplistic and outdated.
The doctors measure a ratio, and the aim was to have more good cholesterol (HDL) than bad cholesterol (LDL). Eating good fats like nuts, seeds, avocado and olive oil are believed to keep HDL levels high. This is still partially true, we now put more importance on the cholesterol profile (we now know there are more types than initially thought, discussed below).
You can increase HDL by doing some cardiovascular exercise for 30 minutes, such as brisk walking, jogging, cycling or swimming.
More recently the research has suggested that HDL levels are controlled much more by genetic factors than LDL levels.
It’s also been found that not all HDL is the same. You have HDL-2 and HDL-3, and HDL-2 is more protective and HDL-3 is more inflammatory.
The research still agrees on one thing, having high HDL levels is desirable (although there is now thought to be bad HDL as well as good, just to confuse us).
Initially we thought LDL was bad. Now it’s being suggested that it’s only bad under certain conditions. Things are changing fast.
As with HDL, LDL research has moved on. We now have LDL-A and LDL-B.
LDL-B is related to plaque formation and heart disease. High LDL-A is most desirable. Blood tests can now measure this.
The doctors are able to give you a cholesterol ratio, which indicates the ratio of good to bad cholesterol, research suggests this sort of profile view is still a good indicator of heart disease, much better than cholesterol alone.
Research has suggested, that LDL cholesterol is not harmful unless it is damaged by oxidation.
Damaged (oxidised) cholesterol sticks to the lining of the arteries and the process of inflammation begins. This process is repeated many times and that’s the mechanism by which our arteries become clogged and plaques are formed.
The fastest way to damage or oxidise your LDL cholesterol is to SMOKE. This is why smokers WITH elevated LDL levels are at highest risk of developing heart disease. (It’s linked to the production of free radicals by cigarette smoke.)
The latest research by the British Heart Foundation has uncovered yet another type of LDL cholesterol, MGmin-low-0density-lipoprotein, which is more common in people with type2 diabetes and in the elderly, its “stickier” than normal LDL, which makes it more likely to attach to the artery walls and lead to clogged arteries.
It’s been referred to as the “ultra bad boy” and is said to be created by Glycation, a process which happens when there is too much sugar in the blood stream. The excess sugar is said to “clog up the process” and insert itself where it doesn’t belong, in the LDL molecule.
We are continually learning.
First there was just cholesterol, then there were two types, and now there are three or four types. As time goes on our understanding is improving, so we must keep an open mind and a close eye on this topic over the coming years.
One thing which has been proven low cholesterol leads to depression, aggression, cerebral hemorrhages, and loss of sex drive.
Now who wants that lot?
It all started with the “lipid hypotheses” in the 1950’s. A man called Ancel Keys Ph.D concluded through his studies that excess cholesterol caused heart disease.
Initially he thought that dietary fats drove up cholesterol, but over time, he came to believe that it was saturated fat which drove up cholesterol, and ultimately caused the heart disease.
“The lipid hypothesis has never been proven. Despite 50 years of trying. (Bowden & Sinatra, The Great Cholesterol Myth, 2012)
BUT, this is exactly what I was taught when I did my degree, and what I believed up until around 5-6 years ago. This is what many doctors and health practitioners STILL believe today.
The research was unable to prove the lipid hypothesis, what the research did do was hugely improve the knowledge of how cholesterol works.
Thanks to all the research (funded by the drug companies), good and bad cholesterol molecules were identified, and drugs to treat the bad and help the good were developed. People made lots of money.
Anyone who has had high cholesterol (or worked with people who do) for more than 15 years, would have seen various changes (lowering and lowering) in what the “target” figure for someone’s cholesterol should be for the best.
It is thought that the researchers jumped the gun.
Advisory Group – Advisory groups (paid by the drug companies), were set up to encourage the government to keep lowering the safe target for cholesterol levels, so people would have to take more of the statin meds.
The apparent reason for all the focus on cholesterol is ultimately to make sure we don’t get heart disease and die too early.
They even tell people to eat a special diet to keep your cholesterol under control, the diet advised is LOW FAT, HIGH CARBOHYDRATE.
The 5 decades of seeing the results have shown us that the recommended diet does not deliver what it promises, in fact, quite the opposite.
The low fat, high carbohydrate diet, which is also given to diabetics, has failed catastrophically.
Studies which are worth mentioning.
The 2008 ENHANCE study, looked at the effectiveness of a combination cholesterol lowering medication called Vytorin. The research project was huge.
The results received lots of negative attention. The new “wonder drug” lowered cholesterol better than a standard statin drug, so you would think they would be happy.
Although people taking the drug saw their cholesterol levels drop like a lead balloon, they still had more plaque growth than the people on the standard version of the drug. The patients on Vytorin also had thicker arterial walls, something which won’t help reduce heart disease.
So in a nutshell, their cholesterol went down but their risk for heart disease went up. They still released the drug by the way.
Another notable study in the book is Harvard University’s “Nurses Health Study”, one of the longest running studies of diet and disease ever undertaken. The study followed over 120,000 females since the 1970’s to try and determine the risk factors for cancer and heart disease.
In an exhaustive analysis of 84,129 of these women, published in The New England Journal of Medicine, FIVE factors were identified that significantly lowered the risk for heart disease.
The authors wrote “82% of coronary events in the study could be attributed to lack of adherence to these five factors.”
1. Don’t smoke
2. Drink alcohol in moderation
3. Engage in moderate to vigorous exercise for at least half an hour a day on average.
4. Maintain a healthy weight (BMI under 25)
5. Eat a wholesome low Glycemic (sugar) diet with plenty of omega 3 fats and fiber.
Cholesterol causes heart disease – not what I think!
Dietary cholesterol does not affect cholesterol in the blood, as initially thought.
“When the national cholesterol education programme lowered the optimal cholesterol levels in 2004, eight out of the nine people on the panel had financial ties to the pharmaceutical industry.” The Great Cholesterol Myth 2012
So If Cholesterol Isn’t the cause Of Heart Disease, What Is?
The main cause of heart disease (and many other diseases) is INFLAMMATION. Free radicals production precedes the inflammation.
Raised cholesterol is now thought of as an inflammation problem. So it is believed that the aim for doctors should be to reduce inflammation rather than reducing cholesterol, and one doctor believes in the future you will have specialist doctors in inflammation.
So in a nut shell…
Free radicals are caused by many things which stress the body such as food, stress, environmental pollution, smoking, heavy metals (mercury; calcium; aluminium; lead; chlorine; iron; cadmium), too much sunlight, chemicals and pesticides, petrolium based products (women’s beauty products), toxins in the home.
In case you didn’t already know, free radicals wreak havoc in your cells destroying everything they come into contact with.
Long term exposure to free radicals causes oxidation. This oxidation causes cholesterol in the body to become damaged.
Damaged cholesterol, specifically LDL-B, sticks to the lining of the arteries, and the process and cycle of inflammation begins.
Over the long term this can lead to the formation of plaques and atherosclerosis. Based on this, it has been said, blaming cholesterol for heart disease is like blaming a fire on the firemen who put it out. Just because the cholesterol is at the site of the problem it does not mean it causes the problem (free radicals and oxidative stress did).
The most important point is that inflammation comes in two types – acute and chronic.
“Acute inflammation hurts, chronic inflammation kills” is a quote from the book.
Less sugar and carbs – One important stimulus for the production of cholesterol by the liver is the hormone insulin, which is secreted in response to carbohydrates such as sugars and starch. Dr Briffa says “I have seen many individuals get good control over cholesterol by going easy on their consumption of bread, potatoes, rice and pasta.”
No Smoking (& moderate alcohol consumption) – The fastest way to damage your cholesterol is to SMOKE. This is why smokers WITH elevated cholesterol levels are at highest risk of developing heart disease.
Exercise – has been shown to raise HDL levels, 30 minutes of cardio is fine to get an effect
Good fats – Eating plenty of oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, herring, trout and sardines seems to help raise HDL levels.
Nutrition – An anti-inflammatory diet which is high in antioxidants (to blast the free radicals) and high in the afore mentioned good fats.