Cholesterol is a very contentious issue and not a day goes by that I do not see somebody panicking because they’ve had a finger prick blood test at a pharmacy and been told by somebody unqualified to make a judgement call, that they have high cholesterol . Worse still is the amount of scare mongering that patients are subjected to by their own medical practitioners. DO SOME RESEARCH – your cholesterol is probably neither high nor unhealthy !
That cholesterol is the cause of heart disease is one of the big lies of our time and there is masses of evidence and literature disproving these myths that are actually harming your health !
Since the cholesterol hypothesis is false, this also means that the recommended therapies—low-fat, low-cholesterol diet, and cholesterol lowering medications—are doing more harm than good.
Dr Stephen Sinatra, cardiologist and co-author of the book ‘ The Great Cholesterol Myth” says “ I don’t believe cholesterol is the villain it’s made out to be when it comes to heart disease. In fact, it’s not much of a risk factor at all.”watch Dr Sinatra here and listen to a talk by Dr Malcom Kendrick here
A tremendous amount about what causes heart disease has been learnt over the past decade but the medical establishment is largely still operating on outdated ( flawed) science from half a century ago. Although the notion that high cholesterol is a primary risk for heart disease and that a diet high in saturated fat will cause cholesterol problems and heart disease has been driven by the medical world, it is simply not true.
High cholesterol is not the primary cause of heart disease and diets high in saturated fat and cholesterol are not the cause either.
In 2009 the American Heart Journal published a study in which patients admitted to hospital for heart attacks had their cholesterol levels tested on admission. The study looked at a total number of 231 986 hospitalizations from 541 hospitals. 59% of the patients ( 136 905 people) had an LDL level of 2.6mmol. ( well within normal range)
In 2006 the mean (average ) LDL level of American people was a normal 3.2mmol yet 78% of people who had heart attacks had LDL levels of BELOW the average.
WHAT IS CHOLESTEROL ?
Cholesterol is a waxy fat like substance found in the blood as well as in every cell in your body. It is one of the most important molecules in your body; indispensable for the building of cells and for producing stress and sex hormones, as well as vitamin D
Cholesterol is just cholesterol. There is NO good and bad, all cholesterol plays a role. We need to look at the CONDITION of our cholesterol to determine whether there is a problem or not.
75% of the body’s cholesterol is made in the liver. In fact well designed studies have shown that eating cholesterol has very little effect on blood cholesterol levels in the majority of people.
Right at this early point of this discussion we should be asking ourselves, if cholesterol plays so many essential roles in the body and our livers actually make the stuff, why are we all so afraid of it?
Cholesterol is oil based and therefore cannot mix with blood which is water based, so the cholesterol needs to be carried around in vehicles that we call lipoproteins. Think of these lipoproteins as cars and the cholesterol and fats are passengers in the cars.
We have LDL or low density lipoprotein that is sometimes called “the bad cholesterol”, which transports the cholesterol manufactured by the liver around the body to perform vital functions, and HDL or high density lipoprotein known as “good cholesterol” which is the friendly scavenger that recycles the LDL by transporting it back to the liver where it can be reprocessed . HDL could also be called the “maintenance crew” helping to keep the inner walls of the blood vessels clean and healthy. LDL and HDL work together – we need BOTH of them. In reality cholesterol is far more complex than this. There are subtypes of both HDL and LDL which is why we simply cannot look at a total cholesterol number!
Also making up the cholesterol count are Triglycerides. Triglycerides are fats from the food we eat. Excess calories in the body are converted to triglycerides and stored as fat cells throughout the body. Unlike cholesterol, which is a waxy substance, triglycerides are fat and also transported by the lipoproteins.
WHY THE HYSTERIA ?
We have established that cholesterol is made by the body and performs vital functions in the body so where did the hysteria surrounding cholesterol originate?
Back in 1977 The US government introduced new dietary guidelines based on no science! Thanks to a Senator George McGovern, who at the time was a great advocate for the Pritikin diet, which eliminated fat from the diet. Senator McGovern was head of the Senate committee for Nutrition and Human needs and helping him by drawing up the guidelines, was a chap by the name of Nick Mottern, a vegetarian who had no training in nutritional science.
But how did the government of the time justify this move? Enter a chap by the name of Ancel Keys and the Seven Countries study in which Mr Keys had “cherry picked ” the results that suited his hypothesis and simply threw out reliable data from the other 15 countries that did not fit. Have a look at this quick video clip BIG FAT LIES. It was this theory that was used by the US government and the expanding vegetable oil industry of the time, to demonise saturated fat and drive home the fear of it!
What do we need to know then about cholesterol health and what causes it to become a problem?
Elevated cholesterol may be a symptom of an underlying problem in your body and the cause of this problem is usually inflammation. When we have inflammation in our bodies, cholesterol is sent to fix the problem. If the problem is not resolved, the body makes more cholesterol to send to fix the inflammation which is why we see a high unhealthy cholesterol (high LDL) readings in people with metabolic syndrome. Metabolic syndrome is caused by persistent high levels of insulin. High levels of insulin cause inflammation in the body resulting in high production of LDL particles.
Another factor that raises LDL levels is the conversion of excess glucose to fats (triglycerides). When we manufacture more fat than we can burn, we see high levels of triglyceride in the blood. This is very prevalent in a high carb/ high fructose ( fizzy or energy drinks) diet.
Many people have a quick finger prick cholesterol test in their local pharmacy or even in their doctors’ rooms. This will give a reading of total cholesterol only and is generally useless.
As we have seen, there are different lipids that make up cholesterol. A total cholesterol could be made up of high triglycerides and low HDL (not good) and still have lower total cholesterol that someone with low triglycerides and high HDL (good).So we cannot look at a total cholesterol number and conclude that there is a problem or not.
LDL is not measured directly in a standard lipogram. LDL is measured using what is known as the Friedwald equation. This equation calculates the concentration of LDL based upon the presence of total cholesterol, HDL and triglyceride levels:
The trouble with a standard lipogram too, is that it does not measure the actual number of lipoproteins in the blood (remember the vehicles). The measurement is a reading of the total amount of cholesterol that is contained in your HDL and LDL particles. So instead of counting vehicles, this cholesterol test only counts the passengers in the vehicles. That does not make sense when it’s the number of vehicles that increases the risk of accidents!
Another point that need to be kept in mind when looking at cholesterol results is that results need to be interpreted in the context of your overall health. Individual cholesterol numbers by themselves i.e. total cholesterol, HDL, LDL Triglycerides do not predict heart risk. Other factors that need to be taken into account by your doctor are age, BMI, whether or not you smoke and whether you have existing health problems like diabetes and high blood pressure for example.
This is a test from a healthy normal weight individual with no risk factors and yet you will see in the interpretive comments “Current T- Chol of 5.3mmol/l is above treatment goals irrespective of CVD (that’s cardiovascular) risk category.” In other words – his cholesterol is too “high “. This is crazy! TOTAL BALONEY ! If you take a look at the numbers under the result column against the numbers in the reference column you will see that ALL the numbers, except the total cholesterol are well within the normal range. It just does not make sense when all these other values look great, to tell a person their cholesterol is high.
DO NOT BE FOOLED INTO BELIEVING THAT YOU HAVE CHOLESTEROL PROBLEMS JUST BECAUSE YOUR TOTAL SCORE IS ABOVE THE RECOMMENDED GUIDELINES.
If your cholesterol is unhealthy the key is to find the cause– which is invariably diet and lifestyle related. I highly recommend you find a doctor who has a solid understanding of cholesterol as well as understands the detrimental effects of statin drugs. If your doctor has told you that you need to be medicated because your cholesterol is high ask for a copy of your results and RUN. Then find a doctor who supports low carb eating and who, if your cholesterol is indeed unhealthy, will assist you in correcting it with dietary and lifestyle changes.
LOW CHOLESTEROL IS DANGEROUS
Studies have found that as you age, your chances of an early death increase if your total cholesterol falls. The data clearly showed that after the age of 50 for every 0.026mmol/l (which is small) drop in total cholesterol levels per year, heart rate deaths increased by 14%. Can you imagine then, the increase in risk of reducing cholesterol from 6mmol/l down to the proposed “healthy” 5mmol/l?
It is interesting to note that “very low” cholesterol was defined as a level below 4.63mmol/l by scientists at the Department of Clinical and Experimental Medicine, University of Padua, Italy in a study done on 3282 men and women over the age of 65years.The study (CArdiovascular STudy in the Elderly) clearly showed an increase in cancers in people with “very low cholesterol.
In a similar study in which 7735 men aged 40-59 were screened serum cholesterol levels below 4.8mmol/l were associated with highest risk of death from all causes (cardiovascular causes, cancer, and non-cardiovascular, non-cancer causes)
In a number of studies, lower cholesterol has been linked with increased cancer risk. Cholesterol is a vital building block in cell membranes; it is essential for their integrity and stability. It is possible that normal cell membrane function is impaired with a significant decrease in cholesterol resulting in loss of resistance to cancerous change. And that is just the start.
WHAT ABOUT HEREDITARY HIGH CHOLESTEROL?
Here again the literature suggests that even hereditary high cholesterol is benign in the absence of inflammation. Dr Malcom Kendrick does a pretty good job of dismantling the link between FH ( familial hypercholesterolaemia) and heart disease in his blog which you can read HERE
In the one study ( which was never even published) done to determine a link between FH and heart disease it was concluded that “Our studies provide no evidence that familial hypercholesterolemia appreciably shortens the life of affected individuals, either male or female.On the contrary, they show that high levels of serum cholesterol are clearly compatible with survival into the seventh and eighth decades.”
Familial Hypercholesterolemia: A Genetic and Metabolic Study.Ann Intern Med. 1965;63(5):915-916. doi:10.7326/0003-4819-63-5-915_3
We discuss cholesterol in more depth in our book “The Banting Solution” to read more about our book see This link
For more information and reading on cholesterol I recommend the following links.