Is Cholesterol Bad?
What You Need To Know About Fat Before You Change Your Diet
If you haven’t heard of the supposed healing benefits of a low fat diet, especially if you are a cardiac patient, then you have lived in a cave. The long standing myth that has been perpetrated about fat and cholesterol has left such complete confusion that it’s amazing that anyone knows what to do anymore! After being told a lie for decades, it can take a long time and a lot of education to dispel the myth. I’m certain I’ve had patients, especially going back 20 years ago, who thought I was crazy when I told them that eating fat is good thing!
Cholesterol and fats are not bad, in fact, they are necessary for life. It’s all about the type of fat that you eat. Years ago, Americans were told that margarine was healthier than butter, that was one of the biggest travesties that has occurred in our food culture. Anyone remember the Parkay commercial? "Butter. Parkay.Butter. Parkay….” A lie! I remember when I was a kid, and hearing people talk about eggs being bad because they were high in cholesterol. This too, was an absolute myth!
After this myth was finally rectified, although some people still believe eating eggs is bad, the egg farmers had to get together to de-vilify the egg. Remember those commercials, “The Incredible Edible Egg?”
Cholesterol is produced by the liver. We obtain essential fatty acids from our food via a healthy breakdown of the fats. In fact, according to a report issued by the FDA in February 2016, dietary cholesterol has no effect on serum (blood) cholesterol. Cholesterol plays important functions in our body; not one single cell in your body could be produced without cholesterol. Every cell membrane requires cholesterol to be made, 25% of our cholesterol is in our brain. All of our steroid hormones--estrogens, progesterone, testosterone, DHEA, cortisol-- are made from cholesterol, including Vitamin D. If we have low cholesterol we cannot make these hormones. In fact, if your total cholesterol drops below 150, then your ability to make hormones will be seriously impaired, if not halted all together.
Most importantly, our brains need cholesterol. In a 2016 study it was found that, the memory in the elderly was best in those who had the highest levels of cholesterol. (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18757771).
The use of statins has been associated with an increased risk of cognitive impairment, this is due to the lack of vital cholesterol that the brain needs to be healthy. Dementia is not a normal part of aging.
Historically, there have been many claims linking cholesterol to heart disease. In January 1995, the New York Times published an article regarding a study on heart disease, suggesting that there was a 24% decrease in deaths and heart attacks from 1982- 1992. That sounds good right? However, what the rest of the study showed was that death from heart failure doubled in that same 10 year period. If there is less heart disease, why are more than double the amounts of people dying from heart failure?
Interestingly, within the same period, increased amounts of processed and refined foods were introduced into the American diet. Refined grains and oils replaced foods rich in phyto-nutrients, necessary to maintain heart health. The refining of foods removed B vitamins, minerals and essential fatty acids with long term repercussions on the state of our health. This is especially significant when you consider how heavily grains are pushed on Americans.
Heart failure is the result of not enough oxygen getting to the heart, which impairs the heart cells ability to make energy. The heart needs plenty of oxygen, minerals, especially magnesium, CoQ10 (which is lost from statins), ribonucleic acid, B vitamins and on and on. If these are lacking the heart starts to fail.
Let’s talk about the food pyramid that kids were taught at school during the time more processed foods were introduced. The food pyramid recommended low fat, 2 -3 servings of protein, 2 – 4 servings of fruit, 2 – 3 servings of dairy, 3 – 5 servings of vegetables and a whopping 6 – 11 servings of grains, like bread, cereal and pasta! The new food pyramid is not much better; they added exercise and reduced the grain recommendations slightly, but they still recommend limiting fats.
Within the old paradigm, the foods that we were supposed to be eating most, were the types of foods that cause inflammation, obesity, insulin resistance, fatigue, high triglycerides, leaky gut, brain fog and allergies The Standard American Diet (SAD), is indeed every bit as woefully inadequate in its recommendations as the acronym suggests. Americans are overfed and undernourished. Why are we talking about this? Do you think vitamins, minerals and essential fatty acids (EFF’s) can play a part in your overall health? How about your hormonal health? Absolutely!
Our receptors need minerals to open the gates. Our hormones need cholesterol to be made and vitamins are a part of every metabolic process.
One of the greatest atrocities created in our food system is the invention of trans-fats like margarine and other hydrogenated oils. Trans-fats insert themselves into your cell membranes and make them stiff. This is huge concern because all cell membranes are supposed to be flexible and it is cholesterol that makes the cells fluid and flexible. If cells become stiff and less pliable, then the transport of nutrients in and out of the cells is impaired.
The FDA has said that there are NO safe levels of trans-fats; however, the FDA determined that food companies would be allowed to put up to 1/2 gram of trans-fat into a serving. Furthermore, when it is less than 1/2 gram per serving, the manufacturer doesn't even have to list it on the ingredients. They can actually say that the product is trans-fat free. When you see "hydrogenated oil" listed on the ingredients, it is code for trans-fats.
We need good saturated fat in our diets like butter, ghee, avocado oil and coconut oil. As well as other healthy oils like olive oil, fish oil and flaxseed oil. A quarter of our physical structure is made from saturated fat. Our brain, nerves, cell membranes and hormones are made from cholesterol. Do you know why we are made from saturated fat instead of polyunsaturated fat - like vegetable oils?
Because, if we were made from polyunsaturated fat, then we would need to be refrigerated! Sounds like nature had a plan. Why would cholesterol go up? Cholesterol goes up during times of stress and inflammation, but why? First, you need cholesterol to make hormones, including the stress hormones, and to repair cells. Second, cholesterol is how our bodies keep from springing a leak. When one part of the body is in inflammation, the rest of the body goes into an inflammatory state as well.
Cholesterol will increase in response to inflammation and age. Cholesterol is also necessary to have healthy brain function. The brain is made of fat. Low fat, no fat, or low cholesterol diets have now been linked to dementia. How can we expect to a have healthy brain if we don’t give it the main nutrient it needs to repair?
In a study, “Relative Intake of Macronutrients Impacts Risk of Mild Cognitive Impairment or Dementia,” published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease on June 12, 2012, researchers found that for the subjects who ate diets high in carbohydrates, the risk of dementia was elevated. Alternatively, dementia was reduced in the subjects with high fat and protein diets suggesting a connection between inflammation and dementia.
Bottom line: inflammation and oxidation causes damage to cells, including the cells lining the blood vessels. The role of healthy cholesterol is to patch the inflamed and vulnerable area. Healthy cholesterol is about the size, not numbers. If cholesterol is oxidized and dense, it can build up in the vessels, which can then cause constriction of the artery and lead to hypertension or a heart attack.
Cholesterol is not the cause; it is the effect, or the body’s response, to damaged vessels. The key is to keep inflammation and oxidation down so that you do not damage your vessels.
Short term inflammation happens all the time in response to stress, illness, inflammatory foods and trauma among other things. Chronic inflammation is another story all-together. To test for chronic inflammation ask your doctor to run a C - reactive protein (CRP) test, which measures overall inflammation. There are many other inflammatory markers that will give you a more clear picture of how inflamed and oxidized your body is, such as: fibrinogen, LpPLA2, Myeloperoxidase (MPO), LP(a), homocysteine, OxLDL. These tests will show if your cardiovascular health is at risk.
The pharmaceutical companies want you to believe that high cholesterol is a bad thing when, in fact, it is the body's self-protective mechanism. If you take away cholesterol via a statin, which is a cholesterol lowering drug, the body will still try to protect you from springing a leak. Alternatively, if cholesterol is not available, then the body will instead use calcium. Do you think calcifying your vessels is a good idea? Absolutely not! If the weakened area is also stiff and brittle, then when you spring that leak, the vessel has less or no chance of sealing itself.
The following abstract appeared in the April 24, 1987, Journal of the American Medical Association, “Cholesterol and Mortality: Thirty years of follow-up from the Framingham study.” It’s authors are the chief investigators of the Framingham study, W.P. Castelli, K.M. Anderson, and D. Levy
From 1951 to 1955 serum cholesterol levels were measured in 1959 men and 2415 women aged between 31 and 65 years who were free of cardiovascular disease (CVD) and cancer. Under age 50 years, cholesterol levels are directly related with 30-year overall and CVD mortality; overall death increases 5% and CVD death 9% for each 10 mg/dL. After age 50 years there is no increased overall mortality with either high or low serum cholesterol levels. There is a direct association between falling cholesterol levels over the first 14 years and mortality over the following 18 years (11% overall and 14% CVD death rate increase per 1 mg/dL per year drop in cholesterol levels).
Under age 50 years these data suggest that having a very low cholesterol level improves longevity. After age 50 years the association of mortality with cholesterol values is confounded by people whose cholesterol levels are falling—perhaps due to diseases predisposing to death.
Those whose cholesterol dropped had a significantly increased risk of dying. Does it sound like lowering cholesterol is a good idea or a bad one? Do you think that, perhaps, Nature has a plan?
A colleague of mine, with over 15 years of experience as a Pharmaceutical representative, was shocked when we discussed the 11% increase in death. He didn't believe me at first, I had to show him the aforementioned study. He told me that he was taught to tell the doctors to whom he was selling his drugs to, for the past 15 years, that for each 1% drop in cholesterol there is a 2% decrease in mortality. He was given the following statement from the American Heart Association and the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute: The results of the Framingham study indicate that a 1% reduction of cholesterol (corresponds to a) 2% reduction in coronary heart disease risk. But that is not what the chief investigators of the Framingham study stated in the above article.
Don't take my word for it, do the research yourself. I suggest you start with Dr. Duane Graveline's website, www.spacedoc.net. Dr. Graveline, specializing in aerospace medicine, worked for NASA and practiced family medicine in Vermont before retiring to write. Do you think those are good enough credentials? His experience with a cholesterol lowering drug, led him to study the effect of these types of drugs (statins). While on the medication, he experienced transient global amnesia, to the point where he could not recognize his family. He woke up one day in the ER and thought he was 14 years old and no memory of anything beyond that age. He was fortunate that his memory returned and he has offered his research, regarding the effects of statins, public on his website, www.spacedoc.net. Also, for another source and to get a free book about the benefits of cholesterol goes to: http://www.ravnskov.nu/cholesterol/.
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) came out with their Scientific Report of the 2015 Guidelines Advisory Committee and said this about cholesterol:
Previously, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommended that cholesterol intake be limited to no more than 300 mg/day. The 2015 DGAC will not bring forward this recommendation because available evidence shows no appreciable relationship between consumption of dietary cholesterol and serum cholesterol, consistent with the conclusions of the AHA/ACC report. Cholesterol is not a nutrient of concern for overconsumption.
When you have your cholesterol checked make sure it is checked properly. It’s not about quantity, it’s about quality. The best way to test your lipids is with a Lipid Particle Test (LPT). In this LPT, they measure the size of the cholesterol. With the LPT the blood is spun at a very high RPM and then measured vertically based on the density of different lipoproteins. Most people only have a basic lipid panel, this does not give you the information that you need in order to truly assess your lipid health. In fact in the typical lipid test, if your triglycerides are high, it makes your total cholesterol lower, due to the mathematical equation that they use. It’s an inaccurate test. The equation is: LDL + HDL + (triglycerides/5) = total cholesterol.
People have been led to believe that HDL’s are good cholesterol and LDL’s are bad. This is simply not true. First, HDL’s and LDL’s are not “cholesterol” they are lipoprotein carriers, proteins that carry fat through the bloodstream. Since our bloodstream is watery, and we know that fat and water does not mix, the body carries the fat on these protein carriers, protein is water soluble. HDL’s carry cholesterol from the tissues to the liver; LDL’s carry cholesterol from the liver to the tissues. The HDL’s are carrying old, used oxidized cholesterol back to the liver for recycling or disposal. The LDL’s carry fatty acids, cholesterol and fat soluble vitamins from the liver to the tissues. Is one of these functions bad? Of course not, we need both. Mother Nature doesn’t make mistakes like this. The body has an innate wisdom, let’s respect it.
When you have a LPT, what you are looking for is size. The lipid particle test is about quality not quantity. The HDL’s and LDL’s should be large, buoyant and soft. This way when they circulate in the bloodstream they are flexible, they bend and patch leaks and do not obstruct the vessels, kind of like soap bubbles. The problem happens when HDL’s and LDL’s become small, dense and brittle, like bb pellets, which can cause arterial stiffness and clogging.
The most dangerous fats in your bloodstream are triglycerides. These come from carbohydrates (sugar). A triglyceride is sugar bound to 3 fatty acids. As a blood fat, it increases the storage of adipose tissue (fat cells). The body does not like to have high amounts of sugar in the blood stream.
Sugar is acidic and that reduces your blood’s ability to carry oxygen and leads to inflammation. You should never have more than about a teaspoon of sugar in your blood stream at any given time. When we sit down to a meal high in carbohydrates, the body does everything it can to protect you from this acidic condition. It converts the sugar into triglycerides and glycogen (fuel) and stores it in the liver, muscles and fat cells. Only sugars, and other carbohydrates, turn into fat in your body. The way your body stores fat is through the hormone insulin. Insulin is our fat storage hormone. And only glucose can trigger the production of insulin.
I remember some years ago, seeing very high triglycerides in one of my patient’s blood samples. My phlebotomist was out of the office, so I ran the labs. When I spun down the tubes of blood in the centrifuge and removed them, I was in shock at the color of the serum. It is normally a clear yellowish fluid. This serum was white and thick like cream. I was stunned when I saw it. The patient’s level of triglycerides came back extremely high. I called her and asked her what type of diet she was eating. She told me that someone had recommended that she go on a fruit diet. All she was eating was fruit-- no fat, no protein-- and her body was filled with this dangerous fat. Her health was a mess!
There are a lot of different diets recommended, and for most people high fat, low carb and some protein seem to work best. I have had a few, very few, patients that did better on vegetarian type diets, but they have been the exception. For the majority of people high fat and some protein helps to regain health, balance cholesterol levels and reduce inflammation. The ketogenic diet works great for most people, the exception would be people who are positive for APOE4, there is some speculation that this genetic variance could play a detrimental role in the ketogenic diet. APOE4 is a genetic test, and if you have concerns, you may want to request this test from your physician.
And of course always consult your physician regarding changes in diet, and speak to an expert in the field of nutrition, so that you do the diet correctly. More about that later.
A nutritional expert can assess your needs and guild you to the best diet for you. Nothing works 100% of the time for 100% of the people. You want to choose your diet based on genetics, possible food allergies, lab testing, lifestyle and simply what makes you feels best.