Every day we get more and more clients coming into our facility desperate to lose weight and get their cholesterol levels down because of the fear of getting heart disease or having a stroke.
The common belief is that high levels of LDL cholesterol, or the “bad cholesterol” can lead to plaque buildup in your arteries and cause heart disease. This has led to medical professionals consistently prescribing cholesterol lowering medications to their patients.
According to an article published in The Pharmaceutical Journal, “…despite billions invested in developing medicines to reduce LDL-C drastically, there remains no consistent evidence for clinical benefit with respect to either events or mortality.”
The article which cites 44 randomized controlled studies also states, “Most of these trials did not reduce [cardiovascular] events. Lastly, several reported substantial harm.”
More and more research is now debunking this cholesterol-heart disease risk. To understand just how cholesterol may or may not impact your heart disease risk let’s first understand what cholesterol is.
An April 2016 on a cholesterol lowering drug showed that while it did lower LDL levels and raise HDL levels, it had virtually half of the participants in the study still had heart attacks.
In addition a study in the Expert Review of Clinical Pharmacology concluded that statin drugs benefit just 1 percent of the population that uses them. Statins delete your body of coenzyme Q10, which is necessary for energy production of all of our body’s cells. Your heart demands the most energy of all of the organs in the body, so low levels of CoQ10 can increase the risk of acute heart failure.
WHAT IS CHOLESTEROL
Your liver and cells make 75-80% of the cholesterol in your body. The remaining 20-25% come from the food you eat. Cholesterol exists in every cell in the body and is essential for life. If your body doesn’t have enough, it will produce more and if it has too much it will produce less.
Cholesterol is essential for proper hormone function. The body can’t make hormones without it. All of the sex and adrenal hormones, also called the steroid hormones, are synthesized from cholesterol. These include mineralcorticoids, glucocorticoids, androgens, estrogens, progestogens and Vitamin D.
Hormones are needed to regulate numerous vital functions in the body including carbohydrate metabolism, electrolyte regulation, sexual function/development, bone health, reproductive health, brain function and immune health.
Drugs that inhibit the production of cholesterol may therefore have a damaging effect upon the endocrine hormones. Side effects from many of these drugs may include weakness, sexual dysfunction, memory loss, liver dysfunction, mood swings and myopathy (muscle weakness).
Cholesterol also helps with maintaining cell wall integrity, permeability and fluidity.
Cholesterol is a fat, which is not water soluble. Therefore, cholesterol has to be bound to proteins in the blood to be transported to the cells for various functions including hormone synthesis. This combination of fat and protein is referred to as a lipoprotein. LDL and HDL are just 2 of 5 types of lipoproteins in the body and both are necessary to keep the body in balance.
LDL, or low density lipoprotein, is the primary transporter of cholesterol to the cells for the production of hormones, cell membranes and brain tissue, so it’s not as “bad” as traditional medical propaganda makes it out to be. It is lower in density because it has a higher fat to protein ratio than HDL, or high density lipoprotein. After the cells utilize what they need, most of the cholesterol that is leftover is transported back to the liver by LDL.
HDL transfers cholesterol and triglyceride molecules in and out of the LDL to balance the system. Therefore low HDL may be a problematic issue.
If this dance between HDL and LDL goes haywire, a cascade of issues can ensue including high blood insulin, obesity, high triglycerides, high blood sugar, low HDL high LDL, high blood pressure, AGE’s and atherosclerosis - an inflammatory disease of the arterial wall where plaques form in the arterial wall and block the flow of blood to the heart. When these arteries burst, this is what causes a heart attach.
However, while the correlation may seem black and white, more doctors and researches are beginning to question the direct link between cholesterol and heart disease. Although studies do show that higher cholesterol level are associated with an increased risk of heart disease, it doesn’t not mean that high cholesterol causes heart disease, just that people that have higher cholesterol are more likely to get it. But there are other factors to consider.
What researchers are finding is that it’s not just the number of LDL that should be considered, but rather the size of the LDL particle and if it’s oxidized.
The original understanding was that if there was too much LDL, that the excess would deposit in arterial walls and cause plaque buildup, which could eventually lead to a heart attack. In reality, it’s oxidized LDL that causes plaque buildup. In face, a 2016 study shows that people over 60 years old that had high levels of LDL cholesterol live as long or longer than those with low LDL.
WHAT CAUSES HIGH CHOLESTEROL
So what causes high cholesterol levels and oxidation of LDL cholesterol?
Free radicals in the blood stream oxidize LDL and cause overall cholesterol levels to rise. They are often the result of poor diet, refined sugars and flours, fried food, trans fats, low omega-3 fatty acids, high omega-6 fatty acids, alcohol, smoking, poor sleep habits, high levels of stress, environmental toxins and a sedentary lifestyle.It has been proven now that saturated fats do NOT lead to high cholesterol. It's the unhealthy trans fats and factors above that cause LDL to oxidize and in turn cause plaque buildup in arteries, so go ahead and eat your eggs.
WHAT ARE THE RISK FACTORS FOR HEART DISEASE
High cholesterol may be one risk factor for heart disease, but there are many others including high blood pressure, prediabetes and diabetes, genetics, obesity, sedentary lifestyle, unhealthy diet, smoking, age and preeclampsia during pregnancy.
In fact, some doctors and researchers are not pointing to cholesterol as the main culprit for heart disease, but rather insulin.
Stay tuned for more on that next week. For now, here is what you can do to keep your cholesterol in balance, improve your health and protect your heart.
LEAD A HEART-HEALTHY LIFESTYLE
What to include:
- Eat a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables
- Eat at least 2 servings of dark, leafy greens per day
- Eat foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids such as fish, fish oil, krill oil, walnuts, chia seeds ,flaxseeds and eggs
- Eat whole grains such as quinoa, amaranth, millet, barley, brown rice and wild rice
- Eat beans and legumes
- Include nuts and seeds
- Include fermented foods such as sauerkraut and kimchi
- Optimize your Vitamin D levels
- Get regular daily exercise
- Practice daily stress management techniques
- Get at least 6-8 hours of good quality sleep per night
What to avoid:
- Reduce foods high in omega-6 such as vegetable oils. Instead cook with olive oil, avocado oil, coconut oil of ghee.
- Avoid fried foods
- Avoid foods with trans fats
- Reduce/avoid processed/packaged foods
- Reduce/avoid refined sugars
- Reduce/avoid refined carbohydrates
- Reduce/avoid too much coffee
- Avoid Smoking
- Reduce/avoid alcohol
- Reduce grilled meats