Cholesterol has been cited as the key reason behind heart disease, it has led people to eschew eating fat for fear that it will clog their arteries and have them keeling over dead in ten minutes. They religiously go to the doctors to get their levels monitored and feel relieved when they are told their cholesterol is low or normal.
Well, I am here to tell you...it's all total cobblers.
I was first introduced to the myth of cholesterol by legendary Olympic strength Coach, Charles Poliquin, during a Biosignature course I attended, Needless to say I was shocked when he stated what a minor player it was in heart disease and that the greatest cardiovascular risk factor came from having high levels of the dangerous amino acid, homocysteine (this is an issue I will address in another article).
This view was concurred by hormonal optimization expert, Mike Mahler, who stated in a course I undertook with him, that:
Adequate cholesterol is critical for sex hormone production as cholesterol is the building block for all hormones. If cholesterol levels go too low (such as when you take statin drugs such as Lipitor) then sex hormone production will plummet. This is why loss of sex drive is common side effect with statin drugs. Loss of memory as well as cholesterol is needed for brain health.
Recently I was fortunate enough to listen to a talk by eminent nutritionist, Dr Jonny Bowden, and he confirmed all this and more.
So why did we get this so wrong? Well, in the same way that the war about what caused fat gain pitted sugar vs fat was a major battle in the 1970's and 1980's (and fat wrongly got to take the wrap), the same can be said of the whole, "what causes heart disease" argument.
The ramifications of this are HUGE, effectively the whole food Pyramid espoused by the Government is completely wrong.
It all boils down to poor science winning, and the result has been deeply concerning. There are potentially millions of people taking statins that should absolutely not, and the risk factors on their hormonal profiles and general health is shocking !
Common issues I see with clients on statins are joint pain, poor sex drive and memory issues, to name but a few. And did you know that statins destroy your bodies endogenous supply of Coq10, that is the spark plug of your energy producing cells, your mitochondria !!! In fact in some, more forward thinking, countries, a doctor can be struck off for NOT prescribing Coq10 when he gives out statins. If you are taking statins and feel completely lethargic...that is why !
Dr Bowden categorically states that if you are over 60 you have no business being on statins as cholesterol is CARDIO PROTECTIVE ! (a recent Japanese study backed this up)
Remember that cholesterol is the building block of all hormones...reduce this and you will have an adverse effect on the production of key hormones, for men, testosterone, for women, estrogen.
In fact Bowden has an interesting working hypothesis that posits that men in their forties are complaining more and more about erectile dysfunction, could this be the result that this is the demographic most likely to be taking statins? Less cholesterol resulting in poorer testosterone production = asking for a prescription for Viagra?
These theories are not mine, I am relating what I have learned...the key players are people like Dr Stephen Sinatra who was a darling of the pharmaceutical world till he started to doubt the linkeage between heart disease and high cholesterol. And just for the record, he is a Board Certified Cardiologist.
Other doctors to blow the whistle on the myth were the likes of Dr Mark Houston of the Nashville Hypertension Institute, and once again, he felt it was high levels of homocysteine that were the real culprit, NOT cholesterol.
But what about "good cholesterol" and "bad" cholesterol, I hear you ask?
Well it is infinitely more complicated than having such a simplistic approach - there are sub fractions of LDL ("bad") cholesterol, that are totally harmless, like LDL A. So theoretically you could have really high levels of this and it is indicator of no increased risk factors at all, but LDL B is highly oxidised and causes inflammatio. LDL (a) is really inflammatory, so unless you know what exact ratio you have, your doctor, to quote Bowden, "is treating a number and not a patient".
So see if you can get the Particle Test.
So what are the real key players?
Well here they are in no particular order....
1. Stress - no surprises here. You can have all sorts of issues in your body, but add stress to the bodies physiology and now you have an increased risk of any illness. Stress is a killer.
2. High Homocysteine levels. This can be tested easily, if you eat asparagus and your wee stinks of asparagus then there is a high chance your homocysteine levels could be dangerously elevated. This is a far greater concern and I would recommend having a chat with your doctor. Normal levels should be 1-10.
3. Inflammation. "Acute inflammation hurts, chronic inflammation kills" - basically low grade ongoing inflammation is one of the key factors in your cardiovascular risk. Oxidative particles get attracted to the arterial walls as a result.
4. Glycation. Yup, its not the bugbear that is cholesterol that is sticking up your arteries and clogging your body, it is sugar! Enough of that metabolic barrelling down the arterial walls and sticking to the sides is a perfect storm for now attracting the less desirable aspects of cholesterol to add insult to injury...so hopefully you can see, there are other major players at work here well before cholesterol (as a minor player) has any negative impact whatsoever.
5. Oxidation. Too many free radicals in your body (the cancer promoting cells) and too little of the foods and drinks that mop them up and now your heart disease risk factors are going to dramatically increase.
So, here are some take home facts:
If you are concerned about your heart risk factors ask your doctor for a homocysteine test, if he is current with the literature he will know why
The ratio of triglycerides to cholesterol is a far more telling ratio.
If it is under 2 you are safe.
Cholesterol is NOT dangerous at all until it becomes oxidised.
Do not be concerned about dietary fat and cholesterol causing arterial disease. The results of some studies of Polynesian peoples for whom coconut is the chief source of energy should put your mind at rest according to Dr Sarah Myhill, one of the leading lights in the field of chronic fatigue. She posits that statins, by reducing cholesterol (that the brain LOVES) are contributing to the epidemic of Alzheimers,
Freely add fish oil, MCT oil, coconut oil, olive oil (unheated), organic butter (Yeo Valley or Kerry Gold) to your diet, safe in the knowledge that you are fuelling your brain, as it improves fuel supply and membrane function, and is also highly cardio-protective.
Jonny Bowden has a book available on Amazon called the Great Cholesterol Myth, I highly recommend you buy it if you are concerned about cholesterol or your cardiovascular risk factors.