There are many myths that portray fat and cholesterol as one of the worst foods you can consume. Please understand that these myths are actually harming your health. Not only is cholesterol most likely not going to destroy your health (as you have been led to believe), but it is also not the cause of heart disease.
And for those of you taking cholesterol-lowering drugs, the information that follows could not have been given to you fast enough. But before I delve into this life-changing information, let's get some basics down first.
What is Cholesterol, and Why Do You Need It?
That's right, you do need cholesterol!
This soft, waxy substance is found not only in your bloodstream, but also in every cell in your body, where it helps to produce cell membranes, hormones, vitamin D and bile acids that help you to digest fat. Cholesterol also helps in the formation of your memories and is vital for neurological function.
Your liver makes about 75 percent of your body's cholesterol, and according to conventional medicine, there are two types:
- High-density lipoprotein, or HDL: This is the "good" cholesterol that helps to keep cholesterol away from your arteries and remove any excess from arterial plaque, which may help to prevent heart disease.
- Low-density lipoprotein, or LDL: This "bad" cholesterol circulates in your blood and, according to conventional thinking, may build up in your arteries, forming plaque that makes your arteries narrow and less flexible (a condition called atherosclerosis). If a clot forms in one of these narrowed arteries leading to your heart or brain, a heart attack or stroke may result.
Also making up your total cholesterol count are:
- Triglycerides: Elevated levels of this dangerous fat have been linked to heart disease and diabetes. Triglyceride levels are known to rise from eating too many grains and sugars, being physically inactive, smoking cigarettes, drinking alcohol excessively and being overweight or obese.
- Lipoprotein (a), or Lp(a): Lp(a) is a substance that is made up of an LDL "bad cholesterol" part plus a protein (apoprotein a). Elevated Lp(a) levels are a very strong risk factor for heart disease. This has been well established, yet very few physicians check for it in their patients.
Your total cholesterol level is NOT a great indicator of your heart disease risk. Health officials in the United States urge everyone over the age of 20 to have their cholesterol tested once every five years. Part of this test is your total cholesterol, or the sum of your blood's cholesterol content, including HDL, LDLs, and VLDLs.
The American Heart Association recommends that your total cholesterol is less than 200 mg/dL, but what they do not tell you is that total cholesterol level is just about worthless in determining your risk for heart disease, unless it is above 330.
I have worked with a number of people with total cholesterol levels over 250 who actually were at low heart disease risk due to their HDL levels. Conversely, I have seen even more who had cholesterol levels under 200 that were at a very high risk of heart disease. HDL percentage is a very potent heart disease risk factor. Just divide your HDL level by your cholesterol. That percentage should ideally be above 24 percent.
You can also do the same thing with your triglycerides and HDL ratio. That percentage should be below 2.
Keep in mind, however, that these are still simply guidelines, and there's a lot more that goes into your risk of heart disease than any one of these numbers. In fact, it was only after word got out that total cholesterol is a poor predictor of heart disease that HDL and LDL cholesterol were brought into the picture. They give you a closer idea of what's going on, but they still do not show you everything.
The Dangers of Cholesterol-Lowering Medications
If you are concerned about your cholesterol levels, taking a drug should be your absolute last resort. And when I say last resort, I'm saying the odds are very high, greater than 100 to 1, that you don't need drugs to lower your cholesterol.
According to data from Medco Health Solutions Inc., more than half of insured Americans are taking drugs for chronic health conditions. And cholesterol-lowering medications are the second most common variety among this group, with nearly 15 percent of chronic medication users taking them (high blood pressure medications -- another vastly over-prescribed category - were first).
Count yourself lucky that you probably do NOT need to take cholesterol-lowering medications, because these are some nasty little pills.
Statin drugs work by inhibiting an enzyme in your liver that's needed to manufacture cholesterol. What is so concerning about this is that when you go tinkering around with the delicate workings of the human body, you risk throwing everything off kilter. Statin drugs inhibit not just the production of cholesterol, but a whole family of intermediary substances, many if not all of which have important biochemical functions.
For starters, statin drugs deplete your body of Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10), which is beneficial to heart health and muscle function. Because doctors rarely inform people of this risk and advise them to take a CoQ10 supplement, this depletion leads to fatigue, muscle weakness, soreness, and eventually heart failure. Muscle pain and weakness, a condition called rhabdomyolysis, is actually the most common side effect of statin drugs, which is thought to occur because statins activate the atrogin-1 gene, which plays a key role in muscle atrophy. By the way, muscle pain and weakness may be an indication that your body tissues are actually breaking down -- a condition that can cause kidney damage.
Statin drugs have also been linked to:
- An increased risk of polyneuropathy (nerve damage that causes pain in the hands and feet and trouble walking)
- Cognitive impairment, including memory loss
- A potential increased risk of cancer
- Decreased function of the immune system
- Liver problems, including a potential increase in liver enzymes (so people taking statins must be regularly monitored for normal liver function)
- Most recently, a possible association was found between statins and an increased risk of Lou Gehrig"s disease
How to Lower Inflammation and Your Risk of Heart Disease...Naturally
There is a major misconception that you must avoid foods like eggs and saturated fat to protect your heart. While it's true that fats from animal sources contain cholesterol, there is clear evidence as to why these foods are actually beneficial to our bodies.
This misguided principle is based on the "lipid hypothesis" -- developed in the 1950s by nutrition pioneer Ancel Keys -- that linked dietary fat to coronary heart disease. The nutrition community of that time completely accepted the hypothesis, and encouraged the public to cut out butter, red meat, animal fats, eggs, dairy and other "artery clogging" fats from their diets -- a radical change at that time.
What you may not know is that when Keys published his analysis that claimed to prove the link between dietary fats and coronary heart disease, he selectively analyzed information from only six countries to prove his correlation, rather than comparing all the data available at the time -- from 22 countries.
As a result of this "cherry-picked" data, government health organizations began bombarding the public with advice that has contributed to the diabetes and obesity epidemics going on today: eat a low-fat diet. Not surprisingly, numerous studies have actually shown that Keys" theory was wrong and saturated fats are healthy.
- A survey of South Carolina adults found no correlation of blood cholesterol levels with "bad" dietary habits, such as use of red meat, animal fats, fried foods, butter, eggs, whole milk, bacon, sausage and cheese.
- A Medical Research Council survey showed that men eating butter ran half the risk of developing heart disease as those using margarine.
It is this latter type of diet that will eventually lead to increased inflammation, and therefore cholesterol, in your body. So don"t let anyone scare you away from saturated fat anymore.
Chronic inflammation is actually caused by a laundry list of items such as:
- Oxidized cholesterol (cholesterol that has gone rancid, such as that from overcooked, scrambled eggs)
- Eating lots of sugar and grains
- Eating foods cooked at high temperatures
- Eating trans fats
- A sedentary lifestyle
- Emotional stress
- Make sure you're getting plenty of high quality, animal-based omega-3 fats. I prefer NutraMetrix Heart Health Omega-3's. New research suggests that as little as 500 mg may lower your total cholesterol and triglycerides and will likely increase your HDL cholesterol.
- Reduce, with the plan of eliminating, grains and sugars in your daily diet. It is especially important to eliminate dangerous sugars such as high fructose corn syrup. If your HDL/Cholesterol ratio is abnormal and needs to be improved it would also serve you well to virtually eliminate fruits from your diet, as that it also a source of fructose. Once your cholesterol improves you can gradually reintroduce it to levels that don't raise your cholesterol.
- Eat the right foods for your body based on low-glycemic impact eating. Contact me for more information about how eating this way can improve your blood glucose control and overal weight management success.
- Eat a good portion of your food raw.
- Eat healthy fats - preferably raw. This includes:
- Olive oil
- Coconut and coconut oil
- Organic raw dairy products (including butter, cream, sour cream, cheese, etc.)
- Raw nuts
- Eggs (lightly cooked with yolks intact or raw)
- Organic, grass-fed meats
- Get the right amount of exercise. When you exercise you increase your circulation and the blood flow throughout your body. The components of your immune system are also better circulated, which means your immune system has a better chance of fighting an illness before it has the opportunity to spread.
- Avoid smoking and drinking excessive amounts of alcohol.
- Address your emotional challenges. Practice methods that help you to reduce the level of stress in your life. Make sure to take time for yourself to read, journal, go for a walk, exercise, do yoga, meditate, etc.
So there you have it - the reasons why high cholesterol is a worry that many of you simply do not need to have, along with a simple plan to optimize yours.
If someone you love is currently taking cholesterol-lowering drugs, I urge you to share this information with them as well. Please encourage them to contact me with any questions they may have!
For the majority of you reading this right now, there's no reason to risk your health with cholesterol-lowering drugs. With the plan I've just outlined, you'll achieve the cholesterol levels you were meant to have, along with the very welcome "side effects" of increased energy, mood and mental clarity.
Too good to be true? I know for a fact it's not.
For the vast majority of people, making a few lifestyle changes causes healthy cholesterol levels to naturally occur. As always, your health really is in your hands. Now it's up to you to take control and ulitmately shape it into something great. :)