My dad is pretty motivated when it comes to staying healthy and is often a great source of questions because of this (thanks Dad!). One of the things he asked me about recently was cholesterol, because the misinformation surrounding this topic is something I often like to rant about. I know, how unlike me! Dad isn’t the only one with questions though. Cholesterol is a bit of a hot topic in my clinic at the moment, especially with my patients over 50, so I figured with all these questions coming at me I’d take some time to set the record straight. It seems to be something that doctors love testing and medicating for, but what’s the truth behind cholesterol?
It’s pretty standard these days for medical practitioners, the media and government sources to promote all the perils of elevated cholesterol, including increased risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke. We’re usually told that elevated cholesterol, particularly LDL, accumulates in blood vessel walls and over time will lead to clots, blockages, strokes and heart attacks. We’re encouraged to focus on reducing our “bad” cholesterol (LDL) and increasing our “good” cholesterol (HDL) to reduce our risk of these conditions. But is there any truth to this?
It might surprise you to learn that in truth, there’s no such thing as “good” and “bad” cholesterol. Cholesterol is a fat that we not only consume from animal products, but create naturally within our body. Every cell, with the exception of the gonads and adrenal cortex, has the ability to create cholesterol. It is imperative for our cell health as it ensures that our cells maintain their fluidity. Without this fluidity our cells lose the ability to regulate what passes in and out of our cells and will eventually lead to cell death (cue dramatic music). Cholesterol also plays an essential role in transporting fat around our blood, creating new cells, producing and regulating our hormones, and aiding in food digestion.
Our body is pretty switched on, and is designed for homeostasis, which essentially means it regulates things within our body to maintain happy levels. This includes cholesterol! If we increase our dietary intake of foods rich in cholesterol, then our body naturally adjusts to produce less. If we eat fewer cholesterol rich foods, our body will produce more! So, this means that vegans and vegetarians will generally produce more cholesterol than meat eaters, simply because it isn’t part of their diets!
HDL are generally classed as good cholesterol due to the fact that they are smaller and their primary role is to collect fat molecules that have accumulated in blood vessels and transport them to the liver and other organs to be reused (talk about upcycling!). But, what you may not know is that LDL are larger and transport fat molecules to the cells throughout our body so they can be utilised for hormone production, generating new cells, energy production and more. That doesn’t sound so bad in reality, does it?
This paper from the British Medical Journal is just one of many that demonstrates that elevated LDL does NOT increase risk of mortality. It links to 19 other research papers that collectively studied over 68,000 subjects, which ALL concluded that elevated LDL was associated with a DECREASED risk of death.
When we experience prolonged or chronic inflammation, there is a breakdown of structural integrity in the blood vessels. This results in thinning of the blood vessel walls, and in order to protect the damaged areas, they attract deposits of cholesterol. Inflammation can be caused by things such as a diet rich in processed and high sugar foods, high carbs, high oxidised fats (this is where fats are broken down into smaller particles, which results in our body being unable to utilise them for energy), rich in grains, elevated blood sugar levels (BSL), insufficient antioxidants and many other factors. Unfortunately, these can lead to increased risk of cardiovascular disease, atherosclerosis, stroke, dementia and more. If you want to truly reduce your risk of these conditions, it’s important to address the real causes of the inflammation.
If you have what is deemed to be high LDL cholesterol levels, it’s likely that you will have been prescribed statins by your GP in order to drop those levels back down. The problem with statins is that they don’t treat the underlying cause and only succeed in masking the symptoms you are experiencing, as well as coming with a whole variety of nasty side effects such as liver damage, increased BSL resulting in risk of diabetes II, and muscle pain and weakness. Studies have shown that “statins may be causative in coronary artery calcification and can function as mitochondrial toxins that impair muscle function in the heart and blood vessels through the depletion of CoQ10 and haem A and thereby ATP generation. Statins inhibit the synthesis of vitamin K2, the cofactor for matrix Gla-protein activation, which in turn protects arteries from calcification. Statins inhibit the biosynthesis of selenium containing proteins, one of which is glutathione peroxidase serving to suppress per oxidative stress." But aren’t these the very things statins are trying to prevent?
There are literally thousands of in vitro clinical trials surrounding the safety and efficacy of statins, so how have they got it so wrong? There is no contest that these studies have consistently demonstrated their ability to effectively reduce LDL, but what the study above has established (and the others have failed to examine) is that statins also deplete CoQ10. This may not seem like a big deal until you realise that low levels of CoQ10 have been attributed to increased risk of HEART DISEASE, CARDIOVASCULAR DISEASE, brain disorders, diabetes and cancer. I’ll let that sit with you for a moment.
So if we take into account the fact that LDL isn’t the problem and we’re also depleting CoQ10 stores, what does this mean for our health? In a nutshell, we are creating an environment that is perfect for the development of CVD, not the prevention! Is it any wonder that those who experience benefits from taking statins are in the minority?
In keeping with the proven Hippocratic principle of “let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food”, a variety of published studies demonstrate that dietary changes are significantly more likely to reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease than statins.
So next time you’re prescribed any kind of medication, I’d encourage you to take the time to examine the research and and seek a second opinion. Pharmaceuticals aren’t the devil and definitely have their place, but they’re often not the miracles they’re purported to be and may not be the best option for you.
If you have questions about your health, book in to see your natural health practitioner. Prevention is always better than the cure, and your health is the most valuable thing you have.
Peace, love and wellness,