How many of you have “Cholesterol problems”? How many of you know someone who does? Or know someone who is taking a daily pill to “correct” their cholesterol levels?
Exactly… Cholesterol concerns ALL of us. It seems to be a very nasty compound that urgently needs to be eradicated, no doubts about that… right?
Well… The time has come for me to put forward some facts that might shock some of you, even draw some other into complete denial. I would advise the later to read the following article on Scepticism. For the other ones, thanks for reading on with an open mind. Let’s see what the Cholesterol’s Myths and Legends have been telling us for so many years.
Before we delve into this controversial subject, I would like to stress that I am in no way giving health advice here, this is simply a summary of my personal investigative work. Please talk to your health practitioner before you change your health routine or stop any prescribed medication.
1. WHAT IS CHOLESTEROL?
Cholesterol is a soft, waxy fat-soluble nutrient, a natural by-product of the liver. The liver produces about 80-85% of your body’s cholesterol. Why would the liver product such a “harmful” substance? Is it really that harmful? If the diet is only responsible for 15-20% of our cholesterol, why are we not focusing more on the real reason why our body produces it?
Well the truth is that the liver produces the majority of your cholesterol because it is ESSENTIAL for your metabolism.
Cholesterol is found in EVERY SINGLE CELL of your body. It plays a key role in your overall health:
- It helps produce the cells’ membranes, and serves as insulation for your nerve cells
- It is essential to produce bile acids (you wouldn’t be able to digest fats without it)
- It plays a key role in vitamin D production
- It is crucial to produce steroid hormones (cortisol, testosterone, estrogen, aldosterone…)
- It is essential for your brain: your brain contains 25% of your body’s cholesterol. Cholesterol is essential for the neurons’ connectivity, which allows you to think, learn new things and build memories. Basically, your brain can not function without it. Low HDL levels have been linked to memory loss, Alzheimer’s, increased risk of depression, stroke, violent behaviour or even suicide.
In a way, Cholesterol is like a healing agent that your body sends to inflamed areas, like a scab to cover over and protect the blood vessels walls from further damage.
What does that mean? It means that too much Cholesterol is often the result of too much inflammation. Therefore, instead of wanting to hide the obvious signs of a problem, maybe we should be thankful for this signal and focus on the root causes instead…..
2. WHAT “HIGH CHOLESTEROL” REALLY MEANS
A simple total Cholesterol test doesn’t tell you much about your actual health.
You need to know the proportion of HDL and LDL, and more particularly the SIZE of LDL particles. You also need to know your triglycerides levels. Here are the figures and ratios that can give you some good insight:
- Ratio HDL / Total Cholesterol: should be more than 24%
- Ratio Triglycerides / HDL: should be below 2
- Fasting Insulin level: when you eat a meal high in carbohydrates like refined sugars and grains, or any processed food, your blood sugar level rises up tremendously, which provokes a peak of Insulin production to counterbalance it. This insulin transforms those carbs into excessive fat accumulation, which is difficult to shed, especially in the mid-section. Unfortunately, high body fat in the mid-section contributes a lot to heart disease.
- Fasting blood sugar level: should be below 79mg/dl. If it is around 100-125mg/dl, you have 300% higher risk of coronary heart disease
- Iron level: Iron can be very oxidative when it is in excess. It can damage blood vessels and increases therefore the risk of heart disease. Your ferritin levels should stay below 80ng/ml
- LDL particles size: only small dense LDL particles are harmful: they are the ones that squeeze through the lining of the arteries, and cause damage and inflammation when they oxidize. The LARGE LDL particles are NOT harmful.
We can talk about “bad” cholesterol when those ratios are imbalanced, or when LDL particles sizes are too small and dense. It is “bad” because it shows that your body is in a serious inflammatory state. Fighting and decreasing the inflammation should be the first focus.
Should we all have the same “average” levels of Cholesterol? NO!! The liver being the organ producing most of your cholesterol, genetics must also have a role. Only ratios and particles sizes provide an objective view of your health.
3. HEALTHY FATS ARE GOOD FOR YOU, EVEN FOR YOUR CHOLESTEROL
If our diet is not the main factor in Cholesterol production, why have fats and more specifically the saturated ones been demonised? The truth is, you need SATURATED FATS and other good Essential Fatty Acids, and NO, they are not the cause of any imbalance in your cholesterol profile.
Actually, avoiding good fats can be quite toxic to your health: read my ARTICLE ABOUT FATS HERE.
Avoiding healthy fats increases inflammation, therefore participate in the imbalance of your cholesterol ratios.
Today, we know that the primary cause of disease-causing inflammation is: synthetic trans-fats, refined sugars, processed grains… Healthy fats DECREASE your inflammation, help maintain a healthy hormonal balance, and are basically crucial for most of your body’s functions.
Many of the healthiest foods are actually very rich in fats, especially in Cholesterol and Saturated Fats. We now know that eating those healthy fats increases the size of LDL particles, improving your cholesterol profile.
Yet they have been demonized since the early 50s following Ancel Key’s flawed research: let’s have a look at where the confusion came from:
Dr. Ancel Keys published a 1953 paper analyzing the correlation between saturated fat intake and coronary heart disease. The actual study covered 22 different countries. The assumption was that a diet high in Saturated fats increased significantly the risk of cardiovascular heart disease. The study is still used as a reference backing that assumption. Dr. Keys’ conclusion – that Saturated fats DO increase the risk of heart disease - was based on the analysis of 6 countries only, IGNORING THE 16 OTHER COUNTRIES that were part of the study! He ignored them because their results were showing that the preconceived hypothesis was actually false….. The results for those countries have shown that a diet high in healthy fats actually DECREASES the risk of heart disease. Unfortunately, this is how the first published interpretation of a study on Cholesterol mislead billions of people for decades. This was a big mistake, it is time to move past these misconceptions.
Furthermore, many have now realized that it is actually the trans fats (in margarine and many other processed foods and vegetable oils like canola oil, sunflower oil, safflower oil…) that cause a significant amount of health problems. These are the villain! Not the natural fats that you find in meat, cheese, butter, avocado or coconut oil… There are still today many indigenous tribes who thrive on a diet high in natural fats, proving again that heart disease is not correlated to a high saturated fats diet. Breast milk for example is by far the most adapted food to help infants grow and develop, and it is composed of 54% of saturated fats….. Another of nature’s mistakes? (ironic)
A couple of studies have reached the same conclusion, unfortunately not many people seem to pay attention:
- In 1992, the Archives of Internal Medicine published an editorial that should have led to a big shift in nutritional guidelines. Dr. William Castelli, former director of the Framingham Heart study, wrote:
"In Framingham, Mass., the more saturated fat one ate, the more cholesterol one ate, the more calories one ate, the lower the person's serum cholesterol. The opposite of what… Keys  would predict…We found that the people who ate the most cholesterol, ate the most saturated fat, ate the most calories, weighed the least and were the most physically active."
- In 2010, a study (the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition) analyzed the impact of a diet where they replaced saturated fat intake with carbohydrates. The results were quite straight forward: especially when you replace saturated fats with refined or processed carbohydrates. This has a direct impact on your insulin levels, increases your risk of becoming insulin resistant and a start of many health disorders. A higher carbohydrates intake also leads to:
o an increased obesity rate
o increased triglycerides and small LDL particles levels (those are the ones that are bad for your arteries….)
o a reduction in beneficial HDL cholesterol
The conclusion is quite straightforward: to decrease cardiovascular risk, you should maintain a healthy body weight and limit the consumption of refined carbohydrates (and not limit the consumption of saturated fats). Read my ARTICLE ABOUT SUGAR HERE for more details.
Many more studies have shown that good healthy fats are necessary and help you maintain a good cholesterol profile. Again: if you are looking to re-balance your cholesterol levels, it is refined carbohydrates (in particular sugar and grains) and trans fats (or hydrogenated fats, vegetable oils….) that you should avoid. Honestly, it is easy: trust nature. Eat what nature gives you and avoid what humans transform in labs….
Here are the main good sources of healthy fats (ALL ORGANIC) that you should include in your meals:
- grass fed meat / free-range or pastured poultry
- wild caught fish
- Coconut oil
- Butter (made from raw grass-fed milk)
- Raw and soaked nuts and seeds
- Olives and unheated olive oil
- Unheated nut oils
Finally it is interesting to note that in 2010, the US dietary guidelines were quite clear regarding cholesterol-rich foods: they advised us to eat less than 300mg per day of such produce and listed all ingredients that needed to be reduced in your daily consumption. 5 years later: you should check the US 2015 dietary guidelines. They removed this “list of cholesterol-rich food to avoid”, and even added egg yolks in their suggestions for good protein sources…!
Changes are being implemented at a very slow pace and in a discreet fashion, why? When the information is so clear!
4. LOW CHOLESTEROL LEVELS ARE DETRIMENTAL TO YOUR HEALTH
Cholesterol is essential for LIFE. Please read that sentence again.
We are obsessed with lowering our cholesterol, but are we aware that low cholesterol levels are actually very dangerous? Dr. Chris Masterjohn, PhD, has shown the crucial role of Cholesterol and the dire consequences of its reduction or absence.
For example, the Smith-Lemli-Opitz syndrome or SLOS is a genetic disease that causes the liver not to produce enough Cholesterol. This, fortunately, very rare condition will most of the time lead to a spontaneous abortion. There can be no life without cholesterol.
5. CHOLESTEROL-LOWERING DRUGS (STATINS): DEBUNKING THE MYTHS
If you’ve kept on reading until now…. Thank you and congratulations! I hope you now realize that some deeply ingrained beliefs have no justification…It is time for us to open our minds and research the truth for ourselves. Our collective health is at stake.
Many people have chosen to take cholesterol-lowering drugs, like statins.
More than 25% of Americans over 45 are already taking them, to “cure” so-called “high cholesterol levels” and astonishingly enough as a preventive measure…. In the UK, more than 30% of the population over 45 is on this lifelong treatment, with London being “Statins European capital”. But when you take a look at the long list of harmful side effects, you might want to assess the real risks you are taking: are these drugs really effective? Is it worth taking the risk?
a. Questionable research results leading to unfounded correlation between statin drugs usage and improved heart health
Be cautious of pro-statins studies. There are obvious conflicts of interests arising from the fact that drug manufacturers sponsor those studies. Furthermore, statistics used in the advertising of drugs are very dangerous tools. Statistics can be used in absolute and relative terms. For example, the statin drugs would show just a 1% benefit if looked at from an absolute term perspective (which means 1 less heart attack on a drug-taking population of 100), and up to 50% when used in relative terms. The later was the figure shown and used to boost statins’ prescriptions.
b. Low cholesterol levels don’t prevent heart disease
In October 2015, drug maker Eli Lilly had to stop a trial that was undertaken for evacetrapib, a cholesterol-lowering drug. The drug purpose was to lower LDL and increase HDL levels, and was expected to be the next pharmaceutical success to prevent heart disease. In April 2016, the results were presented at the American College of Cardiology’s annual meeting. To everyone’s surprise, the results were unequivocal: Even though the drug had reached its goal (lowering LDL and increasing HDL levels), it had essentially no impact on cardiovascular health. As Dr. Steven Nissen of the Cleveland Clinic stated in the New York Times, “These kinds of studies are wake-up calls”. Interestingly, it was not the first time that a cholesterol-lowering drug was proven non-effective in respect to heart health.
Other research have also shown that it is pointless to decrease cholesterol levels in order to improve heart health. It therefore seems that the use of those drugs do not make sense for the majority of the population…. Furthermore, research shows that 75% of people who experience a first heart attack have normal cholesterol levels. The Framingham Heart Study even showed that in most age groups, high cholesterol levels were not associated with more deaths. It showed in some cases the exact opposite: for older people, the lower the cholesterol, the higher the number of deaths is!
c. Statins have many harmful side effects that should be seriously considered, especially in view of their controversial efficiency. Everyone should think twice before starting a lifelong relationship with the drug. Let’s have a look at the major side effects:
- Statins usage reduces CoEnzyme Q10 levels in your body:
This is terrible, CoEnzyme Q10 is crucial for the energy production within ALL CELLS in your body! It is essential for longevity, and overall good health. The organ that is the most negatively impacted by the reduction of Q10 or its reduced form Ubiquinol….is your heart. Statins use therefore increases cardiovascular risks… Even though it is obvious that any person taking some cholesterol-lowering drug should be prescribed with a supplementation of either coEnzyme Q10 or Ubiquinol, how many actually do?
- Statins usage depletes vitamin K2 levels
A study published in March 2015 in the Expert Review of Clinical Pharmacology showed that Statin drugs usage may actually increase atherosclerosis risk and cardiovascular failure. One reason that was put forward is that Statin inhibits the synthesis of vitamin K2 (SEE ARTICLE HERE ABOUT THE IMPORTANCE OF VITAMIN K2). Vitamin K2 helps move calcium to the places where it is needed. Inhibiting its synthesis leads calcium to stick to unwanted areas, like your arteries for example (this is called calcification of your arteries)… and triggers atherosclerosis. More generally, vitamin K2 deficiency exposes you to (non-exhaustive list):
-- Brain disease
-- Heart attack and stroke
- Statins usage reduces ketone production
Ketones are crucial nutrients that feed all your mitochondria. They play a key role in your metabolic health and have a potent anti-ageing effect. So no, not a good idea to reduce those…
- Statins usage increases the risks of serious disease:
Research shows that long-term use of Statins (more than 10 years) increases the risk of Cancer, especially breast and prostate Cancer.
Statins have been shown to increase insulin resistance and raise blood sugar levels. In a 2011 meta-analysis, it was shown that the higher the dose of Statins one was taking, the higher the risk of diabetes. Other 2009 and 2010 studies showed that Statins actually increased the risk of new-onset diabetes.
-- Neurodegenerative disorders:
As a consequence of the above, and the fact that 25% of your cholesterol is used in your brain, taking Statins negatively impacts neurologic health. Diseases like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s or Huntington’s seem to be more likely to occur with statin intake.
-- Muskuloskeletal disorders
Things are pretty clear: Statins – or cholesterol-lowering drugs – are being taken based on wrong assumptions. And the worst is that no, these drugs are not harmless… They have many harmful side effects.
I hope that you now have a better understanding of what Cholesterol is, its function in our body and important role in keeping us healthy. I also hope that you clearly see the effects of cholesterol-lowering drugs…. It is now your call and that of your health practitioner, what are you going to do next?
Imbalanced cholesterol ratios and/or particles sizes are a sign of deep inflammation. It is actually a message from your body telling you to change something in your lifestyle before it leads to serious diseases.
Healthy fats are crucial for your overall health and will help you improve your cholesterol profile. The “villains” are the laboratory-made fats (trans fats, hydrogenated fats…. like margarine or vegetable oils for example), sugars and processed carbs and grains.
Again, make your own research. Don’t believe anything I say or anyone else for that matter. It’s your life, your health, your responsibility.
In Health and Happiness,