You’ve been lied to.
About your cholesterol.
“High cholesterol” is bad, right?
And, you need to avoid eating fats for a heart healthy diet, right?
According to the government standards:
If your total cholesterol is 200 mg/dL* or more or if your HDL is less than 40 mg/dL, your cholesterol is in the ‘red zone’. According to the tables below, your cholesterol is either in a ‘desirable’ or ‘optimal’ place…or ‘high’ (i.e. ‘unhealthy’ place).
|Total Cholesterol Level||Category|
|Less than 200 mg/dL||Desirable|
|200-239 mg/dL||Borderline High|
|240 mg/dL and above||High|
* Cholesterol levels are measured in milligrams (mg) of cholesterol per deciliter (dL) of blood.
|LDL Cholesterol Level||LDL-Cholesterol Category|
|Less than 100 mg/dL||Optimal|
|100-129 mg/dL||Near optimal/above optimal|
|130-159 mg/dL||Borderline high|
|190 mg/dL and above||Very high|
Unfortunately, however…there is MORE behind this story than meets the eye.
Myth #1: ‘High Cholesterol’ is ‘Bad’
Did you know prior to 2004, ‘good ‘ OR ‘optimal’ LDL cholesterol (i.e. ‘bad cholesterol) was considered 130 mg/dL (currently considered borderline high now)?
However, in 2004, with the introduction of new statin drugs (like Lipitor) into the pharmaceutical market the U.S. government’s National Cholesterol Education Program panel advised those at risk for heart disease to attempt to reduce their LDL cholesterol to new specific, very low, levels. The updated guidelines recommended levels of less than 100, or even less than 70 for patients at very high risk — levels that often require multiple cholesterol-lowering drugs to achieve. (See more to this here )
Myth #2: Avoid Saturated Fats and Cholesterol Foods for Heart Health
According to the government’s recommendations around diet, “Saturated fat and cholesterol in the food you eat make your blood cholesterol level go up. Saturated fat is the main culprit, but cholesterol in foods also matters. Reducing the amount of saturated fat and cholesterol in your diet helps lower your blood cholesterol level.”
This is simply not the case.
Check out this point from Chris Kesser:
“On any given day, we have between 1,100 and 1,700 milligrams of cholesterol in our body. 25% of that comes from our diet, and 75% is produced inside of our bodies by the liver. Much of the cholesterol that’s found in food can’t be absorbed by our bodies, and most of the cholesterol in our gut was first synthesized in body cells and ended up in the gut via the liver and gall bladder. The body tightly regulates the amount of cholesterol in the blood by controlling internal production; when cholesterol intake in the diet goes down, the body makes more. When cholesterol intake in the diet goes up, the body makes less.
This explains why well-designed cholesterol feeding studies (where they feed volunteers 2-4 eggs a day and measure their cholesterol) show that dietary cholesterol has very little impact on blood cholesterol levels in about 75% of the population. The remaining 25% of the population are referred to as “hyper-responders”.
And, what about saturated fat?
It’s true that some studies show that saturated fat intake raises blood cholesterol levels. But these studies are almost always short-term, lasting only a few weeks. Longer-term studies have not shown an association between saturated fat intake and blood cholesterol levels. In fact, of all of the long-term studies examining this issue, only one of them showed a clear association between saturated fat intake and cholesterol levels, and even that association was weak.”
Red meat, egg yolks, bacon, grass-fed butter are not bad for you. Coupled with a balanced diet of course!
Myth #3: High Cholesterol Causes Heart Disease
We’ve been told for years that cholesterol is linked to heart disease.
But is it?
Despite the fact that 25-percent of the population takes expensive statin medications and despite the fact we have reduced the fat content of our diets, 1 in 4 Americans will die this year—the leading cause of death for both men and women in the U.S. The American Heart Association reports that 75 million Americans currently suffer from heart disease.
So, if heart disease is not caused by cholesterol, where is it coming from?
Inflammation in the body.
Simply stated, inflammation is the ‘chicken’ that comes first before the ‘egg’ (i.e. cholesterol). Without inflammation being present in the body, there is no way that cholesterol would accumulate in the wall of the blood vessel and cause heart disease and strokes. Without inflammation, cholesterol would move freely throughout the body as nature intended. Inflammation instead causes cholesterol to become trapped (enter: high cholesterol).
In short: While ‘high cholesterol’ is often correlated to heart disease (specifically ‘high’ LDL cholesterol), it is actually inflammation that is the contributing factor to heart disease.
What is inflammation?
Inflammation is your body’s natural defense to a foreign invader such as a bacteria, toxin, virus, poor food quality, stress, hormone imbalance, bad fats, sugar, injury, etc. Think: swelling, bloating, constipation, leaky gut, allergic reactions, sunburns, etc.
Some inflammation (acute inflammation) is okay and a necessary part of the ‘healing process’—it protects your body from these bacterial and viral invaders.
However, if we repetitively or chronically expose the body to “injury”, chronic inflammation then ensues.
“Inflammatory injury” could look like: Smoking, sugar consumption, stimulants, suppressants, stress, medications, gut irritating foods (dairy, poorly prepared and processed grains and dairy), chemicals—these all have inflammatory responses in the body.
When it comes to evaluating some of the most common culprits linked to inflammation and cholesterol numbers, we need to look at nutrition.
Unfortunately, the majority of Americans have followed the recommended mainstream diet that is “low in fat” and high in polyunsaturated fats (soybean oil, corn and sunflower, omega-6 vegetable oils, poor animal sources) and carbohydrates (flour, whole grains, packaged and processed bars and snacks), not knowing we were causing repeated injury to our blood vessels.
This repeated injury creates that chronic inflammation, in turn leading to conditions such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes and obesity.
Another doctor, cardiologist Dr. Stephen Sinatra, and author of the book, The Great Cholesterol Myth, echoes Lundell, stating the real cause of heart disease is inflammation, not cholesterol.
Sinatra once believed high cholesterol was responsible for heart disease until he saw, in his own patients this was not the case. Many of his heart patients actually had low cholesterol and many people with high cholesterol did not have heart problems.
“I was doing angiograms on people with (cholesterol levels of) 150, who had far advanced heart disease,” he recalled. “And the converse, I was doing angiograms on somebody with cholesterol of 280 and they had no heart disease.”
Other contributing factors*, linked to heart disease are:
- Deficiency of Vitamin A & D. Back in the 1930s, Weston A. Price, DDS, observed that rates of heart attack rose during periods of the year when levels of these fat-soluble vitamins in local butter went down.
- Deficiency in B6, B12 & Folic Acid: Kilmer McCully, MD, PhD, demonstrated that these deficiencies lead to elevated levels of homocysteine, a marker for heart disease.
- Trans Fatty Acids: Fred Kummerow, PhD, and many others have linked heart disease to the replacement of saturated fats with trans fatty acids (hydrogenated oils, canola oils, vegetable oils); saturated fats actually protect against heart disease (see Myth #2).
- Mineral Deficiencies: Deficiencies of magnesium, copper and vanadium have been linked to heart disease.
- Milk Pasteurization:C. Annand, a British researcher, observed an increase in heart disease in districts that implemented pasteurization compared to those where milk was still sold unpasteurized (i.e. raw, full fat dairy=optimal if consuming dairy)
- Stress: Heart attacks often occur after a period of stress, which depletes the body of many nutrients; as well as throws off cortisol levels (the body’s “fight or flight” hormone).
Ok, so now what to do about ALL of this information?
A few pointers*:
Lifestyle redesign: The first step
With so many people in need and so many medications available, it’s understandable that both doctors and their patients are tempted to rely on medications to improve unhealthy cholesterol levels.
That’s a mistake.
Instead, lifestyle redesign is the place to start.
Some no-brainers include avoiding smoking and tobacco in all its forms, incorporating daily physical activity, and creating new habits in your daily routine (in the kitchen, sleep patterns, meal prep, etc.).
Also, as discussed above, it means eating a real-foods-based diet, with plenty of healthy fats included! Saturated fats, such as animal meats, egg yolks, and coconut products, are not to be avoided! In addition, foods that provide heart-healthy omega-3 and monounsaturated fats and large amounts of dietary fiber are beneficial.
Lifestyle redesign can improve cholesterol levels without medication, and certain foods can provide extra help (saturated fats, plenty of fresh veggies, animal meats from organic sources).
My practice in nutritional and occupational therapy focuses on treating the underlying cause of health problems instead of just suppressing symptoms. If and when we can identify the root cause of the problem, and address it at that level, medication is often unnecessary.
- Choose whole foods your grandmother served and not those your mom turned to as grocery store aisles filled with manufactured foods.
- Don’t worry about your cholesterol—the stress of unnecessary worry can contribute to heart disease.
- Don’t take cholesterol-lowering drugs—they contribute to heart failure.
- Avoid processed food, especially foods containing processed vegetable oils and trans fats.
- Eat the meat, fat and organ meats of grass-fed animals. If you consume protein, but always choose ‘lean’ or ‘skinless’ versions, you are missing out on the nutrients supplied by animal fats (especially Vitamin A). Low Vitamin A contributes to heart disease. Also, don’t forget the yolks in your eggs and to opt for full-fat, organic, grass-fed dairy, over pasteurized skim, or processed versions.
- Eat plenty of wild-caught seafood.
- Eat liver at least once a week to ensure adequate levels of vitamin B12, vitamin B6, folic acid, iron and copper. (OR take a liver supplement)
- Take cod liver oil or fish oil regularly.
- Consume plenty of grass-fed butter to ensure adequate levels of vitamins A, D and K. (Kerrygold is a great brand!).
- Maintain a healthy weight—neither too heavy nor too thin.
- Avoid exposure to environmental toxins.
*Information adapted from the Weston Price Foundation
Phew! That was a lot of information. Knowledge IS power.
The bottom line? Eat the yolks.
If you have cholesterol concerns, or know someone who does, don’t hesitate to reach out.