Cholesterol and Heart Disease Debunked in 10 Bullet Points

Cholesterol and Heart Disease Debunked in 10 Bullet Points 623 416 Janie

Cholesterol has been been labeled the bad guy for decades – we have all been told to lower our cholesterol to reduce our chance of having a heart attack, but is it really true? No. And here’s why in 10 bullet points:

Cholesterol is vital to health! And it is so important it is made by every cell in our body.  Cholesterol is needed for cell membranes to function, for eye and brain health, for nerve function, to make bile to digest fats and to make all our hormones and Vitamin D. And cholesterol is the most important anti-inflammatory in the body. Does it really sound like something we should be messing around with?d

On the flipside, LOW cholesterol has been linked with many health issues including increased risk of stroke, cancer and heart disease (yes! heart disease!). Low cholesterol has been shown to compromise immune function and increase the risk of infection and it is also linked to Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease. Did you know that low levels of cholesterol are associated with a higher risk of early death? Did you know that cholesterol is protective as people age? Here is all the science behind the dangers of low cholesterol.

Is there any conclusive proof that lowering cholesterol reduces the risk of having a heart attack? No! In fact 75% of people who have a heart attack have low or normal cholesterol! And there is no correlation between a person’s cholesterol level and how much plaque they have in their arteries. None!

So what does cause heart disease then?

Foods high in carbohydrate, isolated on whiteExcess dietary carbohydrates – especially processed and refined grains and sugar – are converted into glucose and fructose which are toxic in the blood stream and liver. So the liver converts these to triglycerides and packages them with cholesterol into LDL particles for transport around the body.

fivesmWhen there are a lot of triglycerides being made, there are a lot of LDL particles being made and they are jam-packed with triglycerides. So there are a lot more LDL particles than there should be.

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The LDL particles travel around the bloodstream and deliver their triglyceride contents into adipose tissue (that’s why excess carbs make us fat!) and after they have dropped off all their triglycerides they become extremely small and dense LDL particles that are unable to be cleared properly from the blood via the liver. So they end up staying in the the blood for a lot longer than they should.

The longer the LDL particles stay in the blood the more prone they are to glycation (from sugar – which makes them damaged and sticky) and oxidation. HDL particles are also prone to glycation and oxidation, hence why their level drops. The particles become so damaged that the body starts to see them as a foreign object.

oil in jars and sunflowers, isolated on whiteAt the same time our artery walls (and all our other cells) are inflamed from the highly inflammatory diet that we eat which creates free radicals in our cells which damage tissue. A major inflammatory food is the Omega-6 polyunsaturated fats that we consume in the form of vegetable oils and margarines. Contrary to what we have been told, although these oils may reduce our cholesterol, they actually increase our heart disease risk! The damaged LDL particles are absorbed into the arterial walls where they should be simply cleaned up by white blood cells – but the inflammation actually kills our white blood cells. So the LDL particles and their contents stay within the arterial wall, and inflammation is out of control as more and more white blood cells rush in to try to clean up but are killed in the process. This inflammation is what eventually becomes atherosclerotic plaque.

Read more about the link between vegetable oils and heart disease in Catherine Shanahan’s great book Deep Nutrition: Why Your Genes Need Traditional Food.

Eventually the atherosclerotic plaque will start to narrow the artery and this may cause ischema (lack of oxygen), or the arterial wall will eventually weaken and rupture causing thrombosis or a blood clot (a heart attack in the case of the heart, or a stroke in the case of the brain).

Heart disease is not about the amount of cholesterol in the blood, but the fact that the LDL particles carrying cholesterol enter the arterial wall, dump their contents and are unable to be cleaned up by the body due to inflammation.

Which tests best tell us about heart disease risk then? Total cholesterol tells us nothing and should be ignored (unless it is particularly high in which case there is probably some inflammation going on in the body, which may or may not be atherosclerotic plaque). Instead look for:

  • Ldl-pHigh triglycerides (some experts say >0.75mmol/L, others say >1.1mmol/L)
  • You want your LDL-C to be less than 3 times your HDL-C
  • The Triglyceride:HDL-C ratio should be less than 1. High ratios usually mean a large number of small, dense LDL particles

If any of these tests are outside the normal range it still doesn’t mean there is an imminent heart attack. Ask your doctor for a LDL-P test. This is the number of LDL particles and is highly correlated with heart disease risk. Also get your CRP tested which is an inflammatory marker that can indicate heart disease risk.

Learn more about accurate heart disease risk testing in Jimmy Moore’s book Cholesterol Clarity: What the HDL is Wrong with My Numbers.

A bonus bullet point! Most doctors will prescribe a cholesterol lowering statin drug at the drop of a hat if your cholesterol level looks anywhere close to high-normal, or even as a preventative if someone in your family has heart disease. These drugs do not reduce heart disease risk because they lower cholesterol, they reduce heart disease risk in only a small population (older men who have already had a heart attack) by reducing inflammation. Statins have never been shown to decrease the number of heart attacks in any female population, nor in men who have not had a heart attack. And statins come with some nasty side effects including muscle soreness, diabetes, rhabdomyolosis (muscle wasting), tendon problems and cognitive issues like memory loss.

It’s best to try to reduce heart disease risk with diet and lifestyle changes first…

How to Avoid Heart Disease

  • Reduce carbohydrates overall – especially refined and processed carbs and sugar
  • Eliminate wheat and vegetable oil as much as possible
  • Reduce processed and packaged foods that are usually high in inflammatory substances
  • Eat a diet of mostly free-range animal products (full-fat), non-starchy vegetables with some extra healthy fat, nuts, and add a small amount of fruit, starchy vegetables and safe grains (potatoes, sweet potatoes, white rice, soaked oats)
  • Eat loads of vegetables – there are many vitamins and minerals that help reduce heart disease risk
  • Exercise regularly – even if only walking
  • Don’t smoke
  • Limit alcohol
  • Reduce or manage stress

Did you know that the country of Sweden has now implemented a low carb, high fat (LCHF) diet to battle obesity and modern diseases like diabetes and heart disease? Read more about that here.

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