This article will help you be more informed about the benefits and dangers of cholesterol. Many of us will be told by our doctor that our cholesterol is too high, and that we need to take a drug to lower it. Is that really necessary?
Cholesterol is an important component of every cell in our body — numbering between 30 and 70 trillion. As much as 50% of our cell membranes, the surface of the cell, is composed of cholesterol. While our brain is only 2% of our body weight, it contains 25% of our total cholesterol.
Cholesterol plays a significant role in learning and memory, it is used to make bile in the liver, an important part of our digestive system used to digest fats.
Cholesterol is a precursor to vitamin D made in our skin from UVB rays from sunlight.
It is a precursor to our steroid hormones, such as cortisol, important in regulating blood sugar and inflammation. Cholesterol serves as a raw material for other hormones as well, pregnenalone, DHEA (an anti-stress hormone), testosterone, progesterone and estrogen.
Our entire blood supply contains one teaspoon of sugar. The body has a mechanism to keep blood sugar from rising by secreting insulin. The body does this because elevated sugar is dangerous in many ways. Blood cholesterol can go up as needed by the body. There is no corresponding hormone like insulin to keep cholesterol from going up. Why? The body does not perceive cholesterol as dangerous, but beneficial, and will let it rise as a healthy response to many needs in the body.
Perhaps one of the reasons that cholesterol came to be demonized is that it is present in arterial plaque, which is believed to be a factor in heart disease and stroke. Cholesterol is present in arterial plaques more as an innocent bystander. Cholesterol has anti-inflammatory properties and is responding to vascular inflammation. There is much more calcium in arterial plaques than cholesterol.
Arterial calcification is the result of inflammation and a lack of vitamin K2, which prevents calcium deposits in arteries and veins. Vitamin K2 occurs in foods we were told by health experts not to eat because they contain cholesterol—like egg yolks, butter, cheese, liver and red meat.
Science has spent billions of dollars trying to prove that cholesterol and animal fats cause disease. The result? There is no evidence that dietary cholesterol and animal fats cause disease of any kind. The only kind of cholesterol that is dangerous is oxidized cholesterol. What oxidizes cholesterol? Vegetable seed oils and sugar. There is much evidence that trans fats and vegetables seed oils cause both heart disease and cancer.
Cholesterol research showed that total cholesterol could be lowered by substituting soybean oil for animal fats. At first, this was cause for celebration, as it was believed then that lowering total cholesterol reduced heart disease. However, it was disturbing to find that heart disease wasn't affected by lowering cholesterol, and even more disturbing that cancer and other deaths increased on the soybean oil.
While total cholesterol could be lowered by vegetable oil, it actually increased the inflammatory “small, dense LDL particles” which do cause heart disease because they oxidize easily, and lowered the “large, buoyant LDL” particles that do not pose any risk. These vegetable oil studies also reduced the protective cholesterol called HDL.
It is possible that increasing animal fats and coconut oil may raise total cholesterol, but it also improves the LDL “good to bad ratio” and also increases HDL. Vegetable seeds oils, including canola, corn, soy, sunflower, safflower, cottonseed and grapeseed oils are high in omega 6 fats which are pro-inflammatory. These are known as PUFA's (polyunsaturated fatty acids).
The more dietary PUFA's, the more oxidized cholesterol. Oxidized cholesterol is a factor in cardiovascular disease. The more oxidized LDL the more atherosclerosis. However, switching to saturated fats slows atherosclerosis, and the highest intakes of saturated fat reverses atherosclerosis over time.
In 1994 the Journal of the American Medical Association published a trial comparing heart disease rates in older people having cholesterol 240 or above, with those having cholesterol below 200. No differences were found between the two groups. People with total cholesterol below 200 had just as many heart attacks as those above 240 after four years.
Did your doctor mention that study before prescribing statins? Probably not. Nor did he/she mention this study in the Lancet Medical Journal. Researchers from the Netherlands studied 724 people average age of 89 following them for 10 years. During the study 642 participants died. What they found was rather extraordinary — for each thirty nine point increase in total cholesterol, there was a 15% decrease in mortality. There was no difference in coronary artery disease between the high and low cholesterol groups. The researchers reported “Mortality from cancer and infection was significantly lower among the participants in the highest total cholesterol category.” People with the highest total cholesterol were less likely to die from cancer and infections-common fatal illnesses in the elderly. The risk of dying during the study was reduced by a whopping 48% in those who had the highest cholesterol.
In 2012, the journal Atherosclerosis released a study showing that statin use is associated with a 52% increased prevalence and extent of calcified coronary plaque, compared to non-users.
The Archives of Internal Medicine published a study in 2012 showing that women using statin drugs had a 48% increase in the risk of diabetes.
Or how about this very recent study released February 6, 2015, published in Expert Review of Clinical Pharmacology, showing that statins actually stimulate atherosclerosis and heart failure.
There has never been a study showing any benefit for women of any age by lowering cholesterol. And there is only benefit for lowering cholesterol in men who have previously had a heart attack.
How could we be so wrong about cholesterol for so long? Nina Teicholz, in her book The Big Fat Surprise details how Ancel Keys, a scientist in the 1950's was so convinced that animal fat and cholesterol caused heart disease that he was willing to bend and cherry pick the science to fit his hypothesis. When this bad science became government and public policy pushing this belief, the food industry aggressively marketed the “no cholesterol” “no fat” “low fat” agenda until repetition of these myths made believers out of most of us.
The Framingham Heart Study, begun in the 1950’s to prove the diet heart theory, failed to do so. Dr. George Mann, a researcher with this study stated: “The diet heart hypothesis that suggests that a high intake of fat or cholesterol causes heart disease has been repeatedly shown to be wrong, and yet, for complicated reasons of pride, profit and prejudice, the hypothesis continues to be exploited by scientists, fund-raising enterprise, food companies, and even governmental agencies. The public is being deceived by the greatest health scam of the century.” (Emphasis mine)
By 1997, the study's data showed that people eating less saturated fat and total fat were suffering from higher rates of stroke. Other papers spurred by the Framingham study link low cholesterol with greater rates of cancer. Men with low cholesterol and obesity were four times more likely to develop colon cancer.
A 2005 analysis showed that those with the lowest cholesterol, even up to 200, scored the worst on cognitive tests. Those with higher cholesterol, on the other hand, had much better cognitive performance.
Cholesterol that is too low (below 160) is a health risk for cancer, infection, depression strokes and suicide.
When is total cholesterol too high? Probably around 300-350. A total cholesterol of 350 or above could be a genetic condition called familial hypercholesterolemia and likely should be medicated, but this is rare.
Copenhagen Heart Study — In March of 2011, Annals of Neurology published findings from the Copenhagen Heart Study (CHS) on stroke risk. They found triglycerides were more relevant to stroke risk than cholesterol. Non-fasting triglycerides are predictive of a women's risk for stroke, cholesterol was not. Similar for men, non-fasting triglycerides increased stroke risk, but no increased risk from cholesterol unless it is extremely high (348). These findings were confirmed by a 31 year Norwegian study published in 2010 in the European Journal of Epidemiology.
When our cholesterol is measured in a blood test, most of it is made in the liver, not from our diet. Statin drugs work by blocking the biochemical pathway in the liver that makes cholesterol. They are very effective at lowering cholesterol. This same metabolic pathway also makes CoQ10, essential fuel for most cells, especially the heart and brain. Also, the production of other substances, isoprenes and squalenes are blocked along with cholesterol. The possibility of increased cancer risk from statin use may be from blocking the livers' production of these three important nutrients as they all have anti-cancer activity. Statin drugs also damage vitamin K2 metabolism. Vitamin K2 is essential to prevent calcification of our arteries. This is why statin drugs increase coronary artery calcification, or atherosclerosis.
Unfortunately, the practice of medicine is 10-20 years behind the science. Don't expect your doctor to apologize for putting you on statins or on a low fat diet. Most doctors have little or no training in diet and nutrition. You can get a Harvard Medical degree without taking a single course in nutrition. Same with 70% of all medical schools. Unless your doctor has read up to date research on diet you likely know more than your doctor. Probably all your doctor knows about statins is from the drug sales people. They may cite “studies that show statins reduce heart attacks by 30%.” This is done by a trick of statistics by using the terms “relative risk” instead of “absolute risk.” There is little to no meaningful benefit from statins.
Other potential side effects from statin drugs include depression, confusion, memory problems, weakened immune system, liver damage, fatigue, kidney failure, lowered sex drive, muscle weakness and death.
Only you can protect yourself from statins.
- Protein Power Lifeplan — Michael & Marydan Eades MD's
- The Big Fat Surprise — Nina Teicholz
- Grain Brain — David Perlmutter MD
- Cholesterol Myths — Uffe Ravenskov MD
- Death by Food Pyramid — Denise Minger
- Primal Body, Primal Mind — Nora Gedgauges