Cholesterol! A frightening word that brings to mind a deadly heart attack! In fact, cholesterol is vital to life and not at all the threat to health that most think it is. Doctors have thoroughly spoon-fed us the conventional dogma that high cholesterol greatly raises the risk of death by heart attack, even though the majority of heart attack victims have normal cholesterol. They tell us that we need cholesterol-lowering drugs (called statins) to reduce the chance of heart attack or stroke.
However, statins cause serious side effects such as liver damage, kidney damage and cataracts. After medical authorities had rated statins as safe, they changed their position in 2010 and told doctors they should prescribe the lowest possible dose to minimize these side effects. Statins also block the production of vital co-enzyme Q10 in the liver. Statins weaken muscles in general, including that most crucial muscle of all, the heart. It is hardly a coincidence that the rate of heart failure began to rise when the mass medication with statins began a few decades ago. The “normal” range for cholesterol is arbitrary and set so low that people may seem to need statins to fight “high” cholesterol, when in fact their cholesterol level is not a health problem. Statins also raise the risk of diabetes, but a world caught up in the grip of cholesterol hysteria does not heed such warnings.
The theory behind the cholesterol myth goes like this: The cholesterol we eat in food first raises our blood cholesterol, which then gathers in the arteries and causes arteriosclerosis. The resulting plaque narrows the arteries until it triggers a heart attack. Even though many medical professionals believe this theory, there is a lot of scientific evidence that shows all this is wrong.
There is no proof that cholesterol is harmful in spite of all the negative attention it gets. Some research shows no link between high cholesterol and increased risk of death by heart attack in men, while other research points to a weak association with middle-aged men who have had heart disease. In science, association itself is only a marker and not the same as a proven cause. This means that cholesterol can be high when a deadly heart attack strikes, but that it does not play a role in the attack. However, many medical doctors mistakenly look at this association as a causal correlation. Studies of women repeatedly have shown no correlation between higher cholesterol and greater risk of a deadly heart attack. The truth is that lower cholesterol means a higher risk of dying of cancer.
After all we have heard about cholesterol, it seems hard to believe that those with higher cholesterol actually live longer. Dr. Uffe Ravnskov from Sweden, author of Cholesterol Myths, points out that cholesterol actually protects against bacterial and viral infection. Since infection harms the body and causes atherosclerosis, cholesterol prevents illness, including heart disease.
Dr. Ravnskov states logically that if high cholesterol caused atherosclerosis, then those with high cholesterol should have more atherosclerosis than those with low cholesterol. However, this does not happen. Lowering cholesterol should also lower the level of atherosclerosis in direct proportion, but it does not. The risk should apply to all populations, all ages, both sexes and be true for both heart disease and stroke, but it does not. Dr. Ravnskov shows that we need to cast aside all the foregone theory and take a fresh and truthful look at cholesterol.
The one-sided statin treatment of conventional medicine just guarantees a multi-billion dollar business for the pharmaceutical industry. It seems odd that doctors would see cholesterol so negatively, since this vital substance is present in the cells of all living things and does more to keep us healthy than any vitamin. Cholesterol is essential for life:
1. It keeps the body stable by making the billions of cell membranes strong, including the myelin sheath of the nerves that transfer nerve signals.
2. It plays a key role in the formation of new immune cells and helps protect the body from cancer and other immune disorders.
3. It works as a repair substance and antioxidant, so low cholesterol means less ability to fix damage and a greater risk of cancer.
4. The brain consists of about 15% cholesterol, which plays a key role in the development of a child’s brain as well as intelligence in general. Babies cannot yet produce cholesterol, so mother’s milk is full of it.
5. It provides the basis for the production of serotonin, the feel-good neurotransmitter in the brain. So low cholesterol makes aggression, depression and even suicidal thoughts more likely.
6. It makes up half the mass of the adrenal glands, as it is needed there to make sexua| and stress hormones. Low cholesterol can lead to sexua| hormonal disorders.
7. The body makes vitamin D from cholesterol for strong bones, good muscle tone, mineral metabolism, insulin production and the proper function of the nervous system.
8. The body makes bile salts from cholesterol to digest fat.
9. Cholesterol keeps the intestinal wall healthy and prevents leaky gut.
The liver makes cholesterol with support from the small intestine to keep the body well stocked, whatever the amount taken from food is. When the cholesterol level drops, the liver steps up production. When the body gets plenty from food, it limits the uptake of cholesterol through the intestines and cuts back on its own production. The body always tries to keep the blood cholesterol level even.
Even though eggs and other animal-quality foods are rich in cholesterol, they have little impact on blood cholesterol. Organic eggs provide the body with many key nutrients, including vitamins A, E and B12. However, doctors often warn their patients about eggs because of high blood cholesterol. This mistaken line of thinking goes nowhere, since the body itself produces more cholesterol than it takes up from food. Only about 2% of total body cholesterol is in the blood anyway. One woman told me that she stopped eating all food of animal origin, the main food source of cholesterol, to get her “high” cholesterol down. She began eating only plant-based vegan food, but quit in frustration when her vegan way of eating led to even higher cholesterol.
A low-cholesterol diet cannot lower blood cholesterol much, as a look at natural populations around the world shows. The Masai of Africa consume mostly milk, blood and meat, with animal fat making up two thirds of their calorie intake. In spite of all the cholesterol they eat, their blood cholesterol is much lower than the mean level in the U.S. and Europe. The same goes for the Arctic Inuit (Eskimo) people. They eat mostly fish, seal and whale, consuming much more cholesterol than we do, yet they have lower blood cholesterol. The cholesterol in food and that in blood clearly have little to do with each other.
The great cholesterol myth began over a hundred years ago, when Russian researchers fed rabbits only egg yolks and brain, until the poor rabbits got something similar to arteriosclerosis. Oddly, no one wondered at the time, if this came from feeding the vegetarian rabbits something they were not meant to eat. There is no proof that cholesterol in food causes arteriosclerosis or heightens the risk of death by heart attack, yet doctors prescribe statins as if it were proven. Nor is there a link between fat consumption and heart attack. The example of Japan shows this clearly. Compared to Western nations, Japan has a low rate of heart attack, and it dropped even lower between 1960 and 1985, while the Japanese doubled their fat intake.
The cholesterol myth took a new, creative turn with the claim that there is good and bad cholesterol. In truth, cholesterol itself is always the same. Biochemically, it is a heavyweight alcohol that behaves like fat in that it does not mix well with water. It takes a water-soluble lipoprotein (fat combined with a protein) that coats cholesterol to be able to transport it in watery blood. Lipoproteins can have high or low density. With cholesterol bound to it, high-density lipoprotein or HDL moves generally from the cells toward the liver, where it can then recycle this valuable substance for another time. It is “good cholesterol”, because it moves cholesterol away from arteries. People with higher HDL have a lower risk of heart-circulatory problems as well as a longer life expectancy.
Low-density lipoprotein or LDL moves in the opposite direction toward the cells. It is just as crucial to health as HDL. However, LDL is “bad cholesterol”, because some of it is made up of small particles that oxidize or pick up harmful, oxidized cholesterol from food and get into the lining of the arteries. Oxidized (rancid) cholesterol forms during processing of animal food products such as powdered eggs or powdered milk. Small particles of oxidized cholesterol can trigger inflammation in the arteries, but big-particle LDL does no harm. Since only the small-particle LDL can cause inflammation, the general LDL on a blood test does not tell much about the health condition. Since both HDL and LDL are needed in the cholesterol function, the terms “good” and “bad” are misleading and have no place in the cholesterol discussion.
What then raises blood cholesterol? The common cause is damage to the lining of the arteries, which provokes an inflammatory response from the body. It can come from harmful hydrogenated oil in commercial food products, whether from frying and deep-frying in fast food kitchens or from the commercial baking of bread, crisps and chips. Margarine is notorious for its partially-hydrogenated oil. Other causes of inflammation include rancid omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, smoke and even stress.
The liver responds by producing cholesterol as a protective response to inflammation, the true trigger of plaque build-up (scarring) in the arteries.
The purpose of cholesterol is to heal the damage from the inflammation. Blocking cholesterol production in the liver with medication does not change the inflamed condition that led to high blood cholesterol. Statins reduce inflammation, but so does aspirin, and at a much cheaper price. However, aspirin can trigger some nasty side effects such as stomach bleeding, Crohn’s disease and stroke. Omega-3 fatty acid (in fish oil, krill oil and cod liver oil) and vitamin E (in olives, seeds and nuts) lower inflammation without doing any harm. It is smartest to reduce the need for cholesterol repair by making healthier food choices that do not lead to inflammation.
Sugar glycation is another key inflammatory factor, which is the binding of sugar molecules to protein in muscles and blood verssels. This makes a sticky and disruptive bond to muscles that makes them weaker. Glycation leads to frailness in old age that we think of as a “natural” part of growing old, when in fact it need not be our fate.
Researchers have linked this harmful, sticky glycation to diseased arteries as well. It triggers inflammation in the lining of the arteries, followed by the cholesterol response. It does not make sense to take medication to lower cholesterol without looking at what is behind the condition. Would it not be wiser to eat and live in such a way that helps the body stay healthy and therefore have less need to repair damage? Glycation happens in everyone, but the higher the blood sugar, the more glycation. Also, the more glycation there is, the faster the body ages.
It follows that shunning sugar and other refined (fiberless) carbohydrates such as white bread, white rice and conventional pasta will slow down the aging process. The potato contains naturally fiberless carbohydrate and belongs on the avoid list as well. Fruit contains fiber, but also lots of (natural) sugar, so it is best eaten in small amounts as a snack food. Fruit juice has no fiber at all and takes its rightful place on the list of harmful carbohydrates.
Whether sugar, white bread or potato, all fast carbohydrates drive insulin up quickly. High insulin leads to more inflammatory small-particle LDL as well as a higher risk of blood clots, another factor in heart attack. More heart attacks follow a carbohydrate-heavy meal than one rich in cholesterol or fat. For a healthy heart and circulation, keep insulin down by limiting sweets other highly refined carbohydrates. Eat balanced meals of fibrous carbohydrates such as whole grains and vegetables together with good fats/oils and protein, either from pulses (beans, chickpeas and lentils) or from cholesterol-rich animal food.