Part IV of a multi-installment series on cholesterol and the dangers of statin drugs.
Part III can be found here: New Research Into Statin Drug Memory Loss
Part II can be found here: Trade Your High Cholesterol For Diabetes!
Part I can be found here: Lower Your Cholesterol – Lose Your Marbles?
By Nurse Mark
In recent HealthBeat articles I’ve been talking a lot about statin drugs and their dangers.
Conventional medicine tells us we must take statin drugs to lower our cholesterol levels and thus prevent heart attacks.
Is that true? If someone has a high cholesterol level will they have a heart attack just as surely as night follows day? Is lower always better when it comes to cholesterol levels?
Hearing Big Pharma talk you could easily believe that cholesterol is a toxic substance that must be eliminated from our bodies by any means.
We think a little differently here. Let’s learn a little more about cholesterol.
What is this stuff, anyway?
Cholesterol is a fatty, waxy substance, an organic molecule – a sterol – that is an essential part of the structure of almost all the cells in our body.
Where does it come from?
Cholesterol can be obtained from diet from animal sources like meat and dairy – though plant sources may contribute small amounts of cholesterol-like substances called phytosterols. It is also made in substantial amounts by the liver. It is so important that even the cells themselves are able to make cholesterol – usually in response to high insulin levels.
What good is it?
Cholesterol helps make the outer coating or wall of cells, keeping them “waterproof” and controlling what can enter and exit the cell. It is used to make the bile acids that digest food (especially fatty foods) in the intestine. It is used by the body to make Vitamin D and steroid hormones such as estrogen in women and testosterone in men. Cholesterol also forms the “insulation” that protects our nerves ability to transmit impulses and is used as a material to repair irritations and damage in our blood vessels.
How much of it do we need?
According to Harvard University researchers, we require about 1000 mg (one gram) of cholesterol each day for our body to function properly. We could eat no cholesterol at all and our liver would still make that much or more.
Is it really that simple? Isn’t there “good” and “bad” cholesterol?
You’re right, it’s not so simple. There are several different forms of cholesterol, each doing different jobs in our body.
The good, the bad, and the ugly?
Kind of: here is the brief rundown on the different forms of cholesterol:
First, cholesterol itself really isn’t very soluble in blood (think of oil in water) so our body wraps it up into molecules called lipoproteins so it can be moved around through our arteries and veins.
The good: HDL (High Density Lipoprotein) cholesterol is considered “good” because it gathers up unneeded cholesterol from the blood vessels and cells and transports it back to the liver for recycling or excretion as bile. HDL is also felt to have an anti-inflammatory role in the body.
The bad: LDL (Low Density Lipoprotein) cholesterol carries cholesterol to the areas of the body where it is needed. It has been thought to be “bad” because high levels of LDL in the blood have been associated with increased risk of cardiovascular disease. However, “associated with” is not the same as “causes” and we like to refer to cholesterol as it relates to heart disease as “found at the scene of the crime, but NOT GUILTY! “
To make things more confusing, there are two sub-types of LDL: Small, dense LDL is also considered to be a form of “bad” cholesterol while large, buoyant LDL is less harmful. (There is also a form of HDL that is considered “bad
The ugly: Oxidized LDL cholesterol particles are strongly associated with atheroma formation in the walls of arteries, a condition known as atherosclerosis which is the principal cause of coronary heart disease and other forms of cardiovascular disease. Oxidized LDL particles contain free radicals and are irritating and damaging to the cell walls, causing inflammation and even endothelial (the cells that line the blood vessels) death. Our body then tries to repair the damage by patching it with LDL cholesterol deposits – like a protective “scab” inside the blood vessel. (Remember – LDL is “found at the scene of the crime, but NOT GUILTY!”) Oxidized LDL is also said to increase the production of a substance called thromboxane in blood platelets – which promotes blood clotting.
How does the “Ugly” happen?
A number of things have been shown to cause LDL to become “oxidized” – some of them include:
Smoking – is this any surprise? Smoking also inhibits our ability to make prostacyclin, a substance that inhibits blood clotting. By increasing the ratio of thromboxane to prostacyclin, abnormal clotting can occur, causing cardiovascular events and sudden death.
Trans fats and polyunsaturated fats. For years conventional medicine has tried to blame saturated fats like butter for heart disease, telling us to eat margarine and vegetable oils instead. That is beginning to change, with conventional researchers Now beginning to acknowledge that saturated fats are healthy , polyunsaturated fats are easily damaged and can quickly become unhealthy, and trans fats are very disruptive and damaging and should be avoided at all costs.
Metabolic Syndrome, pre-diabetes, obesity and diabetes have all been linked to increases in oxidized LDL, and correcting those conditions appears to reduce oxidized LDL.
Deficiencies in vitamin E, carotenoids, and vitamin C – all potent antioxidants – are also associated with the oxidation of LDL.
And the odd man out:
Triglycerides are fat-like substances that circulate in the blood. Conventional medicine associates high triglyceride levels with heart disease in the same way they do LDL cholesterol – and they claim that there is great benefit in dramatically lowering triglyceride levels. However, while high triglyceride levels are related to an increased risk of heart disease, they are also correlated with low HDL (good) cholesterol, and with small, dense (less bad) LDL, so it’s not clear whether high triglycerides are really an independent risk factor for heart disease or just a risk marker for heart disease – as in “found at the scene of the crime, but not guilty!”
What to do about cholesterol?
First, don’t let conventional medicine and Big Pharma frighten you about cholesterol – it really is our friend, and essential to life. Cholesterol is essential for so many functions – our thoughts, emotions, and mental functions, our digestion, our hormones and everything that they control for us, for repairing our wounds, and even protecting us from infection.
Current conventional medical guidelines claim that total cholesterol should be below 200 mg/dL, LDL below 100 mg/dL, triglycerides below 150 mg/dL, and HDL above 40 mg/dL for men and 50 mg/dL for women.
Please remember though that these recommendations are used to sell patients on the need to take statin drugs, and Big Pharma is constantly pushing for ever-lower total cholesterol, LDL, and triglyceride numbers in order to sell more of their drugs.
Next, be aware that there is very little real proof that artificially lowering total cholesterol, LDL, or triglycerides does anyone much good, and there is evidence that for many, higher cholesterol levels can actually be protective. There is statistical data showing that low cholesterol levels in seniors are associated with an increase in all-cause mortality.
Finally, it is not the raw numbers themselves that should be used to determine whether one’s cholesterol is “too high” – it is the relationship of those numbers to the other numbers – that is, the ratio of LDL to HDL and even the more detailed measurement of “large” and “small” particle LDL – that should be looked at.
On Lowering cholesterol:
Statins, of course, are the first and often the only choice of conventional doctors when they find cholesterol and triglyceride numbers above the conventionally accepted range. Some silly diet advice, such as “avoid eggs and fatty foods” may also be given.
Both of those recommendations, are just plain wrong. Statin drugs come with a wide variety of very worrisome side effects such as loss of memory and metal function, muscle damage, diabetes, and liver failure. Avoiding dietary cholesterol, as we have seen, is futile – our liver will just take up the slack to make this important substance, and the foods that are “substituted” for healthy cholesterol-containing foods often contain high amounts of trans fats or high fructose corn syrup and other sugars – which all contribute to the creation of the artery-damaging oxidized LDL that we learned about earlier.
Since we believe that cholesterol is actually a good and necessary thing, we feel that instead of simply trying to slam down the numbers with a drug a more sensible approach is to shift that important LDL/HDL ration toward more of the protective HDL and to avoid creating the blood vessel damaging oxidized LDL.
How to shift the balance toward better cholesterol and cardiovascular health
Hint: Lifestyle and diet are amazingly effective!
Here are some things you can do (not in any order of importance – they are all important!)
- Moderate alcohol – one or two drinks per day – has been shown to raise HDL cholesterol – but too much can significantly raise triglyceride levels.
- Do you smoke? Stop! Stopping smoking lowers LDL and raises HDL cholesterol.
- Are you overweight? Losing weight raises HDL cholesterol.
- Get some sun – researchers have shown that exposure to ultraviolet radiation (sunlight) results in a significant and long-lasting reduction in cholesterol levels.
- Relax – stress reduction, meditation and yoga have been shown to reduce total and LDL cholesterol and triglycerides.
- Get moving – aerobic exercise (walking, jogging, swimming, bicycling, rowing, stair-climbing, etc) improves the ratio of LDL to HDL significantly.
- Eat fats wisely – avoid trans fats. A diet low in trans fats lowers overall cholesterol and raises HDL.
- Avoid sugars and high glycemic index carbohydrates (potatoes, rice, bread, corn, etc.) – a diet high in sucrose has been shown to decrease HDL – the “good” cholesterol.
- Get more fiber – a minimum of 2-10 grams/day of soluble fiber lowers cholesterol levels very significantly.
Getting the Big Picture:
Instead of focusing on one very small aspect of cardiovascular health, cholesterol, and trying to chase laboratory numbers with drugs, Dr. Myatt recommends that people look at the overall picture of their heart health risk factors and she has researched and prepared a Medical White Paper that discusses these risk factors in detail. She is making this paper available to you free of charge. I hope you will take advantage of this offer and download and study this document. Print it and discuss it with your doctor. Use it to reduce your risk factors so that you can enjoy a long and healthy life – and continue to be a HealthBeat News subscriber!
Please print this Medical White Paper, including the pages of references, so that you can show it to your doctor / cardiologist. When he / she tells you that 1) he has never heard of some of these tests, 2) you don’t need them, 3) he’s not going to order them for you, and 4) your insurance won’t pay for them anyway, please visit Dr. Myatt’s Wellness Club where Dr. Myatt will make these tests available to you, and at a very reasonable cost.
Dr. Myatt will also be following up this article with one of her own detailing her favorite natural supplements and remedies to improve your cholesterol ratios and cardiovascular health – so stay tuned!
References and additional reading:
CHOLESTEROL (and other cardiovascular risk markers) http://www.acsu.buffalo.edu/~shlevy/choles.htm
Excerpted from The Harvard Medical School Guide to Lowering Your Cholesterol
By Mason W. Freeman, M.D. with Christine Junge
The Cholesterol Myths by Uffe Ravnskov, M.D., Ph.D.
Your cholesterol tells very little about your future health – An excerpt from my previous book The Cholesterol Myths (out of print). http://www.ravnskov.nu/myth1.htm
Weston A Price Foundation
Myths & Truths About Cholesterol
Weston A Price Foundation
Cholesterol: Friend Or Foe?
Oxysterols and TBARS are among the LDL oxidation products which enhance thromboxane A2 synthesis by platelets
MohamedainM Mahfouza, FredA Kummerowa, ,
University of Illinois, Burnsides Research Laboratory, 1208 W. Pennsylvania Ave., Urbana, IL 61801 and The H.E. Moore Heart Research Foundation, Champaign, IL 61820, USA
Dietary Saturated Fat Has Undeserved Bad Reputation, Says Review
Steve Stiles, May 17, 2013
“The influence of dietary fats on serum cholesterol has been overstated,” concludes a review in an American Society for Nutrition publication that, in its words, “calls for a rational reevaluation of existing dietary recommendations that focus on minimizing dietary SFAs [saturated fatty acids], for which mechanisms for adverse health effects are lacking”
Triglycerides and Risk for Coronary Heart Disease
Patrick E. McBride, MD, MPH
JAMA. 2007;298(3):336-338. doi:10.1001/jama.298.3.336.
“…a high serum triglyceride level is associated with abnormal lipoprotein metabolism, as well as with other CHD risk factors including obesity, insulin resistance, diabetes mellitus, and lowered levels of high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL-C). When determining CHD risk, how important is it to know which came first—high serum triglyceride levels or the risk factors that cause high levels?”
Rejuvenation Res. 2011 April; 14(2): 111–118.
Effect of Obesity, Serum Lipoproteins, and Apolipoprotein E Genotypes on Mortality in Hospitalized Elderly Patients
Filomena Addante, M.D. et. al.
“In addition, we found that, unlike in nonelderly patients, higher levels of TC in females and LDL-C in males are associated with a lower risk of mortality. This paradoxical result is in line with previous reports showing that hypercholesterolemia is associated with lower mortality in elderly patients. ”
Wesley D, Cox HF. Modeling total cholesterol as predictor of mortality: the low-cholesterol paradox. J Insur Med. 2011;42(2-4):62-75.
Nago N, Ishikawa S, Goto T, et al. Low cholesterol is associated with mortality from stroke, heart disease, and cancer: the Jichi Medical School Cohort Study. J Epidemiol. 2011;21(1):67-74.
Schalk BW, Visser M, Deeg DJ, et al. Lower levels of serum albumin and total cholesterol and future decline in functional performance in older persons: the Longitudinal Aging Study Amsterdam. Age Ageing. 2004 May;33(3):266-72.
Altschul R. “Ultraviolet irradiation and cholesterol metabolism.” Arch Phys Med 1955; 36: 394
Effects of dietary sucrose on factors influencing cholesterol gall stone formation
D WERNER, P M EMMETT, AND K W HEATON
From the University Department of Medicine, Bristol Royal Infirmary, Bristol
Hence, the well-documented ability of dietary sucrose to raise plasma triglyceride concentrations, which was confirmed in this study, suggests that dietary sucrose will predispose at least some individuals to gall stones.
Pediatrics. 1995 Nov;96(5 Pt 2):1005-9.
The role of fiber in the treatment of hypercholesterolemia in children and adolescents.
Kwiterovich PO Jr.
Department of Pediatrics, Johns Hopkins University, School of Medicine, Baltimore, MD, USA.
For example, the addition of supplemented soluble fiber (psyllium) to a step 1 diet may provide additional lowering of LDL cholesterol of 10% to 15%.
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