18 Aug Sorting out the B.S. about Cholesterol
Abnormal Blood Fats
I toiled with the title of this section for a few minutes. Everything I read spoke of cholesterol and lipids, but those phrases didn’t work for me. The reason I called this section abnormal blood fats is that depending on which component we are speaking of-LDL, HDL or Triglycerides-the ideal value is relative to each particular one. But before we go further, I don’t think that cholesterol is evil! In fact, without cholesterol you wouldn’t exist. Yes, you read that right! Your body actually needs cholesterol to keep your body healthy. Some comes from our diet, but our body naturally manufactures the remainder. Cholesterol is a critical part of each cell membrane in your body. It is needed to help with the permeability (ease of substances passing through it). It is also important in the body for helping to produce Vitamin A, D, E and K, bile acids (digestion), steroid hormones such as coritsol (often called the stress hormone), and the sex hormones progesterone, estrogen, and testosterone. As you can see, your body needs cholesterol to function. What makes Cholesterol evil is either an abundance (above what you were genetically predisposed to handle) and/or what happens to cholesterol in your body (I will explain what I mean in a minute).
I mentioned above that our body manufactures cholesterol naturally and we consume some in our daily diet (primary sources: Dairy, Eggs, Meats, Chicken, Fish, Pork, Seeds, and Nuts. The amount of cholesterol in plant sources is significantly lower than the amounts found in animal based foods. The amount of saturated fats and trans fats consumed seems to have a much greater impact on cholesterol levels than the consumption of cholesterol by itself. In fact, consuming plant sourced “fats” in my opinion should have little to no direct negative impact on your cholesterol. The fiber and other nutritional components of nuts and seeds should outweigh the negative effects of the fats found in these foods. Your body manufactures approximately 80 percent of your total blood cholesterol. The primary starting source for this production is sugar. Both glucose or fructose are used by your body to produce cholesterol. Food choices become even more important if you are concerned about your cholesterol. Foods that are high in either one of these sugars or that convert easily to sugar (starchy foods like bread, pasta, rice, potatoes, etc.) can and will lead to elevated cholesterol foods. The sad thing is that many of us reach for these no-fat, low-fat foods because they contain no cholesterol, yet will blindly lead you to higher cholesterol than if you had a 3-egg omelet each day for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Regretfully, all of this focus on Cholesterol is overblown. If there ever were a place in Modern Medicine for a conspiracy theory, cholesterol medications would be it! As mentioned above, cholesterol is vital for the functionality in every cell of your body. Lowering it to abnormal levels can be just as life threatening (in my opinion) as having levels too high. For example, if you don’t have enough cholesterol in your skin, the UVB rays in sunlight won’t be able to interact with your cholesterol to manufacture the Vitamin D our body’s need so desperately to prevent other disease (Cancer, Osteoporosis, etc.). If cholesterol was so evil to the body, then why does the body recycle cholesterol in the liver? It doesn’t destroy it and remove it, but recycle it to be used again by your body.
Cholesterol testing is not a good indicator for developing heart disease! Yes, this is just my opinion. As I mentioned earlier, a better test would be CRP (C-reactive protein). CRP levels are used to determine if you have chronic inflammation in your arteries. Chronic inflammation in your arteries is what will lead to plaque buildup in your arteries, not cholesterol. Cholesterol is actually part of the healing process.
Inflammation occurs in your arteries due to a pinprick caused by free radicals produced during normal metabolism or from toxins from poor lifestyle (smoking, too much alcohol, pesticides.) As the body heals this pinprick, a scab/scar is known as plaque can form. Combine the scar with thickening blood and your now have increased risk for a heart attack and stroke. So looking at this situation, you can see that it the initial damage that triggers the increase in inflammation that causes the plaque to form is NOT cholesterol. If we live in a state of chronic inflammation, then we are opening ourselves up to more heart attacks, strokes and elevated blood pressure… But NOT because of high cholesterol. Having a CRP test done is a much better indicator of your chances for cardiovascular disease than a standard cholesterol test.
If your cholesterol levels get to low, there are an abundance of possible situations that can and most likely will occur. I mentioned above the issue with formation of Vitamin D. Let’s take a closer look at what else can happen by keeping our cholesterol levels too low. EVERY cell in your body needs cholesterol to function properly. What else do you need to know? All sarcasm aside, take a few minutes to evaluate that statement.
- Skin Cells: Dryness, eczema, psoriasis, acne, skin cancer, itching, skin ulcers, etc.
- Nerve Cells: Alzheimer’s, Depression, Anxiety, ADD, ADHD, Parkinson’s Disease, etc.
- Structural Cells such as Bone, Cartilage, Ligaments, and Tendons:
- Osteoporosis, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Arthritis, Sports injuries, Muscular disorders, etc.
- Hormone Producing Cells: Menopause, ED, Sexual Dysfunction, Andropause (male menopause), Prostate Cancer, Breast Cancer, PMS, Diabetes,
- Inflammation and pain, etc., Addison’s Disease, etc.
- Immune Cells: Cancer, Colds/Flu, Allergies, Autoimmune diseases (MS, Lupus, RA), psoriasis, etc.
- Digestive Cells: IBS, Crohn’s Disease, Colon Cancer, Liver disease, Ulcers, Heartburn, etc.
This may seem dramatic…and maybe it is, but keep in mind that if your cells are not functioning the way they should, anything can go wrong.
Cholesterol Medications to the rescue-NOT!
In the majority of cases, the use of cholesterol lowering medications should be limited to short term use until a patient can get their other lifestyle issues under control. Only in rare instances to people truly have a “genetic” reason to use medication and even in these people, I believe that they shouldn’t be used. I realize that I just waffled! My reasoning is that as I stated above, cholesterol is not evil, what happens to it and other facets of health are what really matter. If I were one of these genetically predisposed people, perhaps being proactive and getting more activity (above what I recommend), eating right, supplementing, etc. would eliminate this from being an issue.
I want to take a brief look at the most popular form of Cholesterol lowering medications sold in pharmacies-Statins. I truly think these drugs are E.V.I.L.. This category of medication works by inhibiting an enzyme in your liver that is needed to manufacture cholesterol. Why is this a problem? Whenever we mess with GOD’s creation, we are throwing other functions out of whack. What most of us don’t realize is that the body is an intricate roadmap of biochemistry. When we mess with one area, it will negative impact another. Take a look at a teeter-totter. Put a heavy kid on one side and a skinny kid on the other and they are out of balance. The same thing happens in your body, but in our case, the body has thousands of teeter-totters. In addition to messing with my normal biochemistry, we have the toxin factor of this category of medication. For fun, take a look at the published side effects for these drugs:
➢ Liver Problems (probably the biggest issue)
➢ Muscle pain and weakness (probably the most common side effect)
➢ Stomach Problems such as Diarrhea, Upset Stomach
➢ Joint Pain
➢ Diabetes (type 2)
➢ Decreased Immune Function
➢ Memory and cognitive issues
Next, take a look at how effective these medications are at truly preventing a heart attack. In order to do this, we need to not be deceived by the statistics. I learned in Pharmacy School to look at the effects (good or bad) of a drug versus the effects of the placebo. With regards to preventing a heart attack (one of the biggest “selling” points behind these types of medications, let’s take a look at some of the comments from www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/08_04/b4068052092994.htm which refers to a newspaper ad of a commonly prescribed statin drug here in the United States. This article points out that in the add the drug “reduces the risk of heart attack by 36%…in patients with multiple risk factors for heart disease.” The article goes on to point out the asterisk next to the 36% points out that this means “in a larger clinical study, 3% of patients taking a sugar pill or placebo had a heart attack compared to 2%” taking the medication. Translating these numbers, this means that the difference between placebo and drug was 1 person out of every 100 participants. Translating even further, during the 3 plus years of studying the impact of this statin drug, 2 out of 100 people had heart attacks versus 3 out of every 100 using a placebo. I might be slow sometimes, but if I look at this another way, the drug really isn’t doing much compared to doing nothing at all??? Why would I want to poison my body with something that will have little effect at decreasing my chances of heart attack? How can they legally sell drugs like this? Seriously! If I had a cleaning product that would only get the mold and mildew off of your shower 3 percent of the time, would you buy it? If you were buying tires for your car and heard that there was a brand that would prevent a flat 1 time out of a 100 more than another brand but may also cause you to steer into a wall once in awhile, would you buy them? This is insanity to me.
These are not good odds if you are a gambler. Would you walk up to a slot machine and put your money in it if you knew you had a 1 in 100 chance of winning (well, some of you would-you buy lottery tickets with worse odds than this example)? I often get frustrated with the term treatment. Treatment to me means if I take this medication, my condition will go away and I won’t have to use the medication any longer (like an antibiotic-you take it for your infection and your infection goes away). The drugs used for cholesterol and hypertension has to be continually taken to get results. How is this a “treatment”? Don’t forget that the whole time you are using these medications; you are opening yourself up to other health issues either caused directly by the medication or indirectly by other biochemical implications.
What else don’t I like about Statins?
Statins are known do deplete your body of Coenzyme Q10 (my favorite antioxidant in the list mentioned earlier). CoQ10 (ubiquinone) is a substance manufactured by your body that is considered one of the more important protective compounds in your body’s fight against heart disease. Doesn’t this seem counterproductive to you? I take a medication that is supposed to lower my risk of heart disease, yet it increases my risk somewhere else. Not sound medicine to me…and hopefully not to you either.
WOW, can you feel the heat coming out of my collar?
Back to my original comment about needing to understand HDL, LDL and Triglycerides
HDL (High-Density Lipoprotein) is the “good” cholesterol that helps to keep cholesterol away from your arteries and remove any excess from arterial plaque. A healthy level of HDL may also protect against heart attack and strokes. If we have enough “good” cholesterol, then the other numbers really don’t mean much to me. Actually, when you read the section on CRP and Homocysteine, you will see that I think that cholesterol testing is a bunch of garbage.
LDL (Low-Density Lipoprotein) is considered the “bad” cholesterol in your blood and, according to conventional thinking, may build up in your arteries, forming plaque that makes your arteries narrow and less flexible (increasing blood pressure and perhaps leading to heart attacks and stroke). So having low LDL is ideal here.
Also making up your total cholesterol count are Triglycerides. Increased levels of this dangerous fat have been linked to heart disease and diabetes. Triglyceride levels are known to rise from eating too much refined grains and sugars, being physically inactive, smoking cigarettes, drinking alcohol excessively and being overweight or obese. Again, low triglycerides would be the goal for optimal health.
Some Natural Solutions
Let your food be your medicine and your medicine be your foods…here are some simple food additions with science showing they help lower cholesterol levels:
Black tea (make sure it is not sweetened with sugar)- Flavonoids found in black tea are a major source of antioxidants that prevent the oxidation of LDL cholesterol (that leads to plaque formation on artery walls). Studies show drinking black tea daily you can reduce your blood cholesterol by up to 11 percent in as little as three months.
Eat more Veggies: Results from a Stanford University study show that sticking to a plant-based diet rich in phytochemicals for just four weeks can reduce total LDL cholesterol faster than consuming a standard low-fat diet. The ideal plant-based diet for those with high cholesterol is one that has a low glycemic load and is high in fiber and healthy fats.
Beans, Beans Good for the Heart: The silly song is really true, besides wheat bran there’s actually no other food more fiber-rich than beans that are especially high in cholesterol lowering fiber. Eating 1 cup of any type of beans a day (especially kidney, navy, pinto, chickpea or butter beans) can lower cholesterol by as much as 10 percent in six weeks. Beans are a good protein replacement for fatty meats and starchy foods like potatoes and rice that can send your triglyceride count soaring, elevating your total cholesterol levels. If you don’t like how this silly song ends, try white kidney beans in supplement form for an added benefit. Multiple studies prove that a specific white kidney bean extract called Phase 2 has been proven to help your body block up to 65 percent of unwanted starches without gastric distress. Phase 2 is one of my go-to supplements for weight loss and now has risen to the top of my supplements for cholesterol concerns for those who consume starchy foods on a regular basis.
Garlic: It’s the herb that has been used for thousands of years for heart health. Ancient Egyptians may have eaten garlic for stamina but in modern times studies prove it can lower cholesterol, prevent blood clots and stop artery-clogging plaque at its earliest stage by keeping individual cholesterol particles from sticking to artery walls.
Dark Chocolate: Lowering cholesterol can also be a little indulgent especially if you splurge on dark or bittersweet chocolates. Compared to milk chocolate they have three times as many flavonoid antioxidants that work to keep blood platelets from sticking together, which may even help keep your arteries unclogged. However you must part with your love for white chocolate, which has no flavonoids at all.