When you think about cholesterol, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? If you’re like most Americans, it’s probably something negative, like heart disease or giving up eggs for breakfast to keep yours low.
Are you worried about your cholesterol unnecessarily? Lowering your cholesterol is NOT always a good thing …
But there’s something important you should know, and that is the fact that cholesterol is not a “bad” word … nor is it a “bad” substance in your body. Also, eating eggs isn’t what’s behind your high cholesterol.
In fact, your body produces about 80 percent of the cholesterol it needs naturally; it is that important to your health and survival.
Your body depends on cholesterol to produce cell membranes, hormones like estrogen and testosterone, vitamin D and the bile acids your body needs to digest fat. Your brain needs cholesterol to function properly, as does your immune system, and if a cell becomes damaged, it needs cholesterol in order to be repaired.
Further, making excess cholesterol is actually your body’s response to inflammation, which it does to help heal and repair your cells.
Unfortunately, many Americans are under the mistaken impression that all cholesterol is bad, but in reality cholesterol is good for your body and necessary for you to live.
HDL Cholesterol: A Shining Star for Your Health
You’ve probably heard by now that there are two types of cholesterol: the good “HDL” (high-density lipoprotein) cholesterol and the bad “LDL” (low-density lipoprotein) variety.
Most Americans focus on reducing LDL cholesterol as a key part of their treatment regimen, but what you may actually want to focus on is raising your good cholesterol. Research shows that having too little good cholesterol is at least as damaging when it comes to heart disease as having too much of the bad kind, and it may even be more damaging.
In fact, in people with heart disease, the most common cholesterol problem is too little HDL. That’s because HDL cholesterol works to remove LDL cholesterol from the arteries. This is true even among people with normal total and LDL cholesterol levels … if your HDL is too low, it increases your risk of heart disease.
When HDL levels are increased, a little goes a long way. It’s estimated that for every 1 mg/dl increase in HDL cholesterol, there is a 2 percent to 4 percent decrease in your risk of coronary heart disease.
The Risks of Low Cholesterol
Given the benefits of raising your HDL cholesterol, it begs the question, what happens when your cholesterol goes too low? Unfortunately, many people and their health care providers are so focused on keeping total cholesterol levels down that they lose sight of this important point — low cholesterol levels are dangerous.
Among the numerous health conditions that can occur if your cholesterol levels go too low are:
- Preterm birth or low birth weight if you have low cholesterol during pregnancy
Low cholesterol levels have also been linked to changes in brain chemistry that lead to increased risk of suicide, violent behavior and aggression. And a study published in the Journal of Psychiatric Research found that when your cholesterol levels are too low and combined with another health condition like depression, it raises your risk of dying prematurely from unnatural causes (suicide, drug overdose, unintended injury, etc.) by seven times.
Among the elderly, low cholesterol levels are also known to increase death rates rather than decrease them. In one such study, those between the ages of 65 and 98 with the lowest levels of total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol were about twice as likely to die as those with the highest levels, leading researchers to conclude that:
“Low cholesterol level is a robust predictor of mortality in the non-demented elderly and may be a surrogate of frailty or subclinical disease.”
Cholesterol and Heart Disease: Another Deception?
It’s a widely held medical dogma in the United States that eating saturated fats causes high cholesterol, which in turn causes heart disease.But the “lipid hypothesis” (aka the “diet-heart hypothesis”), the one that claims foods high in saturated fats drive up your cholesterol levels, which clog your arteries and lead to heart disease, is actually seriously flawed.
In his book The Cholesterol Myths, Uffe Ravnskov, MD, PhD explained that Ancel Keys, who performed the study upon which the Lipid Hypothesis is based, used cherry-picked data to prove his point that countries with the highest intake of animal fat have the highest rates of heart disease.
Dr. Ravnskov revealed that the countries used in the study were handpicked, and those that did NOT show that eating a lot of animal fat lead to higher rates of heart disease were left out of the study, leading to entirely skewed, and faulty, data.
One recent study even found that there is no association between eating saturated fat (which is supposed to drive up cholesterol levels) and heart disease. The authors wrote:
“According to the classic ‘diet-heart’ hypothesis, high intake of SFAs [saturated fats] and cholesterol and low intake of PUFAs [polyunsaturated fats] increase serum cholesterol levels and risk of CHD [coronary heart disease].
However, few within-population studies have been able to demonstrate consistent associations with any specific dietary lipids, with the exception of trans fats and omega –3 fatty acids.
The available evidence from Cohort and randomized controlled trials is unsatisfactory and unreliable to make judgment about and substantiate the effects of dietary fat on risk of CHD … There is probably no direct relation between total fat intake and risk of CHD.”
The Weston A. Price Foundation also states in their “Myths and Truths About Cholesterol”:
“Many studies show no relationship between diet and cholesterol levels; there is no evidence that saturated fat and cholesterol-rich food contribute to heart disease. As Americans have cut back on saturated fat and cholesterol-rich foods, rates of heart disease have gone up.”
When is Your Cholesterol Really High?
Cholesterol-lowering drugs known as statins are among the most commonly prescribed drugs in the United States, but an increasing number of experts believe they may be widely overused.
Also, statins are known to block the production of important nutrients in your body, including CoQ10, which is beneficial to heart health and muscle function. If CoQ10 levels become depleted, which is common in those who take statin drugs, it can actually cause heart failure.
Even if you’re taking natural red yeast rice to lower cholesterol, you should be aware that CoQ10 depletion is still a problem. Red yeast rice reduces cholesterol synthesis by suppressing the HMG-CoA reductase enzyme, although more subtly than statin medications. Because CoQ10 is synthesized in the body via this same pathway, those taking red yeast rice long term should consider taking RYR with coenzyme Q10 added which are available only from your health care practitioner.
How do you know when your cholesterol levels may be too high, and when are they actually just fine for your health?
The American Heart Association states, “About half of American adults have levels that are too high (200 mg/dL or higher) and about 1 in 5 has a level in the high-risk zone (240 mg/dL or higher).”
But according to lipid biochemistry expert Mary Enig, PhD in the Weston A. Price Foundation quarterly magazine:
“Blood cholesterol levels between 200 and 240 mg/dl are normal. These levels have always been normal. In older women, serum cholesterol levels greatly above these numbers are also quite normal, and in fact they have been shown to be associated with longevity.
Since 1984, however, in the United States and other parts of the western world, these normal numbers have been treated as if they were an indication of a disease in progress or a potential for disease in the future.”
What this means is that many Americans may be taking statin cholesterol-lowering drugs unnecessarily, believing their cholesterol is dangerously high when it is not.
According to some renowned Doctors, ” … Total cholesterol level is just about worthless in determining your risk for heart disease, unless it is above 330.” So rather than looking at total cholesterol to determine your heart disease risks, many Doctors recommend instead using your HDL/Cholesterol ratio and your Triglyceride/HDL ratio.
The Weston A. Price Foundation agrees that total cholesterol is typically a poor predictor of heart disease risk unless it is in the mid-300s, stating:
“Young and middle-aged men with cholesterol levels over 350 are slightly more at risk for heart attacks. Those who have cholesterol levels just below 350 are at no greater risk than those whose cholesterol is very low. For elderly men and for women of all ages, high cholesterol is associated with a longer lifespan.”
This is important information to keep in mind before you consider taking statin drugs to lower your cholesterol, as often they may not be necessary (and a review published in the American Journal of Cardiovascular Drugs found nearly 900 studies of adverse effects linked to the drugs, so they should be used only when absolutely necessary).
A Healthy Lifestyle Leads to Healthful Cholesterol Levels
A healthy lifestyle is key in order to keep your cholesterol levels in the correct balance to promote health. Remember, this does not necessarily mean lowering them, but rather keeping them in an optimal range for you. Often, this is best done by lowering inflammation levels.
Remember, your body tends to make more cholesterol naturally when it’s in a chronically inflamed state. What causes the underlying inflammation?
Inflammation is often due to poor diet and the consumption of processed foods or lack of live healthy raw foods. For instance, if you eat a lot of fast food, you probably have increased inflammation levels, as pro-inflammatory foods include sugar, soda, alcohol, bread, trans fats and red meat.
Inflammation is a problem because when your body is in a chronic state of inflammation, the inflammation can lodge in your muscles, joints and tissues. In fact, chronic inflammation is a leading cause of many diseases, both physical and neurological, including heart disease. High cholesterol, on the other hand, may be just a symptom of high inflammation.
To help reduce inflammation in your body, and thereby influence your cholesterol levels in a positive way:
- Eat a healthy diet with plenty of raw fruits and vegetables. Avoid processed foods and buy whole foods whenever possible. Fast food should be only a very occasional indulgence, or not on your diet plan at all, and raw foods should make up a regular part of your meals.
- Exercise regularly
- Don’t smoke
- Manage stress in your life and take time for relaxation
- Limit alcohol
- Detox regularly. There is some evidence that heart disease (and other chronic illnesses) are caused or exacerbated by an accumulation of heavy metals and other toxins in your body.Natural detox products can help you to clean your body of toxic metals and other poisons. Ask at your next appointment what would be best for your specific health condition.
- Support your health with specific high-quality supplements. If you need extra help keeping your bad (LDL) cholestol levels in check, try a natural supplement such as ones that contain a phytosterol mixture from the non-GMO tall oil of the coniferous pine tree with significant LDL cholesterol lowering properties that the FDA allows cholesterol lowering claims with the assertion that it may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease. Ask at your next appointment which supplements could be best for you.
If you’re concerned about your cholesterol levels or other risk factors for heart disease, don’t hesitate to make an appointment to help you develop a lifestyle-based approach to getting, and staying, well.