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Cholesterol PDF Print E-mail


I recently had my annual check-up with a respected endocrinologist. This entailed blood tests which included things like a full lipogram (cholesterol and triglycerides), hormones and a few other inflammatory markers.

Over the past nine months I has adjusted my diet to include more 'good' fats as I had come to the realisation that I was not consuming enough of this four-letter word. I still avoided most dairy products (except for butter from grass-fed cows and aged cheeses). I increased my consumption of coconut oil, avocado's and nuts, especially macadamia nuts.So it came as no surprise when my total cholesterol came back in the 7's. However, the Dr who ordered the tests was most concerned and was starting to mutter about statin's when I stopped him in his tracks. He never once bothered to ask me why I thought that my cholesterol had risen by 3mmol/L since my last blood test.

This knee-jerk reaction by most health-care professionals is quite common and many of us will follow the recommedations of the person 'in the know', however it really is up to us to empower ourselves with knowledge so that we can avoid having to take drugs whose side-effects are a lot worse than the actual condition that they are supposedly 'treating'. And even if for argument's sake I did start taking statins and I do have a heart-attack, the doctor in question is still not going to take responsibility for my wretched state is he? 

So at the risk of getting too technical, I will attempt to simplify the Lipogram profile. Total cholesterol is split between LDL (low density lipoprotein) and HDL (high density lipoprotein). The LDL fraction is the one that the doctor's get all excited about as this is the one that has the tendency to clog your arteries. Then there are the triglycerides. When you eat, your body converts any calories it doesn't need to use right away into triglycerides. The triglycerides are stored in your fat cells. Later, hormones release triglycerides for energy between meals. If you regularly eat more calories than you burn, particularly "easy" calories like carbohydrates and hydrogenated fats, you may have high triglycerides (hypertriglyceridemia). Excess insulin has been shown to increase triglyceride levels; lowering insulin will lower these levels. 

However, this is where things become more complex. The LDL cholesterol fraction comprises of four different 'types' of lipoprotein. Three parts are made up of small dense LDL (sdLDL) that vary in 'smallness' and the remaining one consists of large buoyant, 'fluffy' LDL particles. This is SIGNIFICANT as the smaller size and density of the sdLDL are the ones with the tendency to cause plaques in the arteries while the big fluffy LDL particles float around in the blood and are not known to have any adverse effects. But here's the problem: The typical LDL test doesn't distinguish between large and small LDL particles  And people can have mostly large LDL or mostly small LDL in their total LDL, depending upon a host of genetic, lifestyle, and environmental factors. Your own personal mix may make all the difference between living to a heart-healthy old age and becoming a Monday-morning casualty at your desk.

So what is a person to do? If, like me, your total cholesterol is higher than the 'professionals' would have us believe, you may request a test that measures the sdLDL fraction within the total LDL. But it's unfortunately not that simple either. Your result may come back (as mine did) saying that my sdLDL is too high as it is calculated according to what conventional health care (a true oxymoron if ever there was one) believes to be the 'right' number. You have to calculate the percentage of sdLDL of the total LDL. Thus my total LDL was 4.8 mmol/L and the sdLDL came back at 1.3 mmol/L; thus the sdLDL is 27% of my total LDL. The percentage of sdLDL should be in the region of 30% so my 'bad' cholesterol is actually very good!

Now that I've completely confused you. I'd like to share a study with you that was conducted by the Texas Heart Institute that will blow your mind. Our health care providers would have us believe that a high cholesterol reading is 'bad' and they will paint a picture of terrible things to come and you are so scared of these portents that you succumb to using statins and thus making Pfizer even wealthier. Here's the thing. You have now learned that only the sdLDL has been linked to heart disease. And guess what - this study shows that statins have absolutely NO EFFECT on sdLDL. All they do is lower total cholesterol so in three months' time when you have another blood test your doctor gloats at how he has potentially saved your life as your 'bad' cholesterol (serum LDL) is now lower. True story!

Thanks to some brave individual's out there (Tim Noakes you are one of them) the truth is slowly coming to light. However it is unlikely that it will ever become mainstream knowledge as it is not within many stake-holder's interests to reveal the truth. There is far too much money to be made and far too much face to be saved.

But that's not all, I haven't even gotten to the triglyceride fraction of the lipogram. I mentioned that this is a measure of the amount of circulating fats in your blood. The lower the number, the better. High triglyceride levels may lead to heart disease, especially in people with low levels of HDL cholesterol and high levels of sdLDL cholesterol, and in people with type 2 diabetes. 

Some of the confusion stems from the fact that high triglycerides have a tendency to appear with other risk factors. We do know that a low level of good cholesterol is a risk factor for heart disease. We also know that blood tests for triglycerides can show some variability

Mention the word cholesterol and most folk have a heart attack! The majority of people whom have consulted with me over the past few years have been led to believe that cholesterol is a bad thing that enters the body when we consume fatty foods. They envisage the fat being transported via the blood where it clogs up the arteries like cold bacon fat in the kitchen sink.

Most folk do not realise that cholesterol is in fact made in our own bodies and is an integral substance for good health. It is not some exogenous parasitic sludge that pollutes our systems when we eat fatty food.

The public has become so frightened about cholesterol that most people believe it should be avoided like the plague. Even in casual conversation, people say things like, I can feel the cholesterol clogging my arteries while I eat this!! But cholesterol is not a devil. It is, in fact, essential to life. Cholesterol does not cause heart disease, and some experts have even gone so far as to say that the more cholesterol-containing foods people eat, the healthier they become!

The truth is that the incidence of heart disease has not declined, despite a decrease in fat intake. The most recent studies indicate that total dietary fat has no relation to heart disease risk, that monounsaturated fats (like olive oil) actually lower risk of cardiovascular disease, and that man-made trans-fatty acids (the type of fats in margarine) are the fats that are the "baddies".

Yet The Official Opinion continues to be supported by agencies and medical groups. There only can be two logical reasons for this. Some supporters apparently dont know The Official Opinion is not based on proof, and the rest of them have so much time and ego (or money) invested in supporting the low fat myth that they cant let it go.

Frightening The Public

Although The Official Opinion is weakening, and there is a lessening of the propaganda that all fats are bad, we still constantly hear about cholesterol. Just last night I saw an advert on TV about the "silent killer" and that the higher your serum cholesterol level measures over 5mmol/L are, the higher your risk for heart disease becomes. In fact I was one of the people who believed this drivel as I'd worked for Pfizer, the company who developed Lipitor, a cholesterol lowering drug which came to be the top earning drug of all times!!

Both my parents had high cholesterol levels and my father had a triple bypass. Thus I bought into the brainwashing that a diet high in fat led to heart disease as at that time it made a lot of sense. The studies that Pfizer used to 'prove' the relationship between high cholesterol and heart disease seemed airtight (thanks to the previous groundwork of Ancel Keys - the father of the diet-heart hypothesis). In general a researcher always has a choice of which studies to select and which to reject in working towards a hypothesis. In this process, it's hard to overcome the essentially human instinct to select only those observations that conveniently support one's own hypothesis while rejecting those that do not. In an ideal situation, a scientist must always try to disprove his or her own hypothesis. Or as Karl Popper described "The method of science is the method of bold conjectures and ingenuous and severe attempts to refute them".

Thus at the age of thirty I consulted a cardiologist as I needed to be sure that I wasn't going to keel over in the midst of an adventure race because my cholesterol was considered 'high' at 6mmol/L and according to accepted wisdom I was a genetic time bomb. Many years later I applaud the cardiologist I saw for his advice was that every person has a base cholesterol level that is 'normal' for them and as long as it doesn't fluctuate too much (either way I might add), that there's no reason for concern. Thus I was spared from being another victim of big pharma's clutches.

The irony is that through the years I've watched my parents becoming more unwell, despite their now "low" cholesterol levels. Part of the reason is because they never changed their lifestyle- why would they if all they needed to do was to swallow a magic pill every day which 'cured' them of their high cholesterol. They didn't care what caused the sky-high levels as long as they had a cure.

Their consumption of bread and pasta never changed and who could blame them for the culprit as weve been told is steak and eggs right? Thus their blood glucose levels kept rising at the same rate that their cholesterol levels were declining. However, their physician's view is that blood sugar disorders and diabetes can be controlled whereas most heart attacks are fatal. One can't argue with that. Or can you?


Where Is Cholesterol Found?

Cholesterol is a substance found in animal fats, blood, nerve tissue, and bile. It is not found in any plant foods. Cholesterol is important for the structure of cell membranes throughout the body. It is vital to keep the membranes intact and permeable so that nutrients can pass into the cells, and waste products can leave them. When people radically restrict their cholesterol intake to the point that there is not enough cholesterol to repair and build tissue, cell growth is disrupted. Although there is not yet any proof, it is thought by some that a deficiency of cholesterol might contribute to certain cancers because cancer is a type of abnormal cell division.


What Does Cholesterol Do,

And What Happens If We Dont Get Enough Dietary Cholesterol?

Cholesterol is important to maintain normal hormone production and proper functioning of the immune system. It is part of the substance of Vitamin D, it is part of the make-up of the sex hormones in both men and women, and it is crucial to the manufacture of the important anti-stress factor, cortisol. Cholesterol is essential for nerve transmission and for brain function, and it is possible that it protects against multiple sclerosis. But here is the major evidence that cholesterol is not a devil, but is absolutely required: our own bodies will produce cholesterol if we do not eat enough of it in our diets. Cholesterol that is eaten in foods is regulated by the body, thus dietary cholesterol doesnt contribute to excess cholesterol production in the body, since it does not stimulate insulin production! But, there is no mechanism for turning off the internal manufacture of cholesterol from carbohydrates when the person is following a low fat, high carbohydrate diet. High levels of carbohydrates mean more insulin production; more insulin with the high carbohydrates means more enzyme for excess internal cholesterol production. The only successful way to shut down the enzyme that triggers the excess cholesterol production is to eat cholesterol-containing foods.

In other words, when people restrict their dietary cholesterol and force their bodies to manufacture their own cholesterol, their bodies will make more than is needed, and this is especially true when carbohydrates make up a large percentage of their diets. Consequently, the way to be certain that you will have the type of high blood cholesterol that may result in serious heart problems and blood vessel disease is to eat a low fat/low cholesterol and high carbohydrate diet.


Cholesterol Levels That Are Too Low Can Be Dangerous

It is also becoming clear that low cholesterol levels are not a good thing. In Japan, doctors point to very low blood cholesterol as a cause of stroke. And when investigators tracked all deaths, instead of just heart disease deaths, they found that while men with very high cholesterol levels tended to die prematurely from heart disease and related conditions, men with low levels (below 4.1 mmol/L) tended to die prematurely from cancer, and both respiratory and digestive diseases. Then, to make everything a little more complicated, in the case of women, it appeared that the higher their cholesterol was, the longer they lived.

Now, these study results can be interpreted in two ways. The interpretation preferred by low fat advocates is that the studies arent meaningful at all. They claim that the excess deaths at low cholesterol levels must be due to pre-existing conditions and that chronic illness leads to low cholesterol levels, not the other way around. But the argument that the other conditions are pre-existing and are just coincidentally associated with low cholesterol levels leaves open the equally likely argument that heart disease is just coincidentally associated with high cholesterol levels, and that heart disease leads to high cholesterol levels, not the other way around.

However, the more likely interpretation of the effects of low cholesterol levels is that whatever a low fat diet does to blood cholesterol levels is only one factor of the low fat diets effect on general health. In other words, while a low fat diet might help prevent heart disease, it might also raise susceptibility to other disease conditions.

A study by Framingham (a name given to a study named after a town in Massachusetts USA, where an ongoing long-term cardiovascular study on the residents of the town has been performed since 1948) in the late1980's concluded that for men and women with cholesterol between 5.3mmol/L and 6.8mmol/L no relationship between these numbers and heart disease risks could be found. In fact half of the people who had heart attacks had cholesterol levels below the "normal" level of 5.7mmol/L. However because the Framingham leaders had been trumpeting total cholesterol as the best possible risk factor for heart disease for so many years, they did not take great pains to publicize these weaker follow up numbers.



Based on this information, it is almost impossible for the American Heart Association and National Health Institute to admit that they have been wrong for the past half a century. And because our health system emulates that of the United States, it would be just as difficult to change the minds of many of the South African doctors, not to mention the vested interests by the pharmaceutical industry to keep perpetuating this lie. However, the information is out there for those willing to stand up and take responsibility for their health. There are many books and a growing body of evidence to support the fact that dietary cholesterol does not lead to heart disease and prove how we have been hood winked for all these years. And the information is not just written by quacks, but by medical professionals who have published their data in respected journals like the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (AJCN). This doesnt however mean that we must throw caution to the wind and start stuffing our faces with bacon moderation remains the key to any sensible eating plan. I still maintain that an entire variety of foods can be enjoyed without omitting any food groups provided that we stick to the principal of eating only food that is close to its original state as possible, is natural or organic, is seasonal and is compatible with your body (food intolerances manifest in many different forms).