A January 2009 study published in the American Heart Journal found that nearly three out of four patients hospitalized for a heart attack had total cholesterol levels in the “normal” range of 200 or less. Some of them were taking statins to lower their cholesterol, and some of them had naturally low cholesterol. Basically, the statins weren’t preventing heart attacks from happening, and neither was low cholesterol.
So why then is cholesterol a focus when it comes to overall health?
What Is Cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a waxy substance, technically a sterol, that is an important constituent of cell membranes. The vast majority of cholesterol in the body is made in the liver, while the rest is absorbed from the diet. Cholesterol is the basic raw material that your body uses to make vitamin D, sex hormones, and bile acids (chemicals needed for digestion). The theory that fat and cholesterol cause heart disease became widely accepted despite much evidence to the contrary.
Cholesterol travels in particles called lipoproteins, the most common of which are high-density lipoproteins (HDL) and low-density lipoproteins (LDL). HDL is the smallest of the lipoprotein particles and enables the transportation of triglycerides through the bloodstream. It also utilizes and excretes LDL form the body by delivering it to the liver; this is why HDL is referred to as the “good” cholesterol. An increased level of HDL is protective against cardiovascular disease, while lower levels of HDL raise your risk of heart disease. An HDL of 70 mg/DL or higher will give you the biggest benefits for your cardiovascular health. LDL cholesterol is referred to as the “bad” cholesterol. It is actually a combination of two primary types: the large, fluffy Pattern A and the small, dense Pattern B.
What If You Have Been Told All the Wrong Things
All of us have been told that, in order to avoid heart disease and heart attacks, we need to keep our cholesterol levels in check. A low-fat diet that avoids saturated fats, eggs, and animal fats and is high in carbohydrates is recommended to lower cholesterol and protect us from heart disease. However, our body only absorbs 15% of the cholesterol we eat, while the other 85% is excreted; therefore, the cholesterol we consume has little to do with the cholesterol levels in our bloodstream.
Doctors, media, and those making nutritional recommendations to the public have wrongfully demonized saturated fat. Saturated fat raises “good” (HDL) cholesterol and tends to change the pattern of your “bad” (LDL) cholesterol to the more favorable pattern A (big, fluffy particles). Several recent studies have shown that saturated fat is not associated with a greater risk for heart disease. One study from Harvard concluded, “Greater saturated fat intake is associated with less progression of coronary atherosclerosis, whereas carbohydrate intake is associated with a greater progression.” There is no evidence that supports a direct relationship between saturated fat and heart disease.
The True Cause of Heart Disease
The only time cholesterol is a problem is if it’s oxidized or damaged. Oxidized LDL cholesterol sticks to the lining of the arteries and begins the process of inflammation—THE TRUE CAUSE OF HEART DISEASE. Chronic inflammation is a significant component of virtually every single degenerative condition, especially heart disease, and it often flies under the radar with no obvious symptoms.
The number one dietary contributor to heart disease is sugar. Sugar contributes to inflammation in the artery walls. Processed carbohydrates and sugar increase triglycerides, which are an important and independent risk factor for heart disease.
Hypertension, high levels of triglycerides, and a high ratio of triglycerides to HDL are all better predictors of heart disease than cholesterol. Sugar raises every single one of these measures.
Leading a Heart Healthy Life
Eliminate: sugar, soda, processed carbs, trans fats, processed meats, soybean oil, and vegetable oils.
Eat more: wild salmon, grass-fed meat, vegetables, nuts, extra virgin olive oil (just don’t heat it), coconut oil, and avocados.
Reduce stress: meditate or practice deep breathing, express your emotions, play, cultivate intimacy & pleasure, and enjoy life!