Today I am [finally] tackling the issue of cholesterol...not with any finesse, I expect, but tackling all the same. Let me just put it out there in simple black and white that I am in no way an expert on this topic, but I've learned enough to know that we really need to be questioning our obsession with cholesterol as an easily definable issue, and we definitely should be thinking HARD before turning to statins, under any circumstances.
This post will be longish, and will be comprised of two parts: part one will be the quick five facts that will give you something to think about. Part two will be basically a spewing of info for you to think about, followed by a myriad of links for you to follow and do more of your own research. It will NOT be complete info on the topic because not only is the topic incredibly complex, but it is still in the process of being understood even by those who are questioning the conventional viewpoints on it. I am in no way telling you to defy your doctor "just because", but I do want to provide some info that can help you make more informed choices and do some thinking about what is really a pretty important topic.
- Cholesterol is not evil. It is not the arsonist who started the fire; it's the fireman who showed up to help fix the damage, and got blamed by association. Correlation is NOT causation, and in fact cholesterol is crucial for turning our sun exposure into Vitamin D, making all of our sex hormones, building our cell walls and helping them maintain their structural integrity, and it helps make bile for proper digestion. For a larger list of cholesterol benefits, please click through to this article, and scroll down to the "sidebar" list.
- LDL cholesterol is not necessarily bad. It's considered bad because it is the "vehicle" that transports cholesterol to the body, whereas HDL transports cholesterol to the liver for recycling and elimination. The problem with this is that if you view cholesterol as crucial to your body's functioning (which it is), then the job of LDL is no longer a bad thing. It's a balance-- LDL takes cholesterol where it's needed, and HDL cleans up extra and returns it to the liver.
- Dietary cholesterol does not affect blood cholesterol. Remember the egg/cholesterol scare? Totally irrelevant. Your liver produces as much cholesterol as your body needs, and that's regardless of your dietary intake. If your numbers are too high (and you need to realize that these ranges are not necessarily healthy in the first place), you might need to look at WHY your body thinks it needs so much cholesterol. Cholesterol soothes inflammation, which is why it's found at the site of arterial ruptures or tears. Inflammation is caused by too many things to count, but you can make a pretty good bet that the excess of sugar, acidic drinks (coffee and soda), and our lack of exercise (allowing acid to build up in our body), are huge culprits in our culture. Oh, and stress. :-) Lowering cholesterol via drugs only takes away our body's ability to help fix the problem, but it leaves the problem, leaving you vulnerable.
- A whopping 25% of your body's cholesterol levels are found in the brain. Our brain needs cholesterol, and if we drug our numbers into submission, you'll find all sorts of mental issues coming your way. One particularly well known statin is infamous for its side effects of drastic memory loss, because cholesterol literally help synapses form and function. In fact, the older we get, the more we need our cholesterol. I'm not saying statins are the only cause for issues like Alzheimers and dementia, but since statins are a multi-billion dollar industry and older folks are a lot of the market, there might seriously be some things to think about here. On top of this, cholesterol can function like an anti-oxidant, and naturally older folks have more need of this as their bodies break down.
- Cholesterol lowering drugs have no benefit to women of any age (although they have loads of downsides), and are only a help to men who are middle aged and have already had heart attacks. The reason statins are helpful to this small minority is more likely due to their ability to help thin the blood, since having had a heart attack means arterial clogs somewhere, and thinner blood can get through more easily. On top of this, statins not only reduce the production of cholesterol; they actually inhibit a bodily process that makes other beneficial things too, such as Coenzyme Q10, which is crucial to cellular functioning and the immune system, but more importantly for this discussion: your heart! Read about how important CoQ10 is to your heart health here.
Again, let me make ABUNDANTLY clear that this is just the tip of the information iceberg. This topic is so immense and complicated that despite having read several books and even more articles on it, I still feel completely inept to write even a basic post on it. I've been putting this post off for months because of it. It's a serious topic, so I don't want anybody making life choices based on this post, but I do hope that you'll be shocked enough with some of this info that you'll start digging, yourself.
If you're still with me, then here's a whole bunch more info, in no particular order.
Dietary cholesterol in the form of oxidized cholesterol can be problematic, because it introduces free radicals into your system. Oxidized cholesterol is found in powdered eggs and powdered milk, which themselves are found in a myriad of products, including liquid milk, box mixes, and protein powders.
Lower cholesterol has actually been associated with drastically higher cause of all deaths in several studies. This isn't the info you'll receive when you read statin literature; often statin studies can show a lowering of death due to one type of incident, such as heart disease, but those taking the statins have a drastically higher death rate from all other causes. As in, statins cause problems in your body that cause you to die more quickly from other issues. This is a trick of studies: since you died from something other than heart disease, the studies point out only the benefits (less people died of heart disease!) and ignore the other info (more people died sooner from problems caused by statins!). For a truckload of info on the fallacies of the studies that are behind the current cholesterol mentalities, check out this book.
I don't think we've gone into a super amount of detail on the issue of different types of fats, except to point out that saturated fats are not bad. Well, poly-unsaturated vegetable oils are NOT good for you. They're a man made product that are extremely inflammatory, never mind the nastiness that goes into producing them. So why do these oils seem to lower cholesterol? Well, leaving aside the fact that lowering cholesterol really shouldn't be your obsession, the reason that poly-un-sats lower cholesterol is because people eat them instead of saturated fats. Saturated fats are crucial for cell wall integrity, where they give the wall sturdiness but also flexibility. If the body doesn't have saturated fats to hold up cell walls with, they'll try to use poly-un-sat fats. But these fats are oils, and they don't have the ability to make a wall "stiff" enough. So the body shoves cholesterol into the cells to fill them up and make them sturdier. The result: blood levels of cholesterol go down. It's not a good thing, folks, even if this description is massively simplified.
The above book is one of the easier reads I've found about cholesterol. It's still a lot of science to wrap your head around, but it's pretty reader friendly, and very helpful. In addition to explaining the world of cholesterol, it also describes how to track info that's more relevant to your heart health than cholesterol numbers, such as if you have excessive arterial calcification. One of the components of this is excess calcium taken without the necessary Vitamin K2 (not K1) to help deposit it in proper places. This ends up causing arterial calcification (amongst other things) instead of stronger bones! K2 is found in pastured products, so pastured eggs, pastured butter, raw milk (to a minor extent since it's less concentrated), etc. My favorite source for it is a fermented butter/cod liver oil blend...we do work hard to get K2 in our diet via decent products, but it's just hard to measure. Plus, the vitamins A&D in the cod liver oil work synergistically with K2 as well as helping ward off winter blues, which I'm prone to. Check out this post for an overview of Vitamin K2.
For more resources, click the links and pictures below:
Benefits of High Cholesterol
Myths and Truths About Cholesterol
General articles on heart disease
Cholesterol and Health: Functions of Cholesterol
Cholesterol and Disease: Myths & Truths
"Why I've Ditched Statins For Good"- a vascular surgeon's story
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