Cholesterol Myths Busted…..
It is national cholesterol month so I thought I would share an article I wrote a couple of years ago when working with a heart health company, Cardiomato.
Myth - Cholesterol is bad for us.
Actually Cholesterol is needed for almost every function in the human body, from nerve and brain function to digestion and cell health. It is present in every cell membrane, helping to maintain structure and stability, and also helps repair cells and tissues. Our bodies produce up to 1g a day of cholesterol to help synthesise hormones, assisting in the production of hormones such as oestrogen, progesterone, testosterone and cortisol. Cholesterol is also vital for brain function, in fact 60% of our brain is made up of fat and cholesterol. It also helps us to digest fat and convert sunlight to vitamin D, which in turns help to lower blood pressure.
Myth – A diet rich in saturated fats causes cholesterol and heart disease
Actually only 20% of our cholesterol comes from our food, the rest is produced by our liver. Contrary to the advice issued by some health professionals and charities, we are now realising that a diet rich in saturated fats does not actually cause heart disease. In fact, the whole basis of this recommendation was generated by Dr Ancel Keys, who wanted to prove that a high fat diet increased the incidence of heart disease. However, this research was fundamentally flawed and no link was proven[SF1] . In fact, since we have opted for a low fat diet, we have seen a dramatic increase in cancer, obesity, fatty liver disease and diabetes. We are now aware that a diet rich in refined carbohydrates, sugars and processed food, leading to hyperinsulinemia, is the cause of most of our ill-health, rather than saturated fats. If you would like more information about this subject, I highly recommend following the work of Dr Aseem Malhotra, Dr Zoe Harcombe, Ivor Cummins, Dr David Unwin, Dr Jason Fung.
Myth – HDL and LDL are types of cholesterol
HDL (high density lipoproteins) and LDL (low density lipoproteins) are not cholesterol. They are the lipoproteins that carry the cholesterol around the body. They also carry triglycerides and phospholipids. HDL is considered the “good” kind of cholesterol transporter as this carries cholesterol out of the cells and back to the liver to be broken down or to the endocrine glands to be converted into hormones. LDL is considered the “baddie” as it transports from the liver to the cells, but really there is no such thing as good and bad, as our body needs cholesterol to function. If the cells have too much LDL, then the body tries to break it down, using Vitamin D, healthy bowel flora and digestive bile. There is also VLDL, which stands for very low density lipoproteins, which affectively mop up triglycerides and any leftover cholesterol from bile production, transporting it to the bloodstream. These VLDL then change to become IDL (intermediate density lipoprotein), which either get destroyed or converted into LDL.
Myth – Increased LDL means you are eating too much saturated fats
Old low-fat guidelines would have led you to believe that increased LDL levels indicate you are consuming too much saturated fats and need to opt for a better diet. LDL particles can be large or small, with the small ones linked to the damage. However, when you consume saturated fats, this changes the small LDL particles into large ones, in effect, making them safe. The role of cholesterol is to provide structure and support for cell walls so an increase in LDL can be due to the body trying to repair damaged endothelial cell walls. Increased levels could also be due to the body being unable to break down excess cholesterol (Familial hypercholesterolemia) which affects 1 in every 500. The liver also produces more cholesterol when we are stressed or suffering from ill-health and inflammation, which goes hand in hand with the increase in cortisol hormone.
Myth – High Cholesterol indicates a shorter life
In actual fact it is the opposite. A recent study published in the BMJ Open Journal found that 92 percent of elderly people with high cholesterol lived[SF2] longer. The Great Cholesterol Con by Dr Kendrick, makes fascinating reading with reference to many studies showing that reducing your cholesterol may in fact increase your risk of cardiovascular disease. There are other factors that cause us to have heart disease, such as looking at the role of triglycerides and what causes epidermal damage.
Myth – Blood tests are an accurate measure of my cholesterol levels.
We believe that blood tests can determine our cholesterol, particularly our LDL levels, however a blood test only accurately measures your HDL and cholesterol. The LDL is an estimate. The blood readings themselves can depend on a multitude of things – even down to having a test in the winter where excess cholesterol is not being used to convert Vitamin D from sunlight. As such, many health professionals now believe we should be focusing more on our levels of Triglycerides as an indicator of heart health.
Myth – All LDL Cholesterol is bad
LDL particles can be large or small. The large particles are pretty harmless, but the small particles are the most likely to become oxidised and cause health problems. Oxidised cholesterol is something we should pay attention to, but this is not measured in a blood test. Oxidised LDL cholesterol can cause inflammation in the arteries. Saturated fats can convert small LDL particles into large particles, so eating a diet full of healthy saturated fats, such as eggs, coconut oil and butter can be good for you. Oxidised LDL is also caused by free radicals so a diet rich in antioxidants, such as blueberries, pecans and walnuts and limiting exposure to processed foods, particularly trans fats is advised. It is also recommended that you avoid smoking and environmental pollutants. A study by Lycored, showed that Lycopene, reduced oxidised LDL as well as triglyceride levels.
Myth – Statins will reduce my high cholesterol
Statins reduce all cholesterol in the body, which having seen how vital cholesterol is for our general health, can lead to some terrible side effects. Medical experts believe that statins can help improve heart health and lower cholesterol, but there is mounting research to show that they can actually be detrimental to your health, promoting the calcification of the arteries, depleting Ubiquinol as well as being linked to a long list of worrying side effects. The Lancet reported that statins didn’t benefit anyone over 69 years of age and stated there was good evidence that they actually may hasten your death.
Myth – Eggs are really unhealthy
Eggs are actually little powerhouses of nutrients, including protein, healthy fat and essential nutrients. Eggs have been demonised for years, but the good news is they are now more popular than ever. Eggs are a good source of CoQ10 and L-carnitine, both of which are essential for heart health. They also contain selenium, B vitamins (B2, B6 and B12), zinc, iron and copper. Although eggs contain saturated fats and cholesterol, they actually help convert LDL particles from small (the most damaging) to large (safe). They also increase HDL. Naturally Omega 3-rich eggs (from organic free range chickens) can also help lower damaging triglycerides. The message is to eat real food in its natural state.
Take Control of Your Heart Health Naturally
· We now know Hyperinsulinemia is one of the biggest factors in heart disease. Reduce your consumption of sugars, refined carbohydrates, processed foods and trans fats and opt for a diet of Real Food, rich natural fats, proteins and moderate complex carbohydrates. This type of diet can help reduce inflammation and body acidity, which has a positive effect on our health, particularly heart health.
Stop smoking – Smoking is a major risk factor for heart disease. It damages the lining of the arterial walls, increasing your risk of strokes and heart attacks.
Watch the Calcium – Arterial plaque usually contains only about 3% cholesterol and up to 50% calcium. A calcium overload could be due to too much calcium in our diet or poor calcium supplementation (calcium carbonate is not a form the body can utilise). Good sources of calcium include green leafy vegetables, nuts and seeds as these are is a more usable source of calcium than dairy. In order to overcome the issue of high calcium levels, the body tries to break it down and expel it, by producing kidney and gall stones, calcification in the joints, and arterial plaque.
Magnesium – This is vital for heart health. The heart is a muscle which thrives on magnesium, helping the muscles relax. A meta-analysis of 7 studies[SF3] including over 240,000 participants showed that every 100mcg increase in magnesium intake reduced the risk of ischemic stroke by 8-9%. It is also needed to help with calcium absorption and placement. Include magnesium-rich foods in your diet such as green leafy vegetables, nuts and seeds. If choosing a supplement, opt for Magnesium Citrate as this is the most bioavailable form.
Exercise – Moderate exercise has been proven to significantly help heart health. Aim for 15-20 minutes a day to achieve this.
Vitamin D - Your body naturally regulates cholesterol with the aid of Vitamin D, Bowel Flora and Bile – if you have too little cholesterol in your diet your liver will actually produce more cholesterol. If you have too much, it will produce less cholesterol. Vitamin D helps to break cholesterol down and also acts as an anti-inflammatory. If you are unable to get at least 15 minutes of natural sun per day, you will benefit from taking a Vitamin D supplement, specifically Vitamin D3.
CoQ10, especially from the active form Ubiquinol, has shown significant reduction in LDL cholesterol (CoenzymeQ10 plays a vital role in the production of energy, which the heart requires to function effectively. Those taking Statins will see a dramatically lower plasma level of Ubiquinol, so it is important to supplement your diet by eating meat, eggs and fish, which contains high levels of CoQ10. A diet rich in antioxidants such as Lycopene, vitamin C, E and CoQ10, can protect us from oxidising LDL cholesterol which can contribute to arteriolosclerosis.
Bowel Flora – Good bowel flora not only boosts the immune system and aids digestion, it also helps to break down unwanted cholesterol, preventing it from being reabsorbed, so it is vital to keep a good healthy bowel. Stress, ill-health and poor diet can upset your natural bowel flora, so opt for a good quality probiotic to keep your gut healthy and balanced.
Lycopene – This powerful antioxidant and plant sterol really packs a punch. Not only can it help lower cholesterol and high blood pressure, it can also help with arteriosclerosis by supporting the endothelial cells. Lycopene helps increase the flexibility of the arteries and the sensitivity of blood vessels to nitric oxide, which is a powerful vasodilator, helping increase blood flow and flexibility of the blood vessel walls. Nitric Oxide also helps prevent fatty deposits sticking to the arterial walls.
Chlorella – A[SF4] study in Korea where patients were given 5mg of chlorella per day for 4 weeks, alongside a placebo group showed that those taking Chlorella saw a decrease in total cholesterol, triglycerides, non-HDL cholesterol and apolipoprotein B – the carrier molecule for LDL cholesterol. Chlorella is also packed with antioxidants which helps to reduce inflammation and repair damage.
Fish oil –This has been shown to lower triglycerides, helping to prevent cardiovascular disease. – in fact, studies have shown Krill oil, a premium bioavailable phospholipid form of omega 3 essential fatty acids, works far better for heart health than standard fish oils. Fish oil is also a great anti-inflammatory.
Vitamin E – Reduces LDL oxidation and increases plasma LDL breakdown as well as increasing HDL levels and improving endothelial cell function. Studies have shown Vitamin E can significantly reduce your risk of heart attack or stroke. In fact in a study Participants who took 100iu of vitamin E a day reduced their risk of heart disease by 41%. The best form of Vitamin E for heart health is D-alpha tocopherol.
[SF3]Larsson SC, Orsini N, Wolk A. Am J Clin Nutr. 2012 Feb;95(2):362-6 MB.
Dietary magnesium intake and risk of stroke: a meta-analysis of prospective
[SF4]Hee Ryu et al (2014) Impact of daily Chlorella supplementation on serum lipid and carotenoid profiles in mildly hypercholesterolemic adults: a double blin, randomized placebo controlled study. Nutrition Journal vol 13 (57)