“The doctor of the future will give no medication,
But will interest his patients in the care of the human frame, diet
And in the cause and prevention of disease.”
Like so many things in the world of “health”, cholesterol has become this confusing, mysterious substance. Cholesterol has been a concern because of its connection to cardiovascular disease, but not all cholesterol is dangerous. In fact, many of the cholesterol subtypes are important and without them, we would die. It’s not the fact that cholesterol subtypes are lipids that is the problem, rather, it is the particle size, shape and numbers of specific types that are concerning. We hear that there is “good” and “bad” cholesterol, but there are several to consider in each category and unless you know the tests to order and what to look for, your standard lipid panel will not give you the information you really need. By the way, there is no cholesterol in plant foods; Vegans are not consuming cholesterol from food and only receiving this important substance from what the body produces. Even coconut oil, which is high in saturated fat, does not contain any cholesterol.
The first number you generally see on a lipid panel is the total cholesterol result, and if it is over 200 mg/dl, your doctor will very likely pull out the prescription pad and want to put you on a Statin (cholesterol lowering) drug. This number, however, is so meaningless that they have eliminated it completely in countries like Japan because it doesn’t clarify the important subtypes individually. The pharmaceutical drug companies are making fortunes on drugs that are misleading, often lead by doctors who have a stake in these companies. Statin drugs do not lower cholesterol; they are powerful anti-inflammatory drugs and inflammation is one of the main culprits in heart disease, not cholesterol. (More on how to avoid heart disease in the next blog.)
Cholesterol is made primarily by the liver and found in every cell in our bodies. Why would we want to lower a substance already made by the body and found in every cell? Doesn’t that say something about the fact that we need it? In fact, the amount of cholesterol we consume in the food we eat is nothing compared to what our bodies already make. It is the substance used to make Vitamin D, and other important fat soluble hormones like Testosterone, Estrogen and Progesterone. Statin drugs taken to lower cholesterol can, for some people be dangerous and lead to uncomfortable side affects. Studies show that those with the lowest total cholesterol levels have more symptoms of dementia and die sooner than those with higher cholesterol levels. Europeans, on the other hand, have survived well for centuries eating healthy fat, wild fish and pasture raised meat on the Mediterranean diet, even with total Cholesterol numbers that would make some doctors faint.
According to Nina Teicholz, author of “The Big Fat Surprise: Why Butter, Meat and Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet”, the cholesterol phobia began with a scientist named Ancel Keys. Aside from his research on cholesterol and what he felt were the dangers of saturated fat in the diet, he was known for his development of the k-ration during World War II, a packaged “food” given to soldiers and named after him. Apparently, he was an aggressive character and an inaccurate scientist. He performed a famous study called “The Seven Countries Study,” defining the connection between saturated fat and cholesterol and the connection to heart disease. In truth, however, in order to twist the data to his liking, he apparently used twenty-two countries in his study, but ended his thesis with the seven countries that showed what he thought was correct, manipulating the data to his liking and, in so doing, changing the health of billions of people for generations. He was so convincing that the media jumped on his idea, putting him on the cover of Time magazine, while demonizing cholesterol. Pushing fear into the hearts of people eating bacon and eggs, throwing stones at Dr. Atkins and his work, the world began choosing margarine, an unhealthy trans fat, over butter. What began as a thought from a huckster that sounded pretty good, that saturated fat and cholesterol were what created stiff arteries leading to heart attacks, ended by making drug companies very rich and patients without the important nourishment needed from saturated fat. Margarine and other unhealthy trans fats and huge amounts of simple carbohydrates replaced real food from pasture raised animals, creating an epidemic of Type 2 Diabetes, Insulin Resistance and obesity.
“There is no evidence that supports a direct relationship between saturated fat and heart disease.”
-Stephen Sinatra, MD, cardiologist