In a recent study conducted by the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a huge majority of Americans (75 %) stated that they had their cholesterol levels monitored at least once in the last five years.
Despite the popularity of the cholesterol investigations among the patients, many individuals are not aware of the proper interpretation of the results. The saddest part is that most of them aren’t even choosing the right cholesterol tests at all.
A complete cholesterol test, for example, shows you nearly nothing about your health condition. What you actually need to comprehend is how much high-density lipoprotein (HDL) and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) you have and, beyond that, the size of the LDL particles.
If you are confused, it’s not your mistake. Cholesterol has been widely promoted as a causative agent of ischemic heart diseases for decades, and countless have diligently removed all cholesterol-rich foods (which are usually also nutrient-dense food items) from their nutrition as a result.
Others have decided to go for cholesterol-lowering statin medications at the direction of their physicians. More than one in four Americans over the age of 45 years take them, despite their endless list of side effects and questionable effectiveness.
But the genuine question is this: do you really need to be anxious about your deranged cholesterol levels?
Is cholesterol the real culprit that it’s portrayed to be, silently attacking the coronary arteries and putting you at high risk of heart attack? The answer is no, for most of the individuals. So let’s expose some of the most widely circulated cholesterol myths.
Top Cholesterol Myths Busted!
Myth no 1: Cholesterol Is a Bad Entity
Cholesterol is not essentially bad. If it were, your liver wouldn’t produce it (liver makes about 3/4 or more of your body’s cholesterol—that’s how valuable it is).
Many of the nutrient-dense foods are rich in saturated fats and cholesterol, yet cholesterol has been demonized since the early 1950s following the popularization of Ancel Keys’ flawed research.
In fact, cholesterol has many health benefits. It plays an important role in coordinating protein pathways involved in cell signaling and also regulate other cellular processes, for instance.
It’s already known that cholesterol plays an important role in building cell membranes, latest research also suggests that cholesterol also communicates with proteins inside the cells, adding even more importance. Your body is formed of trillions of cells that need to communicate with each other.
Cholesterol is the molecule that allows for these interactions to take place. For instance, it is the precursor for the formation of bile acids, so without adequate amounts of cholesterol, your digestive system can be negatively affected.
It also plays a crucial role in your brain, which comprises of about 25 percent of the cholesterol in your body. It is also essential for formation synapses. Synapses are the connections between the neurons, that enable you to think, learn new things, and form new memories.
Myth no 2: Cholesterol levels are dependent on your daily diet
This statement is false. The significant factor that influences the level of cholesterol is not the diet but heredity or Genetics. Your liver is meant to eliminate excess cholesterol from the body, but heredity plays a large part to determine your liver’s capacity to manage cholesterol to a normal level.
Take, for example, people with hereditary familial hypercholesterolemia. This is an ailment characterized by abnormally raised cholesterol, which tends to be resistant to lowering with lifestyle changes like diet and exercise.
Furthermore, eating nutrient dense cholesterol-rich foods is not something you should feel guilty about; they’re safe for you and will not derange your cholesterol levels as you may have been told. It’s calculated that only 20% of your blood cholesterol levels come from your diet.
One study of South Carolina adults discovered no association of blood cholesterol levels with the so-called “bad” dietary habits, such as eating red meat, animal fats, butter, egg yolks, whole milk, bacon, and cheese.
If you’re still concerned about the cholesterol in your diet, take a look at the recently released 2015 U.S. Dietary Guidelines. As recently as 2010, U.S. dietary guidelines outlined cholesterol-rich foods as “foods and food components to reduce.” They urged people to consume less than 300 milligrams (mg) of cholesterol per day, despite enough evidence that dietary cholesterol has very little to do with cholesterol levels in your body.
The modified guidelines have eventually removed this misguided suggestion, and they even added egg yolks to the list of recommended sources of protein.
The long-overdue change came at the advice of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC), which acknowledged what the science shows, which is that “cholesterol is not considered as a nutrient of concern for overconsumption.”
Myth No. 3: Everyone’s Cholesterol Level Should Be Identical
What is a normal cholesterol level? That depends. Despite what your physician may tell you, no hard and fast rule says everyone’s total cholesterol should be less than 200 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) and LDL less than 100 mg/dL.
Furthermore, this will tell you very little about your risk of heart disease. If your physician says that your cholesterol is high based on the conventional lipid profile, obtaining a complete picture is crucial—particularly if you have a family history of heart condition or other risk factors.
For starters, you can request for an NMR LipoProfile, which shows you the particle sizes of LDL cholesterol.
Large LDL particles are not dangerous. Only small dense LDL particles can potentially cause a problem, as they can squeeze through the lining of the heart vessels. If they oxidize, they can cause inflammation and damage.
Reputed organizations, such as the National Lipid Association (NLA), are beginning to shift their focus toward LDL particle number instead of total and LDL cholesterol to better calculate the heart disease risk in an individual. But it still has not hit the mainstream medicine.
Also, the following tests can provide you a far better evaluation of your heart disease risk than your total cholesterol alone:
HDL/Cholesterol ratio: HDL percentage is a very potent heart disease risk factor. Just divide HDL level by your total cholesterol. That percentage you get should ideally be more than 24 percent.
Triglyceride/HDL ratios: You can also do the same calculation with your triglycerides and HDL ratio. That percentage should ideally be less than
Fasting insulin level: Any meal or snack rich in carbohydrates like fructose and refined grains generates a rapid spike in blood glucose level and then insulin to counterbalance the rise in blood sugar.The insulin released by eating too many carbs boosts fat accumulation and makes it more challenging for your body to shed excess weight. Excess fat, especially around your belly, is one of the major contributors to heart disease.
Fasting blood sugar level: Studies have shown that people with a fasting blood sugar level of 100-125 mg/dl have nearly 300% increased the risk of having coronary heart disease than people with a level below 80 mg/dl.
Iron levels in blood: Iron can act as strong oxidative stress, so excess iron levels can damage your blood vessels and increase the risk of heart disease. Ideally, you should watch your ferritin levels and make sure they are not much more than 80 ng/ml.The easiest way to reduce iron stores if they are elevated is to donate blood. If that is not possible, you can have a therapeutic phlebotomy, and that will completely eliminate the excess iron from your body.
Myth No 4: Kids Cannot Have High Cholesterol
Children too can have high cholesterol levels, which is typically due to a liver disease that makes the liver inefficient to transport excess cholesterol from the body. Lifestyle changes, including exercise, restricting sugar intake and eating real (non-processed) foods, will often help to restore it to healthy levels.
Myth No 5: Margarine Is Better Than Butter for Cholesterol
Butter, particularly raw organic butter from grass-fed cows, is a wealth of nutrition and healthy fats. Studies point to the fact that butter may have both short-term and long-term benefits for your well-being. Swedish researchers came to a conclusion that fat levels in your blood are lower after eating a meal rich in butter than after eating the one rich in canola oil, olive oil or flaxseed oil.
Furthermore, substituting saturated animal fats with omega-6 polyunsaturated vegetable fats (i.e., margarine) is linked to an enhanced risk of death among patients with heart disease, according to a BMJ study. Exchanging margarine for healthy butter is the reverse of what your body needs for healthy heart, and here’s why.
Saturated fats have been proved to raise HDL cholesterol—a benefit—and may also increase LDL.
The latter isn’t necessarily dangerous either, as a study has proved that consuming saturated fats increases levels of large, fluffy LDL particles—the type that does not contribute to heart disease. Furthermore, eating saturated fats may even transform the small and dense LDL in your body into the healthier and fluffy LDL.
On the other hand, margarine is rich in synthetic trans fat, the worst type of man-made fat that raises small, dense LDL—and your risk of heart disease.
Questionable Effectiveness of Statins
In October 2015, pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly stopped a trial for a cholesterol-lowering drug – evacetrapib. Many believed that this drug, will not only lower LDL cholesterol but will also raise HDL. It was believed that this would be the next blockbuster in the management of deranged cholesterol levels.
But it wasn’t until April 2016, when the results of the research were presented at the American College of Cardiology’s yearly gathering, that health specialists discovered just how dismal the study results were. The drug had practically no influence on heart health. As The New York Times reported”Participants taking the drug saw their LDL levels fall to an average of 55 milligrams per deciliter from 85. Their HDL levels improved to an average of 105 milligrams per deciliter from 46. Yet 256 participants had heart attacks, compared with 255 patients in the group who were getting a placebo.
Ninety-two subjects receiving the drug had a stroke, compared with 95 in the placebo group. And 435 people taking the drug died from heart diseases, such as a stroke or a heart attack, compared with 444 members who were receiving a placebo.”
Dr. Steven Nissen of the Cleveland Clinic told The New York Times, “These kinds of investigations are wake-up calls.” Indeed, it’s not the first time a cholesterol-lowering drug has been found to be ineffective, or worse when it comes to heart health.
Statins May worsen your Heart Health
There is a data showing that statins may make your heart health worse and only appear effective due to statistical deception. One report printed by the Expert.
Review of Clinical Pharmacology concluded that statin advocates used a mathematical tool called relative risk reduction (RRR) to increase statins’ trivial beneficial effects.
If you see at absolute risk, statins help just 1% of the people. This indicates that out of 100 individuals treated with the drugs, one person will have one less heart attack. This doesn’t sound impressive, so statin endorses to use a different statistic method known as relative risk. By using this particular method, statins suddenly become useful for 30-50% of the population.
As STATS at George Mason University described, “An essential feature of relative risk is that it tells you nothing about the actual risk.” Furthermore, statins drain your body of coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10), which is used for energy generation by every cell in your body and is therefore essential for good health, high-energy levels, longevity, and general quality of life.
CoQ10’s reduced form, ubiquinol, is a crucial component of cellular respiration and generation of adenosine triphosphate (ATP). ATP is a coenzyme utilized as an energy transporter in every cell of the body. We know that heart is the most energy-consuming organ of the human body, you can imagine how devastating it can be to waste the body’s main source of cellular energy.
By taking statins, heart patient is actually enhancing the cardiac disease risk by depleting CoQ10. The deficiency of Coenzyme Q10 caused by the statin drugs is the reason why such drugs can increase the risk of acute heart failure.
If someone is taking a statin drug, he should always supplement it with Coenzyme Q10. If you’re over 40 years of age, I would strongly recommend taking ubiquinol (CoQ10’s reduced form) instead of CoQ10, as it’s far more efficiently absorbed by your body.
Top Suggestions to Preserve Heart Health
Are you looking for a non-pharmaceutical approach to maintain your heart health? Here are some of my top suggestions:
- Start eliminating grains and sugars from your daily diet. It is also important to remove gluten-containing grains and sugars, especially fructose. Consume a considerable part of your food raw.
- Make sure you are getting lots of high-quality, animal-based omega-3 fats, such as krill oil. Research proves that as little as 500 mg of krill oil per day can balance your total cholesterol and triglycerides and will likely enhance your HDL levels.
- Replace unhealthy vegetable oils and synthetic trans fats with good fats, such as olive oil, butter, avocado, and pastured eggs.
- Include fermented foods in your daily diet. This will not only optimize your intestinal microflora; your overall immunity will increase, it also introduces helpful bacteria into your mouth. Inadequate oral health is another strong indicator of raised heart disease risk.
- Optimize vitamin D levels, ideally through proper sun exposure as this will enable your body also to create vitamin D sulfate—another factor that may perform a crucial role in preventing the accumulation of arterial plaque.
- Exercise Regularly. One should always include high-intensity interval exercises in his fitness program, which will also enhance the secretion of human growth hormone.
- Avoid smoking or consuming alcohol excessively.
- Be sure to get plenty of high-quality, restorative sleep.
- Practice regular stress-management techniques.