Cholesterol strikes fear in the heart of those that are at risk or suffer from heart disease. In fact, the obsession with cholesterol numbers drive practitioners and patients alike to down statin medications with abandon. But the truth is, cholesterol is not the enemy; in fact, it’s a necessity for health and healing.
Good, Bad, or Neither?
The first thing everyone should understand about cholesterol is that the “good” cholesterol (known as HDL) and the “bad” cholesterol (known as LDL) are very poor labels. In fact, HDL (high density lipoprotein) and LDL (low density lipoprotein) are not even cholesterol at all; they are proteins that carry cholesterol throughout the body. LDL carries cholesterol from your liver to other body parts and HDL carries cholesterol from your body, back to your liver. The idea of “good” and “bad” is false, because BOTH are essential for our health.
The Cholesterol Witch Hunt
Cholesterol has been painted as the enemy by the medical field because over 5 decades ago it was considered the primary factor in heart attacks due to its presence in artery plaque. This led to the development of statin medications to lower blood cholesterol in the hope of reducing the number of heart attacks and strokes. And yet here we sit 50 years later and are still dying of heart attacks in record numbers and many cases with NORMAL or even LOW cholesterol numbers are among those statistics.
It’s important to understand that cholesterol is found in all animal meat because all animals produce it, just as we do. This is because cholesterol is vital to life. Adequate cholesterol is necessary for the production of our hormones including testosterone, progesterone, estrogen, and cortisol. Cholesterol also plays a role in the internal healing process. When we eat a diet high in artificial man-made fat and sugar, we are setting the stage to damage our arteries from the inside. As we talk all the time about healing, our body is constantly in a state of repair. If our arteries are damaged from all the toxic intake of food, then the body will try to repair the damage by sending cholesterol to reinforce the weakened vessel.
So when we look at blood cholesterol – which is a snapshot in time, your doctor may see that you have higher numbers of LDLs which are the transport proteins that carry cholesterol from the liver where it is made and carry it to areas that are damaged and in need of repair.
If we take a medical approach to that high cholesterol reading– meaning, we look at the symptom of high cholesterol and decide how to handle just that symptom – taking a statin makes sense. It will lower the cholesterol level, which is all we care about. We don’t need to look at the long-term effects of statin usage, the overall effect of lower cholesterol in the body, or WHY the body had an elevated level of cholesterol in the first place. We are focused only on the symptom of high cholesterol.
Now let’s take a functional approach to the issue of high cholesterol. By removing the toxic dietary choices that are leading to the damaged arteries in the first place, the body has a much lower demand for repair and thus will slow the creation and delivery of cholesterol throughout the body. Now, the next time your doctor looks at your blood cholesterol levels, they will be much closer to a normal range and you did it by working with your body, instead of popping a pill and fighting normal physiology.
Eating Cholesterol Does NOT Raise Your Blood Cholesterol
As we just mentioned, cholesterol is vital to your health. Your body would not produce something it does not need. The idea that eating things with cholesterol (i.e. animal products) will increase our blood cholesterol levels is simply inaccurate. The truth is that most of the cholesterol consumed in food is not actually absorbed, but is passed in the stool. Generally speaking, the more we absorb from the diet, the less the body will make, and vice-versa. Our bodies were designed to adapt this way. The idea that high-fat diets are responsible for our poor health is completely fabricated. Increased insulin levels are the true culprit in increased inflammation and heart disease. Insulin released in response to sugar and carbohydrate ingestion stimulates an excess production of cholesterol, therefore decreasing sugar intake is critical to control excess cholesterol.
Is Cholesterol Ever Bad?
As we discussed, LDL has received the title of “bad” cholesterol. What this means is high levels of LDL are considered a risk factor for heart disease. The problem with this connection is that LDL is necessary to your health. As we discussed, LDL transports cholesterol throughout the body to help with healing and the production of all those important hormones. The issue is the current SAD (Standard American Diet) is packed with sugar, carbs, artificial ingredients, and toxins that are damaging the LDL and creating small, dense LDL particles. These small LDL particles are easily oxidized (damaged) and picked up by the damaged artery walls leading to inflammation and plaque buildup, and ultimately coronary artery disease.
What Should My Cholesterol Numbers Be?
Total cholesterol means NOTHING. It’s important to know and understand your HDL levels and LDL levels (and as we just discussed, particle size)! HDL has numerous health benefits in addition to clearing excess free cholesterol from the blood. It also inhibits the oxidation of LDL, inhibits inflammation, and reduces risk of blood clotting. This is why it is critical to have high enough levels of HDL, which can be increased with proper diet and exercise. With LDL, it really comes down to number and size, so it’s important to find a lab that will conduct this type of testing, as it is not standard practice, which is a huge disservice to patients. If you are eating a clean, Paleo-style diet, that is high in organic vegetables, free-range meat and fish, and healthy fats, and low in sugar, carbohydrates, dairy, and toxic additives, and exercising regularly, your cholesterol will naturally fall to a “healthy” number for you.
The Choice Is Yours
We had a patient recently who suffered a mild heart attack. He was very blessed, because many times the first sign of heart disease is a fatal heart attack. Under the direction of his cardiologist, he was immediately prescribed a number of medications to prevent another episode from occurring. However, at a follow up appointment, his Cardiologist told him point blank that the decision to be on these medications for lifetime was completely up to him. Meaning, he could go on living the dietary lifestyle that lead to the cardiac episode and be on the medication for the rest of his life OR he could make better lifestyles choices that are congruent with healthy physiology and not need the artificial help from the medication. Ultimately the choice is his.
High cholesterol is not the PROBLEM, it is a symptom of the bigger problem. Addressing the CAUSE is the only way to promote true health.
If you would like to make choices that are congruent with health and avoid fighting your physiology with medication management, we would love to be a part of your journey. Please contact our office for help. We have a team of individuals dedicated to helping you get healthy and stay healthy for life.