Cholesterol- Friend or Foe?

I remember when my mom used to cook our eggs in bacon grease. They were delish! I also remember when we ate butter, cooked with it and loved it.

Then my parents moved us to So Cal and decided to get in great shape. Soon there was margarine on the table, in a tub. It didn’t taste nearly as good and it was no good to bake with. I was so disappointed. No more butter to be found. No more bacon grease to cook the eggs, instead she’d spray the teflon pans down with Pam cooking spray. Blech!

So no more butter, instead we were using aerosol spray partially hydrogenated soybean oil and tubs of the same yuck to spread and bake with.

This was the promise of my generation fat was villainized and lowering everyone’s cholesterol was going to save us all from the scourge of heart disease! Fortunately for me I’m old enough to recall a time with fat was NOT the enemy. For many of you, it’s all you’ve ever known. That’s your paradigm, that’s where your brain is hard-wired.

Then there were the fake fat potato chips in the 90’s. Don’t even get me started on that. I just recall my friend getting terrible diarrhea from them. That was good enough for me to stay away.

Did you know that my dogs won’t eat margarine? They’ll scarf down butter like crazy, but my smartest two dogs won’t touch margarine. I suppose they don’t like the nasty filmy taste it leaves in their mouths.

Back to Heart Disease.

Well, guess what? It’s 20 years later and people are still dropping like flies from heart disease!

So you know, there was a HUGE push by a pharmaceutical giant back in the 80’s to prove that cholesterol was the enemy. How deep the deceit goes is astounding. It’s all laid out in a great book called “Prescribing by Numbers- Drugs and the Definition of Disease” by Jeremy A Greene.

Cholesterol has never been strongly proven to be the cause of heart disease and Mr Greene lays out for the reader exactly how this whole myth fell into place. It was a well executed lie. The bottom line was $$$. Go figure.

If cholesterol isn’t enough, the powers that be broke it down into “good” and “bad” cholesterol. Do you really think that there is a molecule manufactured in our bodies that is inherently bad? Just so you all know, LDL (the so-called villain) is absolutely necessary for proper function of our immune system among other critical bodily functions.

Back to Cholesterol-

All of our cellular membranes are made of FAT. That’s right, every cell in your body is made of FAT. Of this fatty phospholipid membrane, a huge part of it consists of cholesterol molecules. So, we need cholesterol to keep our cellular integrity intact.

Here is the best part….ALL HORMONES ARE MADE FROM CHOLESTEROL. That’s right, Estrogen, Progesterone, Testosterone, Cortisol, even the sweetheart “vitamin” of the day- Vitamin D (which is really more of a hormone) is made from cholesterol.  If you can’t get your Vitamin D levels up, look at your cholesterol levels.

Low cholesterol levels are associated with a significant increase in mortality (ie. DEATH). I have posted a great graph depicting this. When looking at All Causes of Mortality, it shows us that men who had cholesterol levels between 200-240 had a significantly lower death rate. The sweet spot was 200-240. Now, I’ll bet you the last time you went to the doctor with a total cholesterol reading that high he probably told you that you needed statin drugs to protect you from heart disease.  If your cholesterol was around 150 he probably high-fived you!

Sources: BHF-HEARTSTATS and WHO-MORTALITY (Adapted). Cholesterol-Mortality-Chart

Here’s the clinical application of all of this. I see lots and lots of people with “high cholesterol” every day. I run blood on everyone and I see certain trends.

High cholesterol, in my opinion, is a total cholesterol over 220-230. Below that I’m not worried.

When I see a Triglyceride level that is close to the Cholesterol level, then I worry. This tells me that either the patient is sucking down soda, too much artificial sweetener, too much alcohol or their thyroid is off. It means their liver is turning fatty. That’s not good.

I only worry about high LDL’s when I know the patient has a crappy diet. LDL’s are not the problem, it’s frothy LDL’s that are. They “froth” in the presence of oxidation, ie. crappy diets. So, if the person is eating a high antioxidant diet and not in an oxidative mess, I’m not terribly concerned.

Do you know when I usually see cholesterol go up? When a patient’s thyroid gland is not functioning optimally. I also see it in response to hormone need. That means any of the hormones I listed above and then some. My job is to find out what hormones are low or sub-par.

Once I sort out the adrenal hormone, thyroid hormone and sex hormone mystery- supplement as needed- guess what? Folk’s cholesterol levels fall right back into the lovely normal range around 180-200. How about that?

I take my patients off statins immediately in most cases. I do this because we are going to do further hormonal testing and I monitor them closely to make sure their lipids don’t rocket up. So I don’t suggest any of you stop your statins without the guidance of a good Naturopath or holistic MD or DC.

And when the cholesterol creeps back up it’s usually because of hormone need, NOT because of statin need, NOT because of dietary fat intake. Dietary fat intake has very little effect on serum cholesterol levels.

Did you catch that? Dietary fat has little effect on serum cholesterol levels.

What does have a huge impact on serum cholesterol levels is crappy diet. Bad food choices, refined grains, too much sugar and artificial sweeteners, too much alcohol. Not always directly, no, but anytime a load is put on the liver I see cholesterol levels get off base.

Low cholesterol- now that’s associated with a killer disease. No, not heart disease, try Cancer. Yep, low cholesterol levels are strongly associated with increased cancer risk. Sure there are studies that will argue this, but there are some good long term studies that prove it also.

STATINS- Crestor, Lipitor, most all of the drugs ending in “or”.

Common Side Effects of Statins include body wide muscle pain, muscle weakness, joint pain, headache, liver issues, sore throat and increased risk for something called rhabdomyolysis. Look it up:

Do statins lower cholesterol? Sure. Do they prevent heart attacks? Not so much. In fact, the cover story of the January 2008 Business Week magazine looked at the hard facts.

“So to spare one person a heart attack, 100 people had to take Lipitor for more than three years. The other 99 got no measurable benefit. Or to put it in terms of a little-known but useful statistic, the number needed to treat (or NNT) for one person to benefit is 100. Compare that with, say, today’s standard antibiotic therapy to eradicate ulcer-causing H. pylori stomach bacteria. The NNT is 1.1. Give the drugs to 11 people, and 10 will be cured.” –, “Do Cholesterol Drugs do Any Good?”.

So, Lipitor is the number one selling drug in the country and it’s not so useful and wicked expensive!

Just last month, January 2011, the Cochrane Review reported that if you’ve not had a heart attack already, statin drug use was not cost-effective or beneficial.

The Cochrane Review is the “gold standard” of medical literature, so there it is.

Bottom line, cholesterol is not a foe. It’s our friend. We are a country of dietary fat-o-phobes and it’s wrecking our health.

Jelly beans are labeled as “fat-free” for pete’s sakes, so people are lured into thinking it’s healthy.

More on the negative impacts of low cholesterol later. For now, eat your butter & stop eating fake butter spreads. Grass fed beef has the same omega 6:3 ratio as wild salmon! Healthy red meat, healthy fats like avocados, walnuts, coconut oil, butter, etc. You’ll feel better, your mind will work better, your nervous system will calm down and I promise, you won’t balloon up! Fat burns fat, I eat tons of it and I stay at a very healthy weight.

Fat-o-phobes NO MORE!

Thanks for listening,

Dr Tyna