Is Cholesterol Good or Bad for You? (Part 3)
In the previous articles in this series we looked deeply at cholesterol, how it is essential for the functioning of all human organs, and what you need to know about it. It has long been thought that cholesterol is the cause of the fatty build-up in arteries that causes heart disease. The idea is that dietary saturated fat raises cholesterol levels, and this combination clogs up the arteries and may cause a heart attack. New research, though, is rapidly disproving this.
More than 40 million people are taking cholesterol-lowering medications, known as statins, and people are scared to eat foods that contain saturated fat and cholesterol. Many think that the statins, with brand names that include Lipitor, Crestor, Mevacor, Pravacol, and Zocor, are life-saving drugs. They are certainly the most widely prescribed drugs, worth around 29 billion dollars each year. A number of doctors and researchers, however, are now challenging this hypothesis — people with high cholesterol actually appear to live longer, while people with heart disease often have low levels of cholesterol, and statins are not reducing the rate of heart disease. What if high cholesterol is not the problem, and is not increasing the risk of heart disease?
Statins work by reducing the liver’s production of cholesterol, more specifically by blocking an enzyme called HMG CoA Reductase that the liver uses to make cholesterol. Yet some things are happening in the liver that statins can not affect. My previous article mentioned that cholesterol produced in the liver exceeds what is absorbed from the diet, even when we consume a large quantity of cholesterol.
A study by NHS (the UK’s national health service) concluded that there is no link between cholesterol and heart disease. Researchers chose 30 studies in total to analyze, 12 found no link between LDL and mortality, while 16 actually found that a lower LDL was linked with a higher mortality risk — the opposite to common belief. And in the 9 studies that looked specifically at the cardiovascular mortality link, 7 found no link and 2 found again the opposite link to what was expected. Overall, they reported that 92% of individuals in the studies examining all-cause mortality found an inverse relationship between LDL cholesterol and all-cause mortality. LDL cholesterol went down, and all-cause mortality went up — higher levels of LDL are apparently linked to lower all-cause mortality. This research suggests that, contrary to common belief, LDL cholesterol is not as “bad” as may be thought, and higher levels are not linked to all-cause or cardiovascular mortality.
There are many reasons that could increase the risk of heart disease, and I believe that we are mistaken in blaming cholesterol. Consuming a lot of processed food such as packaged food which has a low-fat label, margarine that possibly contains trans fat, excessive carbohydrate and dietary cholesterol reduces the levels and effectiveness of the LDL receptors. And there is nothing that statins can do to counteract this process.
Statins also can cause many side effects, including memory loss, cataracts, muscle pain, muscle loss as well as an increased risk of Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, ALS (Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), diabetes, stomach pain, and liver damage. And there are many other risk factors for heart disease that statins have no effect on, for example high blood sugar, insulin resistance, abdominal fat, high blood pressure, and high triglycerides. The drugs only address one risk factor for heart disease, which is high cholesterol, and as already stated the evidence is strong that that risk has been incorrectly diagnosed.
So how can the pharmaceutical companies claim that statins are safe and will significantly reduce the risk of having a heart attack? You will actually never see a statin ad claiming directly that the drug can reduce heart attacks. In many instances a disclaimer is mandated, stating that it has NOT been shown to prevent heart attacks or heart disease. If this is not in a disclaimer, then almost certainly it will be in the fine print.
In addition to producing cholesterol, the liver also helps clear excess cholesterol from the blood. It has tiny receptors that capture and remove the bad LDL cholesterol particles from the blood, which means that there’s much less cholesterol seeping into the artery walls, building plaque. So consuming eggs, or other foods that contain healthy cholesterol, will not change the cholesterol levels in the body and will certainly have little to do with an increased risk of heart disease.
A common and early event in cardiovascular disease happens when damage occurs to the vascular endothelium, the thin layer of cells that lines blood vessels. This damage impairs the function of the endothelium, a condition called endothelial dysfunction which precedes atherosclerosis and is an independent predictor of cardiovascular events. The endothelium plays a major role in health and disease, and endothelial dysfunction is a reversible disorder. Protecting the vascular endothelium helps, amongst other things, to minimize the risk of developing cardiovascular disease and connected conditions, such as heart attack and stroke. Strategies to maintain and protect the endothelium are at the forefront of cardiovascular disease preventive efforts.
The vascular endothelium is a major target for oxidative stress. Therefore, nutrients and dietary factors with antioxidant properties, in particular vitamin C, may protect the vascular endothelium from damage caused by oxidative stress. Additionally, vitamin C and certain flavonoids may increase the availability of nitric oxide, a compound that promotes vasodilation and assists endothelial function.
Nitric oxide is an amazing chemical that causes the blood vessels to dilate. You might have heard of GTN, used to help stop angina? Nitric oxide is the active substance in that. Because it’s a nitrate, it stimulates nitric oxide production in the endothelial cells and causes the blood vessels to dilate, increasing blood supply to the heart and getting rid of the angina. Nitric oxide is also the most powerful anticoagulant agent that we know of. It stops blood platelets and all other things in the blood from clotting. With a good, high level of nitric oxide production we won’t have blood clots forming, and that greatly reduces the risk of heart attacks and strokes.
Another thing that’s actually very good for nitric oxide synthesis and production is sunshine — so go out in the sun and your body will synthesize nitric oxide and naturally lower your blood pressure by more than most blood pressure lowering tablets!
What we can do now to prevent heart disease? First, get lots of sunshine, exercise daily, and if you can go outdoors to do both at the same time then that will stimulate nitric oxide synthesis. Getting enough magnesium and vitamin C will help too. On the negative side, lead exposure is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease, and lead is present in many places including household products, cosmetics, soil, and paint. Try to use organic and natural products as much as possible. Other conditions such as chronic high blood sugar levels, smoking, stress, being overweight or obese, and thyroid hormone disfunction and inflammation may all increase risk of heart disease.
Additionally, recommending statin drugs without supplementing with CoQ10 can be very dangerous, because CoQ10 synthesis will be inhibited when the statin drug blocks a key enzyme in Coenzyme A synthesis which plays a critical role especially in the health of the cardiovascular system. Unfortunately, most physicians are misinformed about the effectiveness of the cholesterol lowering drugs.
I am not worried about my cholesterol levels, as long as I am eating real food, my mood and thoughts are positive, and I can keep exercising and have lots of energy. Make sure you are eating food that looks like real food! Staying happy, practicing meditation, and regularly practicing fasting will bring you so much more than the drugs. Plus you will have a lot of positive side effects, which will increase your life quality too. Remember, there are no miracle drugs and there is no replacement for a healthy lifestyle.