CHOLESTEROL: THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY

A Functional Perspective on Cholesterol

This week we are going to discuss that evil lurking in your body called cholesterol.  Well, that is what our society is being told anyways, that cholesterol is the enemy. Cardiovascular disease is still the number one cause of death in the United States and cholesterol is targeted as the reason why. More and more people are prescribed statin drugs every day to reduce cholesterol, but interestingly enough, cardiovascular health is not improving. So, why do we need and why does our body make cholesterol every day? Here is the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of Cholesterol.

The Good

Cholesterol:

  • Necessary component for the health of every single cell in the body
  • Protective antioxidant element that repairs damage to arteries
  • 25% of cholesterol is found in the brain
  • Vital in storing and recalling memories, processing ideas
  • Used by the liver to create bile acids
  • Necessary for the production of steroid hormones
    • Glucocorticoids
    • Mineralcorticoids (responsible for regulating the balance of electrolytes, blood pressure, and sex hormones)
  • Vital for the absorption of Vitamin D (crucial for a healthy immune system)
  • Essential component for cell signaling and nerve conduction

As you can see, cholesterol is pretty darn important for our bodies to function optimally.

The Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC) has removed dietary cholesterol as a nutrient of concern, given that there is “no appreciable relationship between dietary cholesterol and serum cholesterol or clinical cardiovascular events in general populations, so cholesterol content should not stop you from consumption of saturated fat. (3)

There was a study done forty years ago called the Minnesota Coronary Experiment, where the saturated fat in the diets of 9000 institutionalized mental patients was replaced with polyunsaturated fats in the form of corn oil. A 2010 re-evaluation of the data from this experiment was published in the British Medical Journal. The re-analysis states, patients experienced a 22% higher risk of death for each 30 mg/dL reduction in serum cholesterol4. Substituting omega-6 fats in place of saturated fats lead to reductions in cholesterol and these patients suffered worse health outcomes. Again, this solidifies that cholesterol is not the enemy it was formerly construed to be.

The Bad

Still today, many medical practitioners look at cholesterol as the artery-clogging model of heart disease. Really though, it has been the ultimate scapegoat since the start of the 1980 anti-fat campaign. Even though the cholesterol model has been replaced with the inflammation model, it is still considered the bad guy. Yes, cholesterol is at the scene of the crime, but only as a first responder, since it is a protective antioxidant element that repairs damage to arteries. Ladies and gentlemen inflammation is the culprit, which leads to endothelial and vascular smooth muscle dysfunction as well as oxidative stress. Inflammation increases blood pressure and constricts blood vessels. Homocysteine is a type of inflammation, which can cause arthrosclerosis, arrhythmia, and sudden cardiac death (5). With that said, there are three things I’m going to look for in regards to cardiovascular disease; 1) high homocysteine, 2) triglycerides 3) overall inflammation (CRP).

So, if a patient has high cholesterol, I first consider two things; 1) their body needs a lot of repair and healing due to an injury or infection or 2) they have a problem with their gallbladder. The gallbladder is what breaks down cholesterol. Those are the two things that I would check out first.

The Ugly

I saw a patient in Colorado whose total cholesterol was 65. Wow, that is really good, right? No, not at all!  In fact, I would rather a person have high cholesterol than low cholesterol. Low total cholesterol, formerly believed to be protective against cardiovascular disease, has been demonstrated to be completely the opposite. In particular, women with a total cholesterol below 195 mg/dL have a higher risk of mortality compared to women with cholesterol above this cut-off. 1

Low cholesterol has been correlated with Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, suicide, homicide, accidental deaths, stroke, depression, violent behavior, aggression, and an increased risk of cancer and Parkinson’s Disease (2,6).

So, if inflammation is the big problem how do we fix it?

  1. Eat more healthy fats.  Your body needs good fat.  Here are some great examples:
  • Avocado
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Coconut milk & oil
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • Healthy animal fats
  • Organic butter
  • Grass-fed meats (and cheese if tolerated)
  • Organic/ natural air-chilled chicken
  • Range fed organic eggs (if tolerated)
  1. Remove all refined sugar (includes juice) and grains from your diet.  With a low-carbohydrate diet, your triglycerides will drop.
  2. Remove all trans fats and polyunsaturated vegetable oils
  3. Exercise! It is a great way to increase your body’s natural antioxidant, glutathione. Whatever you do, it should be fun and cause you to sweat at least a little.
  4.  Reduce inflammation with supplements:

Longevity Health Foundation

Speaking of supplements, Red Mountain Natural Medicine would like to inform our patients about a brand new foundation called the Longevity Health Foundation. Supplements that we take for granted in the United States are restricted in other countries. Now in the United States there are interests to restrict supplement sales and our access to them. Longevity Health Foundation’s main goal is to: Inform all Americans about health and how to protect our professionals and supplement distributors while encouraging cooperation with traditional medicine. If you would like join or learn more about the Longevity Health Foundation’s cause, please visit their website at www.longevityfoundation.org

In Health,

Dr. Grable

 

References:

  1. J Eval Clin Pract. 2012 Feb;18(1):159-68. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2753.2011.01767.x. Epub 2011 Sep 25.
  2. Eur J Intern Med. 2011 Apr;22(2):134-40. doi: 10.1016/j.ejim.2010.12.017. Epub 2011 Jan 26.
  3. JAMA. 2015 Jun 23-30;313(24):2421-2. doi: 10.1001/jama.2015.5941.
  4. BMJ 2016; 353 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.i1246 (Published 12 April 2016)
  5. Arch Physiol Biochem. 2006 Oct-Dec;112(4-5): 219-227. PMICID: PMC3182485
  6. Arterioscler Thromb Vasc Biol. 2008 Aug;28(8):1556-62. doi: 10.1161/ATVBAHA.108.163998. Epub 2008 Jun 30.
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