Cholesterol: the good, the bad and the truth                                                  by  Georgette Schwartz, BCHN, MSHN

“Without cholesterol there is no life.”

To fully understand the importance of cholesterol, one needs to look at the role it plays in the human body.  Cholesterol is a building block of the cell membrane. In other words, the protective layer surrounding each and every cell in our body needs cholesterol. The cell membrane is critical for cell signaling, nerve conduction, and cell structure.

Cholesterol is used to make Vitamin D, sex hormones, stress hormones, and bile acids.

Cholesterol is so important that the liver and intestines make about 80% of the cholesterol needed to maintain health.

Elevated cholesterol is not a statin deficiency. It is a result of many factors that include diet, nutrient deficiencies, lifestyle, toxicity, infection, and stress.

So how did the whole “cholesterol theory” start? Back in the late 1940’s there was a physiologist named Ancel Keys. He set out to prove the correlation between diet and heart disease and so “The Lipid Hypothesis” was born. This hypothesis is a medical theory that states “decreasing blood cholesterol dramatically reduces heart disease.”

Mr. Keys performed what was called The Seven Country study. There was a problem with the study.  Countries that consumed diets high in saturated fat and cholesterol were left out of the study, because the population of these countries had low heart-disease rates. The data for his study, according to many doctors and researchers, was cherry-picked.

Fast forward to more recent times and we know that studies show that eighty percent of the time, people who have heart attacks have the same exact total cholesterol as people who never have a heart attack. , “Elevated cholesterol is a symptom” of an underlying problem according to Michael Stone, MD, MS – a functional medical doctor and faculty member at the Institute for Functional Medicine.

In 2011, 33 years after the invention of statin drugs, there were 13.6 billion people taking a statin drug, yet there were 1.3 million angioplasties and five hundred thousand by-pass surgeries performed per year in the United States. The cost to the health-care system was 12 billion dollars. Clearly statin drugs are not the answer.

Let’s delve a little deeper into cholesterol. Most people have been led to believe that we have good and bad cholesterol. The truth is we do not have either. Cholesterol itself is hydrophobic; meaning it is not water soluble. Since sixty percent of the body is water, and cholesterol is a vital part of life, we have carrier molecules to get the cholesterol into the body. Low-density lipoprotein or LDL, the “bad” cholesterol, is in fact not bad nor is it cholesterol. It is a combination molecule made up of a lipid and a protein, better known as a lipoprotein.  Lipoproteins allow fats and other important nutrients to be carried to and in the bloodstream. What is truly amazing is a study from 2006 showed that in over 130,000 hospitalized patients with coronary artery disease (CAD), most had an LDL level between 60 and 130. The highest percentile of CAD was in the people with an LDL of 90. The Framingham heart study was the largest and longest population-based study. The results showed that whether you have an LDL level of 100 or 160, the chance of a heart attack or stroke, are the same. Above 160 only increases the risk slightly. Remember, without cholesterol there is no life.  It is wrong to think that the body of any living mammal would produce something that is harmful or causes disease.

Now, on to high-density lipoprotein (HDL), or the “good” cholesterol; HDL is made by the liver. The job of HDL is to search the body and collect any excess cholesterol and return it to the liver for reprocessing. HDL also delivers cholesterol to organs that make hormones. HDL is important for our immune system to fight off infections.

The medical term for abnormal cholesterol levels is dyslipidemia. In most developed countries hyperlipidemia (elevated fat in the blood) is the most common type of dyslipidemia. We have been led to believe that by decreasing fat intake we will lower our abnormal cholesterol. However, the reverse is true;  fat consumption has decreased significantly in the past 55 –plus years but heart disease continues to increase. As of August 24, 2017, according to the CDC, heart disease is the number one killer in the United States. One in every four deaths or 610,000 people dies of heart disease every year.

Statin drugs entered the market with great promise. They replaced drugs that lowered cholesterol by preventing its absorption. These older drugs had terrible side-effects and patient compliance was low.

Unfortunately, stain drugs also come with a laundry list of side-effects:

  • Muscle pain and weakness
  • Neuropathy
  • Heart Failure
  • Dizziness
  • Cognitive Impairment
  • Cancer
  • Pancreatitis
  • Depression

During the year 1992, twenty six controlled cholesterol-lowering studies were looked at and compared in a meta-analysis. The trials found an equal number of cardiovascular deaths in the treatment and control groups and a greater number of total deaths in the treatment groups.

In 2001 the Honolulu Heart program looked at cholesterol lowering through the use of drugs in the elderly. The researchers concluded that there was an increased mortality in elderly people with low serum cholesterol and that long-term low cholesterol levels actually increases the risk of death. In this recent ad for Lipitor, the fine print reads “Lipitor has not been shown to prevent heart disease or heart attacks.”

The answer to this problem is out there. We just need to look deeper. Maybe it is time for us to ask the question: have all the doctors forgotten their Biochemistry 101 about the many vital roles cholesterol plays in the human body?

Please join me at Integrative Acupuncture on December 9, 2017 for a more in-depth discussion about cholesterol and the steps one can take to improve their cholesterol levels and health.

In health,

Georgette Schwartz, BCHN, MSHN

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