Getting a blood result with a high total cholesterol, for most people, unfortunately means that their doc’s about to follow it with “Here’s a prescription for Lipitor.”
This is because the medical profession is obsessed with lowering your cholesterol because of misguided theories about cholesterol and heart disease. Why would we want to lower it when the research actually shows that three-quarters of people having a first heart attack, have normal cholesterol levels, and when data over 30 years from the well-known Framingham Heart Study showed that in most age groups, high cholesterol wasn’t associated with more deaths?
In fact, for older people, deaths were more common with low cholesterol. The research is clear – statins are being prescribed based on an incorrect hypothesis, and they are not harmless. They can have lots of unpleasant and health-damaging side effects, including muscle pains, increased abdominal fat, mental fogginess and increased diabetes risk. So I encourage you to question the status quo, especially when the statin prescription feels like a doctor’s knee-jerk response. Ask how necessary a statin really is and if perhaps your cholesterol concerns can be addressed in a healthier, drug-free way.
So, here’s what you need to know when your doc sits you down for a cholesterol talk:
#1: Flawed Cholesterol Science Has Done Untold Harm…
This includes Dr. Ancel Keys’ 1953 Seven Countries Study,5 which linked the consumption of dietary fat to coronary heart disease. When Keys published his analysis that claimed to prove this link, he selectively included information from only seven countries, despite having data from 22 countries at his disposal.
The studies he excluded were those that did not fit with his preconceived hypothesis. Once the data from all 22 countries is analyzed, the correlation vanishes. Moreover, as noted by Dr. Lipman:
“[T]oday’s mainstream thinking on cholesterol is largely based on an influential but flawed 1960s study which concluded that men who ate a lot of meat and dairy had high levels of cholesterol and of heart disease.
This interpretation took root, giving rise to what became the prevailing wisdom of the last 40+ years: lay off saturated fats and your cholesterol levels and heart disease risk will drop.
This helped set off the stampede to create low-fat/no-fat Frankenfoods in the lab and launch the multibillion-dollar cholesterol-lowering drug business in hopes of reducing heart disease risk. Did it work? No.
Instead of making people healthier, we’ve wound up with an obesity and diabetes epidemic that will wind up driving up rates of heart disease – hardly the result we were hoping for.”
#2: Cholesterol Is Important for Health
For decades we’ve been sold the story that dietary cholesterol is bad and that it gets into your bloodstream and clogs your arteries. This view has affected what we eat, what we worry about, what drugs we take and it has become the main focus of preventive medicine in Western medicine. The problem is, this depiction of cholesterol as this artery clogging-fat is totally oversimplified and actually false. And the notion that your total cholesterol number needs to be low is not only downright wrong, it’s dangerous too. Cholesterol helps make key hormones, synthesizes vitamin D, it is an essential component of cell membranes and we need it for brain and nerve function. It is needed for many functions in the body and is essential for life! And we now know that elevated cholesterol is not the cause of heart attacks – so don’t fall for that line.
#3: Total Cholesterol Tells You Virtually Nothing About Your Health Risk
Your liver makes about three-quarters or more of your body’s cholesterol, which can be divided into two types:
– High-density lipoprotein or HDL: This is known as the “good” cholesterol, which may actually help prevent heart disease.
– Low-density lipoprotein or LDL: This “bad” cholesterol circulates in your blood and, according to conventional thinking, may build up in your arteries, forming plaque that makes your arteries narrow and less flexible (atherosclerosis). If a clot forms in one of these narrowed arteries leading to your heart or brain, a heart attack or stroke may result.
Having defined those two types of cholesterol, it’s worth noting that there’s really only one kind of cholesterol, as previously explained by Dr. Ron Rosedale below.
The division into HDL and LDL is based on how the cholesterol combines with protein particles. LDL and HDL are lipoproteins — fats combined with proteins. Cholesterol is fat-soluble, and blood is mostly water. For it to be transported in your blood, cholesterol needs to be carried by a lipoprotein, which are classified by density.
Large LDL particles are not harmful. Only small dense LDL particles can potentially be a problem, as they can squeeze through the lining of your arteries. If they oxidize, they can cause damage and inflammation.
#4: Dig Deeper into Your Risk Factors…
If your doc is saying your cholesterol is too high, get a second opinion, not necessarily from another doctor, but from another, more detailed test than the standard lipid profile. If you have a family history of heart disease or other risk factors getting a more complete picture is even more vital. Press your doctor to review and assess the other often overlooked but possibly more important factors that can shed a brighter light on your unique situation – namely tests which look at hs-C-reactive protein, particle sizes of the LDL cholesterol (sometimes called NMR Lipoprofile), Lipoprotein (a) and serum fibrinogen. These measurable physical clues will help fill in a few more pieces of the puzzle, and enable you and your doctor to develop a more customized program to help manage your risk, with or without cholesterol drugs. If your doc’s not interested in looking under the medical hood, then it may be time to switch to a new mechanic.
#5: Be Very Wary of Pro-Statin Studies
When you get right down to it, it’s hard to take most of the pro-statin studies seriously when so many of them are either sponsored by the drug companies themselves or done by researchers and universities whose labs are financed by Big Pharma either directly or through “donations.” In fact, the studies were mostly done by drug companies with a history of fraud in reporting results. So naturally, it’s tough to get to the truth of what statins do and don’t do for health. What happens instead is that well-meaning doctors get snowed in by positive statin studies because, as the song goes, they “accentuate the positive, and eliminate the negative, latch on to the affirmative and don’t mess with Mr. In-between!” Making matters worse? It’s also not uncommon for the doctors involved with setting the statin guidelines to have a stake in the companies that produce them, so small wonder the drugs are pushed on the public with such enthusiasm.
#6: Assess Your Actual Need for a Cholesterol-Lowering Drug
As noted by Dr. Lipman, cholesterol-lowering drugs are not required or prudent for the majority of people—especially if high cholesterol and longevity run in your family. “Regardless, don’t be afraid to push back and tell your doc you’d prefer to avoid drug therapies,” he writes. “Assuming you’re not in a mission critical situation, discuss the possibility of trying a more holistic approach to get your numbers down to what is considered a normal or healthy zone based on all of your specific risk factors,not just your cholesterol numbers.”
In addition to the tests mentioned earlier, including the NMR Lipoprofile, the following tests can give you a far better assessment of your heart disease risk than your total cholesterol alone:
– HDL/Cholesterol ratio: HDL percentage is a very potent heart disease risk factor. Just divide your HDL level by your total cholesterol. That percentage should ideally be above 24 percent.
– Triglyceride/HDL ratios: You can also do the same thing with your triglycerides and HDL ratio. That percentage should be below 2.
– Your fasting insulin level: Any meal or snack high in carbohydrates like fructose and refined grains generates a rapid rise in blood glucose and then insulin to compensate for the rise in blood sugar. The insulin released from eating too many carbs promotes fat accumulation and makes it more difficult for your body to shed excess weight. Excess fat, particularly around your belly, is one of the major contributors to heart disease
– Your fasting blood sugar level: Studies have shown that people with a fasting blood sugar level of 100-125 mg/dl had a nearly 300 percent increase higher risk of having coronary heart disease than people with a level below 79 mg/dl.
– Your iron level: Iron can be a very potent oxidative stress, so if you have excess iron levels you can damage your blood vessels and increase your risk of heart disease. Ideally, you should monitor your ferritin levels and make sure they are not much above 80 ng/ml. The simplest way to lower them if they are elevated is to donate your blood. If that is not possible you can have a therapeutic phlebotomy and that will effectively eliminate the excess iron from your body.
An important side note: if you do decide to take a statin drug, you need to make sure you take CoQ10 or Ubiquinol with it. One in four Americans over the age of 45 currently take a statin drug, and most are not told they need to take coenzyme Q10 to buffer against some of the most devastating side effects of the drug. As previously explained by Dr. Sinatra, statins block not just cholesterol production pathways, but several other biochemical pathways as well, including CoQ10 and squalene—the latter of which Dr. Sinatra believes is essential in preventing breast cancer.
#7: Focus on Boosting Your HDL
Though high levels of small-particle, LDL may be a significant risk factor, it’s one of many that play a role in the progression of heart disease. But the science is imprecise. For example, there are many people with high LDL who are otherwise healthy and millions with so-called “normal” readings who are still at risk for a heart attack. In fact, on the standard cholesterol test usually done, your HDL and triglyceride levels are more important numbers to look at than LDL. Ultimately, the more HDL-boosting steps you take, the better the odds, and if you’re able to do it without medicating the numbers, so much the better.
So what to do next? Here are 10 essential steps to take to help stabilize and improve your situation and reduce risk overall:
1. Eat a Fantastic Diet
Shoot for a diet that consists of whole, organic or locally grown foods, plus some grass-fed, humanely-raised animal products. Avoid factory farmed meats and keep processed foods to a minimum, as they’re anything but whole!
2. Eliminate Sugar and Refined Carbohydrates
They’re no good for your body, brain or heart, and are what increase the more dangerous triglycerides and small LDL particles.
3. Avoid Man-made Fats But Don’t Be Afraid of Good Sources of Fat
There is no good evidence of a link between saturated fat and heart disease. In fact, when we eat good sources of saturated fat, we often increase the large fluffy benign LDL particles. And yes, please eat the whole egg, but make sure they come from pasture-raised chickens, which have been allowed to roam free, eating plants and insects.
4. Bring on the Shrubbery
If you want to improve your lipid profile, eat plants and lots of them!
5. Eliminate No-fat and Low-fat Everything
If the label says no or low-fat, leave it on the shelf. First of all, it’s likely to be a processed food but more importantly, no and low-fat products are usually high in sugars, which actually boost the small more dangerous LDL, the last thing you want to do!
6. Add a Little Sauerkraut
Or for that matter, any fermented veggie to help fortify the resident gut bacteria that play an important role in protecting your arteries against inflammation
7. Go a Bit Nuts
And don’t forget the olives. Aside from being delicious, nuts and olives are thought to have the power to stop LDL from damaging arterial walls.
8. Ditch Your Vices
If you smoke, stop. No exceptions. If you drink, avoid hard liquor. A small glass of red wine with dinner every other day for most people is fine. A bottle every day or two is not.
9. Move Like Your Life Depends On It
Because it does. Better yet, more movement helps boost HDL and flush bad LDL out of your system.
10. Keep Your Mouth Clean
Poor dental health increases instability in the coronary arteries, which in turn boosts the odds of a heart attack.