Important Facts About Cholesterol and Heart Disease

Cholesterol is a wax-like fatty substance found in almost every cell of your body. You need cholesterol to make hormones and vitamin D, digest your foods, protect your nerves and for the production of cell membranes.

Although it has been vilified, it is essential to your health. Your liver manufactures most of the cholesterol you require from the nutrients in your food.

Levels of cholesterol are not higher in fatty meats or lower in lean meats. Like your body cells, the cells of all mammals contain cholesterol. Fat cells contain as much cholesterol as other cells in the meat. All meat averages about 25 milligrams of cholesterol per 1 ounce, including beef, pork and poultry.

Dietary (preformed cholesterol) absorption rates also vary between 20 and 60 percent in individuals. This may explain why eating cholesterol affects cholesterol levels differently in different people.

Cholesterol Ratios Are More Important Than Single Numbers

You may be following your cholesterol numbers in terms of the "good" cholesterol (HDL) or the "bad" cholesterol (LDL). But the best way to interpret your cholesterol numbers is to understand your cholesterol ratio.

To say that all low-density lipoprotein (LDL) molecules are bad is an oversimplification of our understanding of cholesterol.

Through the use of new technology to test the size of lipoprotein particles, scientists have identified which sizes are more closely related to heart disease. The smaller sized LDL molecules hold the highest risk for cardiovascular disease (CVD).

Small, dense LDL particles can squeeze between the cells of your arterial lining, the so-called "gap junction" of the endothelium, where they can get stuck and potentially oxidize, turn rancid and cause inflammation and plaque formation. They also have a relationship to other metabolic abnormalities.

Large epidemiological studies have found people with predominantly small LDL particles are at increased risk for CVD. Even more interesting is the research demonstrating eating saturated fats increases the size of your small LDL molecules to the larger size and reduces your overall risk of CVD.

The importance of measuring LDL cholesterol through common blood testing has now decreased in value, to the point the American Heart Association (AHA) no longer recommends using LDL cholesterol as a guide in treating the risk for CVD or prescribing statin drugs.

Instead, a better predictor is the ratio between your high-density lipoproteins (HDL) and total cholesterol. HDL is an important factor in the fight against heart disease. Your ratio between HDL and total cholesterol (or HDL divided by your total cholesterol, multiplied by 100) should ideally be above 24 percent.

Triglycerides are another type of cholesterol formed in your body with excess blood sugar from the metabolism of carbohydrates. They are a significant risk factor in the development of heart disease. Your triglyceride to HDL ratio (triglycerides divided by HDL, multiplied by 100) should ideally be below 2 percent.

Cholesterol Not a Trigger for Heart Disease

In the two videos above, you'll discover some of the history behind why science has clung to the belief that cholesterol is responsible for heart disease, and why they have been wrong.

Recent research9 has again confirmed that high cholesterol is not linked with heart disease in the elderly, prompting the researchers to conclude that reducing cholesterol levels with statin drugs is "a waste of time." Unfortunately, statins are not innocuous drugs, making their use more than just a waste of time.

The research reviewed studies involving nearly 70,000 people to look for a link between LDL cholesterol and premature death in those over 60. Contrary to conventional wisdom, they found 92 percent of people with high cholesterol levels actually lived longer than those who kept their levels at or below "normal."

They concluded the results were "inconsistent with the cholesterol hypothesis (i.e., that cholesterol, particularly LDL-C, is inherently atherogenic)."

They believe their analysis of the research provides a reason to question the cholesterol hypothesis and a "rationale for reevaluation of the guidelines recommending pharmacological reduction of LDL-C in the elderly as a component of cardiovascular disease prevention strategies."

While termed a "waste of time" by researchers, statins carry with them a list of over 200 side effects and clinical challenges. Some of these include:

Increased risk of diabetes

Acute liver disease

Muscle pain, tenderness or weakness

Rhabdomyolysis

Acute kidney failure

Chronic liver dysfunction

Endocrine dysfunction

Central nervous system toxicity

Impaired fertility

Increased risk of cancer

Abdominal pain

Constipation

Diarrhea

Dizziness

Headache

Skin rash

Nerve damage

Reduced muscle and nervous system coordination

Decreases heart function14

Depletes your body of essential minerals

Memory loss

Reduce your waist circumference to within normal limits

Abdominal fat is different from being generally overweight. You can be within normal limits for weight but still carry abdominal fat, increasing your risk of metabolic stress and heart disease. Reducing belly fat requires more than just reducing calories or increasing exercise. In my previous articles titled "4 Ways to Shed Belly Fat" and "Cut Down on Carbs to Reduce Body Fat" I outline several strategies you can use.

Reduce or eliminate smoking

Smoking is a challenging addiction to break. However, it is also a significant risk factor for heart disease. Drugs used to stop smoking have also been linked to an increased risk of suicide. Instead, make a plan, work with a support group, include an exercise program and understand you may stumble once in a while. However, just because you smoke one or two, doesn't mean you have to go back to your old habit.

Reduce your net carbs to 20 to 30 percent of your total caloric intake

Net carbs are equal to the number of grams of carbohydrates you've eaten during the day minus the number of grams of fiber. If you generally eat 1,500 calories per day, you may want to limit your net carbs to between 300 and 450 calories each day.

Eat healthy saturated fats

Substitute healthy saturated fats in your diet for the carbs you are losing. These may increase the size of your LDL cholesterol and protect you against heart disease. They include raw, organic nuts and seeds, avocadoes, pastured organic eggs, grass-fed meat and virgin coconut oil.

Maintain your blood pressure within normal limits

High blood pressure is a silent killer. Maintain yours with nutritional strategies, controlling your fructose and carbohydrate intake, getting outdoor exercise and considering several supplements I discuss in "Foundational Lifestyle Strategies to Maintain Healthy Blood Pressure."

Get at least 30 minutes of exercise each day

A regular exercise routine is one way to improve your emotional, physical and psychological health. It improves your sleep, reduces your risk of heart disease and improves your resistance to infection. Peak Fitness is an exercise program I developed to address the health needs of my body without the damaging effects of hours of cardiovascular work.

Get up and move around during the day

Even if you exercise an hour a day, six days a week, if you sit behind a desk all day you eliminate the benefits to your heart and health. I recommend standing up as much as possible. I've cut my sitting down to about an hour a day, but aiming for a max of three hours of sitting a day is a worthy goal. A stand-up desk is a great investment if you have an office job.

Also make it a point to walk more. The idea is to keep your body moving throughout the day. This can also help increase your productivity and creativity, and may even be helpful if you're struggling with back pain, like I did.

Improve your gut microbiome

Keep your gut microbiome healthy and flourishing to reduce your risk of heart disease and improve your cholesterol ratio. Include fermented vegetables in your daily nutritional plan, eat 50 grams of fiber for every 1,000 calories you ingest and take antibiotics only when absolutely necessary.

 

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