The Cholesterol Myth that is Harming Your Health
By DR. MERCOLA | MERCOLA.COM | MAY 3, 2012
Cholesterol could easily be described as the smoking gun of the last two decades.
It’s been responsible for demonizing entire categories of foods (like eggs and saturated fats) and blamed for just about every case of heart disease in the last 20 years.
Yet when I first opened my medical practice in the mid 80s, cholesterol, and the fear that yours was too high was rarely talked about.
Somewhere along the way however, cholesterol became a household word — something that you must keep as low as possible, or suffer the consequences.
You are probably aware that there are many myths that portray fat and cholesterol as one of the worst foods you can consume. Please understand that these myths are actually harming your health.
Not only is cholesterol most likely not going to destroy your health (as you have been led to believe), but it is also not the cause of heart disease.
And for those of you taking cholesterol-lowering drugs, the information that follows could not have been given to you fast enough. But before I delve into this life-changing information, let’s get some basics down first.
What is Cholesterol, and Why Do You Need It?
That’s right, you do need cholesterol.
This soft, waxy substance is found not only in your bloodstream, but also in every cell in your body, where it helps to produce cell membranes, hormones, vitamin D and bile acids that help you to digest fat. Cholesterol also helps in the formation of your memories and is vital for neurological function.
Your liver makes about 75 percent of your body’s cholesterol,[i] and according to conventional medicine, there are two types:
1.High-density lipoprotein, or HDL: This is the “good” cholesterol that helps to keep cholesterol away from your arteries and remove any excess from arterial plaque, which may help to prevent heart disease.
2.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 (a condition called atherosclerosis). If a clot forms in one of these narrowed arteries leading to your heart or brain, a heart attack or stroke may result.
Also making up your total cholesterol count are:
•Triglycerides: Elevated levels of this dangerous fat have been linked to heart disease and diabetes. Triglyceride levels are known to rise from eating too many grains and sugars, being physically inactive, smoking cigarettes, drinking alcohol excessively and being overweight or obese.
•Lipoprotein (a), or Lp(a): Lp(a) is a substance that is made up of an LDL “bad cholesterol” part plus a protein (apoprotein a). Elevated Lp(a) levels are a very strong risk factor for heart disease. This has been well established, yet very few physicians check for it in their patients.
Your Total Cholesterol Level is NOT a Great Indicator of Your Heart Disease Risk
Health officials in the United States urge everyone over the age of 20 to have their cholesterol tested once every five years. Part of this test is your total cholesterol, or the sum of your blood’s cholesterol content, including HDL, LDLs, and VLDLs..
The American Heart Association recommends that your total cholesterol is less than 200 mg/dL, but what they do not tell you is that total cholesterol level is just about worthless in determining your risk for heart disease, unless it is above 330.
In addition, the AHA updated their guidelines in 2004, lowering the recommended level of LDL cholesterol from 130 to LDL to less than 100, or even less than 70 for patients at very high risk.
In order to achieve these outrageous and dangerously low targets, you typically need to take multiple cholesterol-lowering drugs. So the guidelines instantly increased the market for these dangerous drugs. Now, with testing children’s cholesterol levels, they’re increasing their market even more.
I have seen a number of people with total cholesterol levels over 250 who actually were at low heart disease risk due to their HDL levels. Conversely, I have seen even more who had cholesterol levels under 200 that were at a very high risk of heart disease based on the following additional tests:
HDL percentage is a very potent heart disease risk factor. Just divide your HDL level by your cholesterol. That percentage should ideally be above 24 percent.
You can also do the same thing with your triglycerides and HDL ratio. That percentage should be below 2.
Keep in mind, however, that these are still simply guidelines, and there’s a lot more that goes into your risk of heart disease than any one of these numbers. In fact, it was only after word got out that total cholesterol is a poor predictor of heart disease that HDL and LDL cholesterol were brought into the picture.
They give you a closer idea of what’s going on, but they still do not show you everything.
Cholesterol is Neither “Good” Nor “Bad”
Now that we’ve defined good and bad cholesterol, it has to be said that there is actually only one type of cholesterol. Ron Rosedale, MD, who is widely considered to be one of the leading anti-aging doctor in the United States, does an excellent job of explaining this concept:[ii]
“Notice please that LDL and HDL are lipoproteins — fats combined with proteins. There is only one cholesterol. There is no such thing as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ cholesterol.
Cholesterol is just cholesterol.
It combines with other fats and proteins to be carried through the bloodstream, since fat and our watery blood do not mix very well.
Fatty substances therefore must be shuttled to and from our tissues and cells using proteins. LDL and HDL are forms of proteins and are far from being just cholesterol.
In fact we now know there are many types of these fat and protein particles. LDL particles come in many sizes and large LDL particles are not a problem. Only the so-called small dense LDL particles can potentially be a problem, because they can squeeze through the lining of the arteries and if they oxidize, otherwise known as turning rancid, they can cause damage and inflammation.
Thus, you might say that there is ‘good LDL’ and ‘bad LDL.’
Also, some HDL particles are better than others. Knowing just your total cholesterol tells you very little. Even knowing your LDL and HDL levels will not tell you very much.”
Cholesterol is Your Friend, Not Your Enemy
Before we continue, I really would like you to get your mind around this concept.
In the United States, the idea that cholesterol is evil is very much engrained in most people’s minds. But this is a very harmful myth that needs to be put to rest right now.
“First and foremost,” Dr. Rosedale points out, “cholesterol is a vital component of every cell membrane on Earth. In other words, there is no life on Earth that can live without cholesterol.
That will automatically tell you that, in and of itself, it cannot be evil. In fact, it is one of our best friends.
We would not be here without it. No wonder lowering cholesterol too much increases one’s risk of dying. Cholesterol is also a precursor to all of the steroid hormones. You cannot make estrogen, testosterone, cortisone, and a host of other vital hormones without cholesterol.”
Vitamin D and Your Cholesterol
You probably are aware of the incredible influence of vitamin D on your health. If you aren’t, or need a refresher, you can visit my vitamin D page.
What most people do not realize is that the best way to obtain your vitamin D is from safe exposure to sun on your skin. The UVB rays in sunlight interact with the cholesterol on your skin and convert it to vitamin D.
If your cholesterol level is too low you will not be able to use the sun to generate sufficient levels of vitamin D.
Additionally, it provides some intuitive feedback that if cholesterol were so dangerous, why would your body use it as precursor for vitamin D and virtually all of the steroid hormones in your body?
Other “evidence” that cholesterol is good for you?
Consider the role of “good” HDL cholesterol. Essentially, HDL takes cholesterol from your body’s tissues and arteries, and brings it back to your liver, where most of your cholesterol is produced. If the purpose of this was to eliminate cholesterol from your body, it would make sense that the cholesterol would be shuttled back to your kidneys or intestines so your body could remove it.
Instead, it goes back to your liver. Why?
Because your liver is going to reuse it.
“It is taking it back to your liver so that your liver can recycle it; put it back into other particles to be taken to tissues and cells that need it,” Dr. Rosedale explains. “Your body is trying to make and conserve the cholesterol for the precise reason that it is so important, indeed vital, for health.”