Today, I am grateful to have a better understanding of the relationship between cholesterol and health. How about you? Are you afraid of having high cholesterol? Are you throwing away egg yolks because you think they’re bad for your health? (FYI: We have a separate blog posting about the benefits of eggs). Are you taking cholesterol-lowering medication or considering starting to take one?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, I encourage you to consider some facts:
1. Cholesterol is not a deadly poison, but a substance that you need to be healthy. High cholesterol itself does not cause heart disease.
2. People who have low blood cholesterol have the same rates of heart disease as people who have high blood cholesterol.
3. The cholesterol found in your blood comes from two sources: cholesterol in food that you eat and cholesterol that your liver makes from other nutrients.
The amount of cholesterol that your liver produces varies according to how much cholesterol you eat. If you eat a lot of cholesterol, your liver produces less. If you don’t eat much cholesterol, your liver produces more. This is why a low cholesterol diet does not typically decrease a person’s blood cholesterol by more than a few percent.
1. Drugs that solely lower your cholesterol do not decrease your risk of dying from heart disease, nor do they increase your lifespan. These drugs pose dangers to your health and may decrease your lifespan.
2. The newer cholesterol-lowering drugs – called statins – do reduce your risk of heart disease, but through mechanisms that are not related to lower blood cholesterol.
What about HDL and LDL?
Well, here are some facts about LDL and HDL that the vast majority of people are surprised to learn:
* LDL and HDL are not types of cholesterol.
* LDL and HDL are lipoproteins that transport cholesterol through your blood circulatory system.
* LDL stands for Low Density Lipoprotein, and HDL stands for High Density Lipoprotein.
* LDL is often mistakenly thought of as being bad cholesterol because it carries cholesterol to your arteries.
* HDL is often mistakenly referred to as good cholesterol because it carries cholesterol away from your arteries (to your liver).
* LDL and HDL carry the same cholesterol.
Cholesterol that naturally occurs in animal foods is not harmful to your health. But it can become harmful to your health if it is damaged by exposure to high levels of heat and/or harsh processing techniques.
If you regularly consume damaged cholesterol and foods that are rich in free radicals, you likely have significant quantities of damaged cholesterol floating through your circulatory system.
And if you regularly have damaged cholesterol floating around in your blood, then a high LDL level correlates with a higher-than-average risk of developing cardiovascular disease, and a high HDL level correlates with a lower-than-average risk of developing cardiovascular disease.
In other words, if you have significant amounts of damaged cholesterol in your blood circulation, you don’t want a lot of LDL to be available to carry this cholesterol to your arteries, where the damaged cholesterol can contribute to atherosclerosis, and you want a lot of HDL available to shuttle damaged cholesterol away from your arteries.
So while it’s true that a high HDL/total cholesterol ratio can reflect a lower risk of developing cardiovascular disease, what’s most important when it comes to cholesterol and your health is to avoid eating animal foods that have been cooked at high temperatures, since these foods are typically rich in damaged cholesterol.
Sadly, conventional guidelines that promote lower cholesterol levels for a healthy heart are influenced in large part by pharmaceutical companies earning billions of dollars with their cholesterol-lowering drugs.
Here’s a take-home perspective on cholesterol and your health:
Rather than focus just on the numbers from your latest blood test, your health is best served by:
1. Ensuring regular intake of a wide variety of nutrient-dense plant foods (vegetables, legumes, fruits, whole grains, and small amounts of nuts and seeds).
2. Ensuring regular intake of healthy fats, such as those found in avocados, olives, coconuts, organic eggs, and perhaps some cold water fish on occasion.
3. Minimizing intake of animal foods that have been highly processed and/or exposed to high cooking temperatures.
4. Striving to live a balanced life that includes adequate rest, physical activity, exposure to fresh air and sunlight (without getting burned), meaningful relationships, and a sense of purpose.
Please note: there’s a huge difference between eating lightly cooked organic eggs vs. a well done steak several times a week for many years.
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Now I’d like to hear from you, do you agree or disagree ?
Please let me know your thoughts by leaving a comment below…
To your good health,