By Deane Alban
Contributing Writer for Wake Up World
Heart disease is the number one cause of death in industrialized nations. A million people have a heart attack every year in the US alone, yet half of these victims have normal cholesterol.
If there is only a 50/50 chance that heart attack victims have high cholesterol, a question begs to be answered: “Does high cholesterol cause heart disease?”
What if everything we know about cholesterol and heart disease is wrong? Imagine that high cholesterol and saturated fat don’t cause heart disease and that you can eat red meat and butter after all.
Well, this isn’t a fantasy, it turns out to be true!
Let’s take a look at the myths about cholesterol and heart disease.
Cholesterol Doesn’t Cause Heart Disease
Cholesterol causes heart disease — this is one of the biggest health myths of all time! Conventional “wisdom” tells us to eat a low fat diet and avoid saturated fat for our hearts. Yet, people who follow a diet high in protein and fat, and low in carbohydrates aren’t dropping dead of heart attacks.
Numerous studies have definitively proven that there is no correlation between saturated fat consumption and heart disease. Considering how popular this theory is, it’s pretty shocking!
High fat diets lead to lowering of triglycerides, normalization of LDL (bad cholesterol), and an increase in LDL particle size, which is a good thing — we’ll explain shortly.
This graph illustrates the findings from a World Health Organization study on trends in cardiovascular disease. It clearly shows that there is no correlation between cholesterol and heart disease.
Notice that the country with the highest levels of cholesterol, Switzerland, has the lowest rates of heart disease, and the population with the highest death rate from heart disease, Australian Aborigines, have one of the lowest levels of cholesterol.
The landmark Lyon Diet Heart Study followed 650 participants who were at extreme risk for heart attacks. They were overweight, sedentary, smoked, and had high cholesterol levels — the works.
Half were put on a Mediterranean diet and half were put on what was called a “prudent” diet recommended by the American Heart Association. The study was halted before it was completed because it was deemed unethical.
Why? People on the Mediterranean diet stopped dying even though their cholesterol levels didn’t budge. However so many more people on the AHA diet were dying, researchers felt it was unethical to continue putting people at risk on this diet!
Treat the Patient, Not the Numbers
Unfortunately, most doctors tend to worry more about lowering cholesterol numbers than the overall heart health of their patient. Testing for HDL (good) cholesterol or LDL (bad) cholesterol levels is an outmoded idea. There are more than five kinds of each, so this philosophy is overly simplistic.
One test that seems to provide good information about your risk for heart disease is to measure LDL particle size. Large LDL molecules just move through the blood stream, doing no harm. But small LDL molecules are caused by oxidation and are dangerous. They embed themselves on artery walls, causing inflammation, and leading to plaque development.
Your HDL and LDL numbers are not a good predictor of heart disease, but what is? Two important markers are your small particle LDL and your ratio of triglycerides to HDL.
For example, if your triglyceride level is 100 and your HDL is 50, this gives you a ratio of 2. A ratio of 2 or under is good. If this ratio is higher than that, you can lower your triglycerides fairly easily by reducing sugar in your diet.
High cholesterol is not the cause of heart disease. Here are some of the worst culprits that do contribute to heart disease:
- Inflammation promotes every degenerative disease. It causes microinjuries to your arteries, causing plaque formation.
- Free radicals attack LDL turning it from large (safe) to small (harmful) particle LDL.
- Sugar is highly inflammatory, promoting plaque formation. It also increases stress hormones.
- Trans fats increase bad cholesterol, decrease good cholesterol, increase inflammation, and raise triglycerides.
- Stress increases blood pressure. In fact, blood pressure is a measure of stress applied to artery walls.
Why Doctors Push Statin Drugs
When a doctor sees high cholesterol levels, he’ll most likely want to treat it with a cholesterol-lowering drug of a type called statins.
Statin drugs are a health disaster. They decrease production of a heart-protecting nutrient, CoQ10, leading to fatigue and muscle pain.
Because cholesterol is a building block of sex hormones, statin use leads to loss of libido. (Is it a coincidence so many men need Viagra these days? Maybe not.)
These drugs can lead to diabetes, particularly in women, and they can also lead to serious memory loss. In fact, these two side effects are so pronounced that statins are now required to carry warnings on the label for both diabetes and memory loss! Sometimes memory loss can be so serious as to cause patients not to recognize loved ones.
Don’t be surprised if your doctor doesn’t acknowledge these side effects. One study found that 65% of doctors don’t report statin side effects because either they don’t believe there’s a correlation or they have been “influenced” by the drug companies.
Pharmaceutical companies have a vested interest in continuing to promote this $31 billion a year industry. Many doctors will simply tell you these side effects are just signs of age and not to worry about it.
The only modest benefit that has been proven for these drugs is when taken by middle-aged men (not women) who have already had a heart attack. It seems likely that this benefit stems from the fact that statin drugs have a slightly anti-inflammatory effect, not because they lower cholesterol. There are much better ways to reduce inflammation without risking your brain.
Reduce Your Risk of Heart Disease
Dr. Jonny Bowden, author of The Cholesterol Myth, lists these seven steps to prevent heart disease.
- Eat an anti-inflammation diet.
- Reduce and eliminate sugar, grains (especially wheat), and omega-6 fats (vegetable oils).
- Manage stress.
- Drink moderately.
- Don’t smoke.
- Supplement intelligently.
If reducing your risk of heart disease sounds very much like my long-standing advice for improving the health of your brain, this is no coincidence. Brain and heart health are strongly related. Remember that 1/4 of your brain is made of cholesterol!
Dr. Bowden’s top recommended supplement for heart disease is the same as my recommendation for brain health — Omega-3 essential fatty acids.
Arm Yourself with the Latest on Cholesterol & Heart Disease
If you are serious about preventing heart disease or getting off statin drugs, you won’t find better information anywhere than in The Cholesterol Crime. This is the most comprehensive self-help program of its kind I’ve found.
It’s presented in video format by Dr. Bryan Walsh, a member of the R&D department at Prograde, my favorite nutrition company. Click on the video below to hear Dr. Walsh explain in his own words what you can expect from this program.
Meanwhile, here’s what you’ll get in The Cholesterol Crime:
- How the Heart Works (video)
- How to Evaluate Your Risk (video)
- Diet for a Healthy Heart (video)
- Exercise for a Healthy Heart (video)
- Supplements for a Healthy Heart (video)
- Bonus video – Beyond Diet and Exercise
- Bonus video – Effects of Statins
- Over 30 pages of supplementary PDFs
On Statins? How to Talk to Your Doctor
If you currently are on statins, don’t throw them in the trash yet. Make an appointment to talk to your doctor, but go in armed with as much information on cholesterol as possible, like the kind you find in The Cholesterol Crime or The Cholesterol Myth.
Ask to have the small particle LDL test done. Most doctors won’t run this test as a matter of course. Some doctors won’t even know what it is! Many still spout the party line about cholesterol.
Even doctors who understand the value of this test don’t recommend it because it’s normally not covered by insurance. You can ask for it anyway and offer to pay out of pocket.
You can also order this test on your own at an online lab like True Health Labs. You can get what’s called the “VAP cholesterol test”. This measures all parameters that matter including particle size. Order the VAP test from True Health Labs here.
Know for sure if you have a genuine cholesterol problem. Then, if you don’t, work with your doctor to wean yourself off the cholesterol medication you are on.
Updated November 2014
Previous articles by Deane:
- Overcoming Resistance to Change: The Secret to Lasting Health
- Change Your Thoughts, Change Your Brain
- Experience the Brain Benefits of Do-It-Yourself Biofeedback
- Advantame – the “New & Improved” Artificial Sweetener, Approved by FDA
- 5 Reasons You Aren’t Getting Enough Vitamin D.. and What You Can Do About It
- Five Common Food Additives That Can Damage Your Brain
- Food Scams and Myths: Why Quality Matters
- The Alarming Truth About Supermarket Meat
- 18 Choices You Make Every Day That Keep You Up at Night
- Can’t Get the Hang of Meditation? Try This Instead
- Stress, Telomeres, and the Secret to Prevent Aging
- 20 Common Medications That Can Cause Memory Loss
- 5 Common Food Additives That Are Toxic to Your Brain
- The ABCs of Vitamins for Memory and Brain Health
Deane Alban holds a bachelor’s degree in biology and has taught and written on a wide variety of natural health topics for over 20 years. Her current focus is helping people overcome brain fog, “senior moments”, and other signs of mental decline now, and preventing Alzheimer’s and dementia in the future.
The human brain is designed to last a lifetime, but modern life takes a greater toll on the brain than most people realize. Deane teaches the best ways to keep your brain healthy and stay mentally sharp for life at her website BeBrainFit.com.