Hello folks. Welcome to Ep 2 of “I really like butter and I wish everyone else would too.” Today we are going to be talking about Cholesterol.
I’d like to take you through some important information about what exactly cholesterol is and does, how it is commonly medicated and the hard evidence that shows what we have been doing for the last 50 years has done more harm than good.
So, there is going to be a lot to read here. It’s all really important. Some of it is boring, some of it is a little bit life changing and I bet most of you aren’t aware of this at all.
I even created a little TLDR below, because I feel like there is so much info to digest (ha-ha).
1.What even is cholesterol?
2. Is cholesterol bad for me? (No).
3. Will high cholesterol levels in my blood cause me to have heart disease? (Nope).
4. Will eating cholesterol and fat make my cholesterol higher? (The answer is no, sorry I ruined the surprise)
5. Will statins help me? (Unless you’ve already had a heart attack, the answer is no).
I am going to attempt to open your eyes to the big scammy fat-shaming world that has hitchhiked on the back of cholesterol.
What even is cholesterol?
Let’s start by getting acquainted. It’s a word that a lot of us know and hear often and it may even cause some slight panic when you hear it. It sounds important. It sounds unhealthy. It’s mostly talked about as being terrible and something we need to take control of. It definitely sounds like something that causes heart disease. My aunts cousins brothers wife definitely died from heart disease and it was for sure because of high cholesterol. Does that sound familiar?
Lets start with some super basic body-science-stuff. You can skip over this section but I think it will help you get face to face with what exactly we are dealing with here.
Cholesterol travels throughout the human body packaged into Lipoproteins, which circulate in the blood. To use a simple transport analogy, cholesterol particles are the containers and Lipoproteins are a cargo ship. Also on board the cargo ships are other important containers with things like fats and proteins that travel through the blood stream.
The ratio (and therefore density) of fat and protein gives the lipoproteins their names; High Density Lipoprotein (HDL), Low Density Lipoprotein (LDL), Very Low Density (VLDL) and Chylomicrons (this one doesn’t really follow the easy-to-name pattern). The point is that there are many different types of lipoproteins with varying amount of cholesterol, fats and proteins being transported throughout the body. The more dense a lipoprotein is, the less fat and cholesterol it has. The idea is that LDL isn’t as dense as HDL, and therefore carries a lot more cholesterol on board its ship.
Maybe a few of those names are familiar to you. You’ve likely heard of “good cholesterol” (HDL) and “bad cholesterol” (LDL’s). Why this idea itself is heavily debated (and studies have shown that LDL isn’t that bad anyway), the main point I want to make is that HDL and LDL are Lipoproteins. They are not “cholesterol.” Cholesterol is simply just part of the parcel – some of the cargo that is on board the ship.
In any case, it is common for doctors to look at your blood profile and determine the status of your cholesterol profile based on these numbers of HDL:LDL. If they see your HDL is low and your LDL is high they will likely recommend some diet and exercise information to you (side note: study here about maybe why you shouldn’t trust your regular GP with detailed info about nutrition) and depending on the severity will also prescribe you some medication in the form of a statin. You’ve probably heard of these before. They are the best selling drug in human history.
So, is Cholesterol bad for me?
The short answer is no.
The long answer is also no. This is because cholesterol has many super important functions in the human body:
- It produces sex hormones; testosterone, oestrogen and others
- it helps with bile production in the liver; which is important for digestion of fats
- Cholesterol forms the building blocks of all cell membranes (yes, all)
- It is necessary for vitamin D production; which is important for calcium and phosphorus regulation (bone health). It also helps to protects against Diabetes, some cancer and MS.
All of these very important processes in the human body require cholesterol and without it, there are dire consequences. Who would have thought it was actually important?
Some studies even claim that having low cholesterol can produce symptoms of depression and anxiety. Researchers suggest that because cholesterol is involved in making hormones and vitamin D, low levels could affect brain health. It appears that insufficient brain cholesterol hinders serotonin, which is closely related with mood.
Will high cholesterol levels in my blood cause me to have heart disease?
The current thinking in media and lots of GP offices like to paint cholesterol in a bad light because it has been associated with heart disease. The problem is that cholesterol in the artery wall is actually a symptom of heart disease – not the cause. Cholesterol has had a bad rap because it has always been at the scene of the crime, when in fact the real reason why atherosclerosis (narrowing of arteries and build up of plaque) begins in the first place has nothing to do with cholesterol at all.
The real culprit is inflammation (which most argue is caused by sugar). During this inflammatory process, plaque, along with blood thickening and narrowing of blood vessels, can certainly increase your risk of heart attack. Our friend cholesterol, however, only comes in after the damage has started, to try and replace the damaged cells.
In other words, it doesn’t combine with the walls of your arteries to give you a heart disease, like many people think. Instead, cholesterol is there in your arteries trying to repair the damage because new cells aren’t able to be created without it.
The most conclusive evidence we have to date to prove that cholesterol doesn’t cause heart disease is the Framingham Study (which I have mentioned before). The study shows that there is zero correlation between high levels of cholesterol and heart disease.
Will eating cholesterol and fat make my cholesterol higher?
Firstly, I’ve already covered why having high cholesterol isn’t necessarily a bad thing but I know this is still the question you’re asking. Things like, “you need to stop eating saturated fat to reduce your cholesterol,” and “eat only 1 egg per day” are the types of things that trigger an emotional response every time I see/hear/read it.
We have been so misled about fat and the cholesterol hypothesis that even though a lot of us already know this information, we are still trying to reduce our cholesterol through food.
The main reason why this is completely nonsense is because around 80% of cholesterol is produced inside our liver and only 20% or so comes from our diet. Besides that, a big quantity of the cholesterol that is in food cannot even be absorbed by our bodies.
The human body controls the amount of cholesterol in the blood to ensure it can perform its functions properly. When we eat less cholesterol in our diet, the body produces more cholesterol to bring it back to it’s correct functioning level. When cholesterol intake in the diet goes up, our liver produces much less cholesterol to ensure an even playing field. The amount of cholesterol we eat in food, hardly effects the amount of cholesterol in our blood and even if it does, it’s quite momentary.
Eating more or less cholesterol wont really effect your overall blood cholesterol level.
So, my doctor has told me that I have high cholesterol… Will statins help me?
If you’ve been to the doctor and been diagnosed with high cholesterol (which you should be debating anyway..), chances are you’ve been prescribed a ‘wonder drug’, known to most as statins.
Statins are considered the so-called most effective cholesterol-lowering medicines available. In fact, this website is almost praising statins in the most blatantly obvious way – you’d almost think doctors at this hospital were getting paid to promote them.
Statins work by blocking the pathway that enables cholesterol production in your liver.
That doesn’t sound so bad? If cholesterol lowering medication is able to lower cholesterol, isn’t that exactly what we’re looking for? If you’re thinking “GREAT! Something to reduce my cholesterol!” you’re on the wrong track. In fact, the distinct problem with these types of medication is that the exact nature of the drug is to block cholesterol production. This is a massive problem because we NEED cholesterol (I feel like I’m repeating myself).
When patients are offered a statin as a drug to reduce cholesterol (which it reports being able to reduce by 30-40%), they are basically closing the door on cholesterol and opening the door for many other terrible side affects. When taking statins you are simply swapping out a risk of heart disease for other diseases like; diabetes, muscular weaknesses, memory loss and some not yet known long term issues like the possibility for cancer and diabetes.
Taking a statin may provide a possible reduction in heart disease (which has only been shown in 1-2/100, and no reduction in overall deaths) but it adds a whole host of risk factors. This means that taking a statin is equal to exactly no net benefit.
There is a small exception to people who have previously had a heart attack or stroke. They are the only population who has been shown to benefit from statins and they likely help them to extend their lives. However keep in mind that statins do not help those who are at low or moderate risk – which is the majority of people who are prescribed the drugs.
So, one has to wonder why these drugs are being prescribed to so many people who don’t need them, especially if they are so dangerous…
“In 2017 the global cholesterol-lowering industry is worth $19.2 Billion and is forecast to grow 4.9% each year during the next five years. Which means that the industry will be worth $24.4 Billion in 2022.” (SOURCE)
National Center for Health Statistics, states that nearly a quarter of all Americans over the age of 45 take statins and the industry is worth more than 19 BILLION DOLLARS. As a result, there are great conflicts of interest within the pharmaceutical industry and their never ending obsession of promoting a causal link between cholesterol and heart disease. I mean, they are the best selling drugs in the history of mankind. That’s honestly the main reason why they won’t leave us alone.
So that’s kind of it, in a nutshell. Cholesterol is good and necessary. Statins are not good, and usually not necessary.
If you are fit or reasonably healthy and your doctor tells you that you have high cholesterol, question it. There are good and bad levels but usually your doctor wont dive that deep before prescribing drugs. Ask for a Lipid Subfraction test. Don’t just take a statin prescription and go on with your life. It really isn’t worth it.
On a final note, heart disease and other related diseases can mostly be prevented with exercise – and there are no nasty side effects (other than a pretty sweet looking body). If you’re really concerned about heart disease and you currently do not do any form of exercise, I’m afraid that might be your real problem. Go for a run and lift some weights and your heart health will prove dramatically. I promise.
Oh, and watch this if you wanna know more – it’s a good quick summary of some scammy cholesterol drug companies.