Cholesterol and your health
What you need to know
Cholesterol is often demonized in public press and medical literature for increasing the risk of atherosclerosis and heart disease. This simplistic view has fueled a number of myths and clouded the truth about the role of cholesterol in the body.
Cholesterol is absolutely vital for our existence.
Your body NEEDS cholesterol—it’s important in the production of cell membranes, hormones, vitamin D and bile acids that help you to digest fat. Cholesterol also helps your brain function optionally and is vital to your neurological function and immune system function. This soft, waxy substance is found not only in your bloodstream, but also in every cell in your body.
The only “bad” outcome is when cholesterol ends up inside of the wall of an artery, most famously the inside of a coronary artery or a carotid artery, AND leads to an inflammatory cascade which results in the obstruction of that artery.
Did you know 25% of the cholesterol in your body is found in your brain
Types of Cholesterol
Since cholesterol is a fat, it can’t travel alone in the bloodstream. It would end up as useless globs (imagine bacon fat floating in a pot of water). To get around this problem, the body packages cholesterol and other lipids into minuscule protein-covered particles that mix easily with blood. These tiny particles, called lipoproteins (lipid plus protein), move cholesterol and other fats throughout the body.
High density lipoproteins (good Cholesterol)
Helps keep cholesterol away from your arteries and removes any excess aerial plaque, helping prevent heart disease
Low density lipoprotein (bad cholesterol)
May build up in your arteries and form plaque. Plaque narrows your arteries and may develop into a clot, which may go to your heart or brain and cause a heart attack or stroke.
The Cholesterol and Heart disease Connection
Because cholesterol helps to repair and heal your body, your liver will produce more if there is a great deal of inflammation occurring in your body. Cholesterol is not the initiating factor in artery damage; it is only serving a protective and healing role.
Cholesterol production by the liver will increase when:
- The body is under stress: emotional stress can cause elevated cholesterol because the stress hormone cortisol is made out of cholesterol. Physical stress on the body can also elevate cholesterol.
- If you have Metabolic issues, like insulin resistance, high blood sugar levels. Sugar can increase the amount of small, dense LDL particles (Bad cholesterol) in the blood. When high sugar and insulin levels disrupt cellular and metabolic processes, a number of harmful compounds cause small tears in the lining of the arteries.
- Consume processed foods, especially refined sugar and processed vegetable oils, which plays a significant role in the development of heart disease.
Even as the lining of the arteries become damaged, small, dense LDL cholesterol become oxidized and then trapped in the inflamed sites of the lining. The trapping of oxidized LDL cholesterol not only worsens the inflammation but also promotes the formation of plaques and the narrowing of the arteries.
The cholesterol found in arterial plaque is not just any cholesterol, but oxidized, damaged cholesterol.
We ingest (i.e., take in) cholesterol in many of the foods we eat and our body produces (“synthesizes”) cholesterol from various precursors. About 25% of our daily “intake” of cholesterol comes from what we eat (called exogenous cholesterol), and the remaining 75% of our “intake” of cholesterol is made by our body (called endogenous production).
Of this “made” or “synthesized” cholesterol, our liver synthesizes about 20% of it and the remaining 80% is synthesized by other cells in our bodies.(1).
To Summarize: Eating cholesterol has very little impact on the cholesterol levels in your body. Most of the cholesterol in our body was made by our body and Most of the cholesterol we eat is not absorbed and is excreted by our gut (i.e., leaves our body in stool)
Years ago the Canadian Guidelines removed the limitation of dietary cholesterol. The rest of the world, especially the United States, needs to catch up. (2).
The problems with Statin drugs
Statin drugs are very effective for lowering your cholesterol. However, they shut down your body’s innate capability to create the cholesterol it needs for proper cellular- and brain function. Statins also prevent your body from generating sufficient levels of vitamin D from exposure to the sun, because the UVB rays in sunlight interact with the cholesterol in your skin and convert it to vitamin D. Also those on Statins that report serious side effects like insomnia, muscle weakness, pain, abdominal cramping, and memory loss.
Statin drugs do not have an overall beneficial impact on health and longevity. Conventional medicine misses the boat entirely when they dangerously recommend that lowering cholesterol with drugs is the way to reduce your risk of heart attacks, because what is actually needed is to address whatever is causing your body damage — and leading to increased inflammation and then increased cholesterol.
Markers for Heart Disease
Of more importance to cardiovascular health are triglycerides, another group of fats found in the blood. Studies show that looking at the ratios between so-called good and bad cholesterol—the HDL and LDL—as well as your triglycerides are far more potent markers for heart disease. The ratio of triglycerides to HDL cholesterol is a pretty accurate predictor of cardiovascular health.
Some people can have total cholesterol levels over 250 and can be at LOW heart disease risk due to their HDL levels. Other people have cholesterol levels under 200 that were at a very HIGH risk of heart disease based on the following additional tests:
- HDL/Cholesterol ratio: Divide your HDL level by your total cholesterol. This percentage should ideally be above 24 percent
- Triglyceride/HDL ratio: Divide your triglycerides by your HDL level. This percentage should be below 2
Other heart disease markers to pay close attention to include:
- Ferritin levels, because iron participates in the oxidation of cholesterol
- Homocysteine levels, which can show potential deficiencies in crucial B vitamins
- Lipoprotein A (LPA), as it affects your blood coagulation
- 25-hydroxyvitamin D levels
- Blood viscosity
When patients bring in labs with elevated cholesterol and other lipid markers I have a few ways I support them using diet, lifestyle and acupuncture techniques.
Only about 20% of the cholesterol in your bloodstream comes from the food you eat. Your liver makes the rest, which is influenced by your insulin levels. Therefore, if you reduce inflammation and optimize your insulin level, you will automatically optimize your cholesterol.
- Avoid all fast, fried, refined, or processed foods, grains and sugar, high fructose.
- Avoid vegetable cooking oils, such as canola-, safflower, sunflower, corn, soy oil, and replacing them with organic coconut oil, which remains stable and does not oxidize at higher temperatures when you cook with it. Oxidized cholesterol is introduced into your system every time you eat something cooked in highly processed vegetable oils (canola, sunflower, corn, or soy). As soon as the oil is heated and mixes with oxygen, it goes rancid. Rancid oil is oxidized oil, and should not be consumed.
- A low carb ancestral, keto or paleo type diet seems to be effective for people with excess inflammation. These eating styles are low in processed foods, sugar, industrial seed oils and high in healthy fat. These nutrient dense diet approaches are anti-inflammatory and includes important micronutrients.
- Focus more on an array of vegetables, and monounsaturated fats like avocados, olives, and nuts, and long-chain omega-3 fats EPA and DHA found in cold-water fish and shellfish, grass fed beef, pastured eggs, grass fed butter, coconut Oil, animal lard, wild game.
*When it comes to choosing a diet plan, Individualization is incredibly important and should be tailored towards the individual. Please seek out a professional practitioner that can assist with what diet to select.
Supplements that are useful:
(please consult a professional before taking)
- Red rice yeast extract – This stuff actually contains the same ingredient found in statin drugs. This should be taken under your doctor’s supervision – powerful stuff. 600 to 1200 mg twice a day with food.
- Omega-3 oils – Anti-inflammatory and anti-clotting. They can also help to convert small dense LDL particles into larger buoyant versions. That’s a good thing. 1 to 4 grams a day.
- Niacin (vitamin B3) – This can increase HDL while decreasing LDL and Lp(a). Watch out for niacin-induced flushing, which is the result of vasodilatation. Decrease the flushing by taking the niacin with food or a small dose of aspirin. Too much B3 can cause liver stress and toxicity. 500 to 2000 mg daily with food.
- L-carnitine – This stuff can help to control Lp(a). 1 gram twice per day can be helpful.
- Vitamin K2 and Fat Soluble Vitamins –Vitamin K2 is only produced by grass-fed animals. It can be found in pastured raised egg yolks, grass-fed dairy and animal products. It is essential for bone health and protects against cardiovascular disease. All fat soluble vitamins have a complex synergy so ensuring enough vitamin A and D from cod liver oil is also key.
- CoQ10, especially if you are taking statin drugs. Statins blocks the CoQ10 pathway, causing it to be depleted. CoQ10 is vital for cellular energy production—without it your cells simply cannot function. As your body gets more and more depleted of CoQ10, you may suffer from fatigue, muscle weakness and soreness, and eventually heart failure. Coenzyme Q10 is also very important in the process of neutralizing free radicals.
- Turmeric or Curcumin – Powerful antioxidant and reduces inflammation in the body. Can be made into a tea or in capsule form.
- Gymnema and bitter melon, as well as the minerals chromium, magnesium and manganese all help to stabilize blood sugar and thereby reduce hunger and cravings. I know it can feel almost impossible to quit eating sugar, especially if your body is accustomed to it and you suffer with unstable blood sugar (hypoglycaemia). That’s when a blood sugar balancing supplement can really help.
ACUPUNCTURE FOR HEART HEALTH
Acupuncture has been shown to have beneficial effects on the cardiovascular system via a neurohumoral pathway known as the long-loop pathway. Acupuncture is used to lower blood pressure in patients with hypertension, and to relieve angina in patients with coronary artery disease and decreases the blood pressure response during mental stress.
Acupuncture should be considered as a preventative measure against, and treatment for, heart disease. Western and Eastern practitioners should collaborate to achieve more-efficient and effective care of patients who are experiencing cardiovascular dysfunction.
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