Cholesterol is a very misunderstood molecule. Many people might not be aware of it, but, for a long time, there has been a vocal minority of doctors, researchers, and health professionals who believe that cholesterol and fat have been wrongly convicted as the primary promoters of heart disease. Along with many of our fellow health professionals, we believe that this emphasis on cholesterol has caused us to take our attention off what we believe to be the true promoters of heart disease – inflammation, oxidative damage, stress, and sugar. Therefore, “blaming cholesterol for heart disease is like blaming the fireman for the fire”.
According to cardiologist Dr. Stephen Sinatra and Dr. Jonny Bowden, ND (naturopathic doctor), the evidence against cholesterol as a causal factor in heart disease is much weaker than was previously believed. They make their case in their book, The Great Cholesterol Myth, complete with hundreds of medical references from peer-reviewed journals. They also believe that the statin drugs given to lower cholesterol are being over-prescribed and are not without significant side effects.
Cholesterol is needed for life. Cholesterol is the parent molecule for all the major sex hormones, including estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone. It’s needed for the immune system, and it’s needed for the brain. In fact, one of the most serious side effects of cholesterol-lowering medication is memory loss. Cholesterol also makes vitamin D in the skin (which many people are low in), helps with neurotransmitter function, lubricates the skin, and protects us from infectious disease of the GI tract and of the lungs. We need this stuff. According to some studies in Europe, the higher your cholesterol, the longer you’re going to live.
Cholesterol is the wrong target for heart disease. “Trying to prevent heart disease by lowering cholesterol is like trying to reduce calories by taking the lettuce off your [hamburger],” says Jonny Bowden. It’s not that the lettuce doesn’t have any calories – it’s that it’s the wrong target. And cholesterol is the wrong target if you’re trying to prevent heart disease. Neither cholesterol nor fat is the major villain in the American diet – sugar is. We also believe that the case against cholesterol, which was made nearly 30 years ago, was based on faulty evidence. The case needs to be reopened, and the evidence needs to be re-examined.
Thus, everything we’ve heard about cholesterol is wrong. Many people with normal and low cholesterol have heart attacks, and fifty percent of people with elevated cholesterol have normal, healthy hearts. At The Whole Journey we see high “bad” cholesterol as the body’s response to inflammation, so rather than seek to control cholesterol, we seek to find and eliminate the root cause of the inflammation, so your body can find its own balance of healthy cholesterol.
Reading and Interpreting Your Labs
It is helpful to learn how to read and interpret your own scores. Total cholesterol is an almost meaningless number. To get valuable information from cholesterol numbers means you have to look at them more closely: at HDL, LDL (including particle size, so ask for the particle size test when you meet with your doctor), and triglycerides.
The traditional message to avoid fat and cholesterol must fall apart, because while it might lower your cholesterol somewhat, it will turn what you have into MORE harmful cholesterol. Eating a low-carb, high fat diet might raise your total cholesterol a tiny amount (on average), but it also raises your HDL cholesterol (the good one), lowers your triglycerides, and increases the size of your LDL particles (very good for your health!). The smaller the particle size, the worse the LDL is for your health. So relax, and let the fear of cholesterol melt away.
Guidelines to Achieve Healthy Cholesterol and a Healthy Heart
Avoid or reduce:
•all trans-fats and hydrogenated oils (fractionated oils). Eliminate any product that has “hydrogenated” in its food label from your pantry and refrigerator. This includes margarines, shortening, and most commercially-produced cakes, cookies, and crackers. Watch out for non-dairy creamers.
•all GMOs – soy, corn, cottonseed, canola oil, and sugar from sugar beets
•pasteurized dairy products and gluten/wheat
•the use of iodized salt. Replace with Himalayan pink salt or Celtic sea salt.
•high-sugar foods such as cakes, candies, cookies, and processed desserts.
Add to your diet:
•legumes and beans: mung, aduki, black, garbanzo, lentils, tempeh
•gluten-free grains: quinoa, millet, amaranth, brown rice, buckwheat
•vegetables (especially fat-busting veggies such as onion, leek, daikon and red radish, scallions, shallots, and chives)
•dark, leafy greens
•fruit: organic berries, apple, grapefruit, and other citrus fruits
•spices: cinnamon and turmeric (½ teaspoon of each per day)
•fish: wild cold water fish like salmon, tuna, herring, mackerel, and sardines
•pasture-raised animal meats
•good fats: avocado, raw nuts and seeds, ghee, grass-fed butter, duck fat (yes, duck fat), avocado oil, and coconut oil
•fish oil capsules (2-3 with breakfast)
•greens complex capsules (2 with breakfast and 2 with lunch)
•turmeric capsules (2 with breakfast and 2 with lunch)
•CoQ10 (1 upon waking and 1 mid-morning)
For more information, read The Great Cholesterol Myth by Dr. Jonny Bowden and Dr. Stephen Sinatra.