What is Cholesterol?
Cholesterol is simply a fatty substance found in every single cell in your body, both in the cell membranes and within organelles inside the cell. Cholesterol is a vital substance, necessary for numerous functions, including:
- Maintaining cell membrane integrity and fluidity within the cell
- Assisting with cell signaling
- Integral for hormone production, especially reproductive hormones
- Vitamin D production
- Used in bile acids production, necessary for digestion
- Brain and neurological function (the brain generally holds about 25% of the body’s cholesterol)
Cholesterol is so vital to the body’s functions that your liver can make all that it needs to survive. It’s not reliant upon you to eat cholesterol to provide the necessary amount, though some of the cholesterol that you eat may make its way into the bloodstream. Looking at the importance of cholesterol, it’s difficult to imagine how modern medicine has come to vilify it. The answer to that involves a look at the plaque inside of hardened arteries (atherosclerosis).
We know that heart disease arises from hardened arteries, called atherosclerosis. In those with atherosclerosis, plaque builds up along arterial walls, diminishing both the elasticity of the artery and the space available for blood to flow through it. When doctors analyzed the plaque itself, they found that it was made up of several components, including calcium and, you guessed it, cholesterol. This led to cholesterol eventually being declared dangerous at high levels in the blood, and the development of drugs to lower cholesterol, like statins. When looking at cholesterol levels, doctors further subdivide it into LDL (low density lipoproteins), HDL (high density lipoproteins), and triglycerides (not actually a cholesterol, but another kind of blood fat, involved in energy storage). A lipid panel is the usual test for
establishing blood cholesterol levels, and measures total cholesterol in the blood. The results are compared against a range of norms for each type. Depending on where you fall compared to these “normal” ranges, your doctor could advise the use of statins and/or a “heart healthy” low fat diet.
Cholesterol can’t travel alone through the blood, because it’s water insoluble. Once it’s manufactured in the liver, cholesterol is combined with other compounds like sulfur or protein to transit through the bloodstream. The protein in a lipoprotein surrounds the cholesterol kind of like passengers in a car, hence the word lipoprotein. LDL (low density lipoprotein) is considered the bad cholesterol, the most involved in damage to the inner walls of blood vessels. In actuality, LDL isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s sent out from the liver to perform the many functions that cholesterol performs, as noted. HDL (high density lipoprotein) is in many ways LDL’s balance. HDL’s are on their way back to the liver, and are involved in healing damage to vessel walls (plaque removal) and latching on to spent or oxidized LDL particles in order to return them to the liver for reprocessing. This is why HDL is considered the good cholesterol. HDL levels are what doctors are looking for when they test total cholesterol. Statins come in when doctors want to lower LDL levels in the blood.
How Do Statins Work?
Statins are basically enzyme blockers. They target a reductase enzyme, specifically HMG-CoA reductase (abbreviated to HMGCR), which sends the trigger to the liver to produce cholesterol. Normally this process happens naturally in the body, and is balanced by other triggers, which induce the liver to break down LDL particles. Statins inhibit HMGCR production, which reduces the amount of cholesterol that the liver can produce, often resulting in lowered total blood cholesterol.
Sounds good, right? Here’s the catch…
Mainstream doctors will tell you that high cholesterol will increase your risk of heart attack or stroke, and so, therefore, taking a lipid lowering drug like a statin will reduce that risk. Then they use the standard lipid panel to determine cholesterol levels, and a whole lot of people end up on statin drugs. But did you know that many people who have heart attacks don’t have high cholesterol levels? A very large study using data from the WHO established that only about half of the people who suffered from a heart attack had elevated LDL levels at the time. About 20% of those in the study were taking lipid lowering meds and still had a heart attack. This calls the effectiveness of statin drugs into question.
Now let’s look at the side effects of statins. We learned earlier that cholesterol is vital to the proper functioning of our cells and numerous systems of the body. Inhibiting the production of cholesterol can have some very negative effects, and we see this borne out in the listed side effects of statin drugs which include:
- Myalgia (muscle pain or weakness) and muscle damage, potentially severe
- Digestion problems
- High blood pressure
- Type 2 diabetes (increased risk)
- Neurological problems, including memory loss, brain fog, mental confusion, cognition problems
- A Better Solution to High Cholesterol
Remember, just because you have high cholesterol doesn’t mean you are at risk for a heart attack, just as having low cholesterol doesn’t mean you aren’t at risk. Fix the cell, get well. I can’t tell you get off statins, only your doctor can do so. I can suggest you educate yourself
about statins, cholesterol’s true function, inflammation, and root causes of disease. Story at-a-glance primary cause of heart disease is not high cholesterol but insulin and leptin resistance, which increase LDL particle number via a couple of different mechanisms. Poor thyroid function can also directly increase LDL particle number, and should be checked if your LDL particle number is high Insulin and leptin resistance is caused by factors inherent in our modern lifestyle, including a diet high in processed and refined carbohydrates, sugars/fructose, refined flours, and industrial seed oils; insufficient physical activity; chronic sleep deprivation; environmental toxins; and poor gut health.
The incorrect idea that high cholesterol causes heart disease has led to the demonization of entire categories of extremely healthful foods (like eggs and saturated fats), and cholesterol has been falsely blamed for just about every case of heart disease in the last 20 years.
Fat and cholesterol are commonly believed to be the worst foods you can consume. Please understand that these myths are actually harming your health. Not only is cholesterol most likely not going to destroy your health (as you have been led to believe), but it is also not the cause of heart disease.
The Problem with the Conventional Approach
For the past 50 years, you’ve been told that eating saturated fat and high-cholesterol foods will raise cholesterol serum levels. However, research published over the past 10 or 15 years suggests that neither of those statements are true. One of the main problems there is the massive conflicts of interest in the medical profession. We have a situation where two-thirds of medical research is sponsored by pharmaceutical companies.
Conventional Tests Are Not Accurate Predictors of Heart Disease
If you’ve had your cholesterol levels checked, your doctor most likely tested your total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, HDL cholesterol, and triglycerides. But we now know those are not accurate predictors for cardiovascular disease risk.
Which Fats Are Healthy?
- Sources of healthful fats (and in some cases cholesterol) include:
- Olives and Olive oil, Coconuts and coconut oil
- Butter made from raw grass-fed organic milk, Raw nuts, such as almonds or pecans
- Organic pastured egg yolks, Avocados
- Grass-fed meat, Unheated organic nut oil
- Another healthful fat you want to be mindful of is animal-based omega-3. Deficiency in this essential fat can cause or contribute to very serious health problems, both mental and physical, and may be a significant underlying factor of up to 96,000 premature deaths each year.
High Cholesterol Is NOT the Cause of Heart Disease
The first thing to understand is you don’t have a cholesterol level in your blood, actually. Cholesterol is fat-soluble, and blood is mostly water. For it to be transported around the blood, cholesterol needs to be carried by a protein, specifically by a lipoprotein. These lipoproteins are classified by density. So, you have very low-density lipoprotein or VLDL, low-density lipoprotein or LDL, and high-density lipoprotein or HDL, which are the main ones. I mentioned before the analogy that our bloodstream is like a river. Remember that the
lipoproteins are like boats that carry the cholesterol and fats around the body. The cholesterol and fats are like cargo in the boats. Research suggests not all cholesterol is ad for you.
What Raises Your LDL Particle Number?
If the primary cause of heart disease is not high cholesterol, then what is? Part of the reason why statins are ineffective for heart disease prevention (besides the fact that the drug causes heart disease as a side effect) is that drugs cannot address the real cause of heart disease, which is insulin and leptin resistance, which in turn increase LDL particle number via a couple of different mechanisms. While some genetic predisposition can play a role, insulin and leptin resistance is primarily caused by a combination of factors that are epidemic in our modern lifestyle:
- A diet high in processed and refined carbohydrates, sugars/fructose, refined flours, and industrial seed oils
- Insufficient everyday physical activity. Leading a sedentary lifestyle causes biochemical changes that predispose you to insulin and leptin resistance
- Chronic sleep deprivation. Studies have shown that even one night of disturbed sleep can decrease your insulin sensitivity the next day and cause cravings and overeating
- Environmental toxins. Exposure to BPA, for example, can disrupt your brain’s regulation of weight
- Poor gut health. Studies indicate that imbalances in your gut flora (the bacteria that live in our gut) can predispose you to obesity and insulin and leptin resistance. According to Kresser, gut inflammation can even affect your cholesterol more directly.
“There are some studies that show that lipopolysaccharide, which is an endotoxin that can be found in some types of bacteria in the gut… If the intestinal barrier is permeable, which shouldn’t be, of course, some of that lipopolysaccharide can get into your bloodstream. LDL
particles actually have an antimicrobial effect. So, LDL particles will increase if there is some endotoxin going into the bloodstream… causing a direct increase of LDL particles.” The culmination of the synergistic effect of these factors will put pressure on your liver to increase production of lipoproteins, more specifically: low-density lipoproteins (LDL), (i.e. more “boats in the river”), which increases your heart disease risk.
Besides insulin and leptin resistance, another common cause of elevated LDL particle number is poor thyroid function. T3 hormone (which is the most active form of thyroid hormone) is required to activate the LDL receptor, which is what takes LDL out of the circulation. If you have poor thyroid function or low T3 levels, then your LDL receptor activity will be poor, and you’ll have a higher number of LDL particles. The good news is, if this is the cause for your elevated LDL particle number, then addressing your thyroid problem will reduce it. “Insulin resistance and leptin resistance are widespread problems… and that’s one of the main driving forces in elevated LDL particle number. The reason for that is that LDL particles carry not only cholesterol, but also triglycerides, fat-soluble vitamins, and antioxidants… If you have high triglycerides, which you often will when you have insulin or leptin resistance, then that means a given LDL particle can carry less cholesterol, because it’s stuffed full of triglycerides. Your liver will then have to make more LDL particles to carry that same given amount of cholesterol around the tissues and cells in your body.
Intermittent fasting is one of many ways to improve insulin sensitivity and leptin sensitivity, because there are certain processes in the body that engage after you haven’t eaten for a period of time. They’re all evolutionary mechanisms that are designed to help us survive in
periods of food scarcity. You have an upregulation in metabolism basically, and… your insulin and leptin sensitivity improves.
It’s a really good way for people to lose weight, which again will improve insulin and leptin sensitivity, because obesity is both a cause and an effect of leptin resistance. I think it’s a really great strategy for most people; The only kind of caution might be in people who have pretty severe fatigue, or are suffering from some kind of chronic illness, and need to eat more often.
But for most people, I think it’s great.”
Coconut oil is most beneficial during the transition period from burning sugar to burning fat, as it will not upset insulin and leptin resistance. It’s neutral, yet it is rapidly metabolized and provides a good source of energy. Fatigue can be a real challenge, so if you want to try intermittent fasting but worry about flagging energy levels, coconut oil can be a useful tool. You can even have some coconut oil during your fasting period as it will not interrupt the beneficial processes that are happening while you’re fasting. It’s mainly protein and carbohydrate that will interrupt those processes. So having a little coconut oil in the morning might help you make it through until you break your fast for your first meal.