Let me start off this post by reiterating that I am not a doctor or any sort of qualified medical professional, what I have written below is information gathered from trusted sources, mainly Dr Ron Krauss, a pioneering scientist who has changed the way we think about saturated fat and cholesterol. I have included a link to a podcast with Krauss and Dr Rhonda Patrick below where they discuss cholesterol in depth.
Ok, good, now that I have covered my ass, let’s get on with it.
It is thought that there is good cholesterol and bad cholesterol, however it is much more complicated than that. Cholesterol is bad if it gets stuck in the arteries, however it is actually vital for the function and health of our cells, and we are just a collection of cells after all. This means that the fundamental role of cholesterol is one which promotes health, but too much ‘bad’ cholesterol, which is normally the result of a poor diet and sedentary lifestyle, is a problem.
When measuring cholesterol it is a summation of cholesterol in a whole series of LDL particles. People who have small dense LDL particles are at more risk of heart disease than those that have larger buoyant particles. This seems counter-intuitive but it turns out that these smaller particles have a greater tendency to end up in the artery wall, which can result in the arteries becoming blocked which is a cause of heart disease.
As well as LDL, there is also HDL cholesterol. People with low HDL cholesterol could actually be at a higher risk than people with high LDL cholesterol. HDL cholesterol ‘cleans up’ the LDL cholesterol from all tissues. Too much cholesterol in the cell can be toxic so HDL can extract the LDL from the tissue including the arteries, which will reduce the risk of heart attack. However, studies have shown that raising HDL cholesterol hasn’t been successful in preventing heart disease but nearly every treatment that reduces LDL to a satisfactory marker has been successful.
So in attempt to summarise and to try to put it in a way my simple brain understands;
Ideally, the LDL cholesterol in the body is of the large buoyant type. There is not too much of it, and we want higher amounts of HDL cholesterol to help clean up the LDL cholesterol from the tissues if there is too much of it. However higher amounts of HDL on its own will not prevent heart disease, whereas reducing LDL can (if I could, I’d insert an emoticon with a bit of sweat falling from the brow here!)…..I’m going for a lie down now!
So what could be the cause of high cholesterol?
Saturated fat was once seen as the cause of heart disease, partially due to the sugar industry convincing people this was the case, you can read more about that here. For the general population however, saturated fat does not increase small particles of LDL cholesterol by a significant amount (this doesn’t include processed foods containing saturated fats), whereas processed refined carbohydrates does. Studies have shown that when people were put on low fat diets, the small LDL particles actually increased due to the amount of processed refined carbohydrates, full of added sugar, that were replacing the fat (please note that I am not an advocate of the no carb diet, I eat loads of carbs but not refined ones).
What can be done about high cholesterol?
Unfortunately, due to funding, there haven’t been many (if any) large study’s carried out on diet and lifestyle in correlation to reducing LDL cholesterol compared to the trials carried out on Statins. I don’t really want to get in to Statins too much in this post as I am definitely not qualified to do that, and I’m not even going to mention the potential side effects. If a doctor prescribes Statins then it is your choice on whether or not to take them, this post isn’t about being against Statins, or for them for that matter. However if a doctor has prescribed Statins, then it may be worth getting further tests done on the actual LDL particles to find out whether the high count is due to small or large particles. Your doctor or physician may be more qualified to give you an opinion on whether or not it is a good idea to take medication with that information at hand. One of the reasons that this test is a good idea is that taking Statins reduces both the small LDL particles and the large LDL particles without differentiating between the two (similar to the way antibiotics kill the good bacteria as well as the bad).
Finally on the Statin subject, even if you do have to take them, surely it would be a good idea to improve your lifestyle anyway rather than rely on medication. To do that, cut out the refined carbohydrates, you can find a list here which will assist you with this.
I think I’ve probably dug myself a deep enough hole with this post so I will leave it for now. If you are a doctor, physician or any other expert in the world of cholesterol and you feel there is some misguided information in the article, please do get in touch.
The podcast where I got most of this information here can be found here.