Disclaimer: the information within this blog post and video are not to be considered a substitution for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.
As a certified Nutrition Consultant, I studied holistic nutrition. This simply means I learned how to support the body naturally through nutrition, supplements, and lifestyle changes.
I have given advice to folks (most importantly and recently my own mother) who have asked me for help with cholesterol. With my suggestions, their numbers and overall health improved, which is why I need to share this information with you.
You may be shocked to find out exactly how much of an impact my advice for you will have on your health if you simply do one thing – follow it. Do the work. Be a responsible adult and take care of your body by eating real food and ditching the junk.
Cholesterol is a waxy protective substance that is critical to countless body functions. It is a precursor to your hormones, it's needed to produce vitamin D, and is a critical substrate for the production of bile (which helps to break down and emulsify fats in the body).
Your body makes cholesterol to the level that you need in response to inflammation in the body.
The cholesterol that you eat doesn’t impact your cholesterol as much as you would think. According to Uffe Ravnskov, this impact is only about one half of one percent.
Let me repeat that: eating foods rich in cholesterol, will have little to no impact on your blood cholesterol numbers.
A lot of folks are attempting to lower their cholesterol through prescriptions or even supplementation with omega 3 fatty acids, but I want you to consider this extremely important analogy:
When you take a statin drug or fish oil in an attempt to lower your cholesterol numbers, it’s as if you are spraying water on a house that's on fire.
The problem is that there’s a party with a bunch of folks lighting matches. You can throw all the water you want on the fire, and maybe temporarily it will look contained from the outside, but there will still be matches being lit from the inside.
When taking a statin drug to lower cholesterol, the problem is not being addressed.
The inflammation (the matches and fire itself) are not being stopped, they're simply being masked from the outside.
When you don’t change your diet and lifestyle choices to improve your overall health, lowering cholesterol is pointless, and in fact, it can be dangerous.
Why? If you are continuing to live a life that caused your cholesterol to raise in the first place, taking a pill in an attempt to lower the number suppresses the body’s innate response to deal with inflammation: cholesterol!
That’s right, cholesterol is there to respond to the inflammation.
What you should be doing instead of lowering cholesterol, is lowering the inflammation in your body!
Why do I have high cholesterol?
Nutrition and lifestyle factors that contribute to high cholesterol numbers (and more inflammation in the body) for the wrong reasons:
- alcohol consumption (your liver needs to focus on detoxifying it as a priority versus handling proper cholesterol metabolism)
- smoking (which I forgot to mention in the video, frankly because I so rarely work with or interact with anyone who still smokes)
- excess sugar and carbohydrate consumption (I am not talking about sweet potatoes, or fruit here, but refined and processed sugars)
- lack of exercise or low activity level
- trans fats and vegetable oils – corn, canola, soybean, cottonseed, etc.
- stress (if you are going through a stressful period in your life, wait to have cholesterol tested)
- weight loss (if you are actively losing weight, it is not a great time to get tested – test when you are weight-stable for three months or longer)
- a rare genetic disorder called Familial Hypercholesterolemia (FH)
FH runs in a family and causes extremely high cholesterol numbers.
Most people confuse poor lifestyle habits with actually having a FH / the genetic disorder.
Very few people are affected by FH. Your cholesterol would be close to or over 1,000 if you had this genetic disorder. You must work with a doctor if this is the case.
If your numbers are falling in the 300-350 range, this is not you.
I repeat – most people do not have high cholesterol due to genetic factors.
If you are reading this and you are eating a healthy real food diet and are an active, healthy individual, then most likely, you do not have high cholesterol for the wrong reasons.
It may look “high” from your doctor's standards, but that’s because doctors are required to prescribe a statin if your cholesterol is over 200. Additionally, and quite sadly, doctors benefit financially from prescribing these drugs to you. Unfortunately, that’s part of our “sick care” system. If you are a healthy person, then the doctor does not have answers for you. It is an unfortunate reality we all need to keep in mind, particularly with this topic.
Ladies, our cholesterol should be about 20-40 points higher than the average male because we have a ton more sex hormones to regulate in our body. I like to see our number between 180-240. Any lower and women start to struggle with infertility, PCOS, and other hormonal issues. Also, as we age, we need more cholesterol to support our brain health.
My point, we need cholesterol!
Four Additional Factors for Heart Disease
According to Chris Masterjohn PhD, the following are additional factors for heart disease beyond your cholesterol numbers:
- Your fasting insulin level
- Your fasting blood sugar level
- Your waist circumference (visceral fat)
- Your iron level
Many folks may have heard of HDL (High-Density Lipoprotein) and LDL (Low-Density Lipoprotein) cholesterol. LDL has been referred to as “bad” cholesterol and HDL has been referred to as “good” cholesterol, although this is not very accurate, they simply have different functions in the body.
HDL carries cholesterol to the liver in order to be processed (and removed), while LDL delivers cholesterol to the sites of inflammation/arteries.
An easy way to raise your HDL (or “good) cholesterol is to eat healthy, naturally occurring saturated fats, particularly from egg yolks and coconut oil.
If you get tested and discover your LDL levels are extremely high (over 200) after making diet and lifestye changes as I note in this video and post, you may want to check for (and possibly be treated for) hypothyroidism. Thyroid hormone and LDL receptor sites actually compete in the body, so there may be some dysfunction happening.
Triglycerides are circulating blood fat and may be a much better indication of how your diet matches up with what your body can handle, particularly in terms of carbohydrate tolerance. They are also an amazing marker to track if you are not someone who quickly stores body fat, and are convinced that you're healthy simply because you are slim.
The quite unfortunate effect on your health that can happen as a result of eating poor quality food and excess refined/poor quality carbohydrates in this case is that your blood stores more fat where it's invisible without testing (and more dangerous for your health) rather than your body where it's visible and potentially a lot less harmful.
In the new edition of Practical Paleo, I provide you exact details on figuring out your triglyceride ratio. To find the ratio, simply divide your total triglycerides by your HDL. Generally speaking, a ratio between 0 and 2.5 is good, between 2.5 and 3 may be cause for some lifestyle changes and over 3 may indicate insulin resistance and increased risk for cardiovascular disease and heart attack.
What are healthy cholesterol and triglyceride numbers?
In the Balanced Bites Master Class, we walk through each measure of your cholesterol panel comparing the conventional, medication-prescription-based ranges vs more accurate, functional ranges.
If you are struggling with cholesterol numbers and need help figuring out where your markers are “off” and how to improve them, this is going to help you tremendously. In the module, I break down not only the numbers but also what these molecules are doing in your body (and, in my humble opinion, this module alone is worth the entire cost of the class if you are needlessly taking a statin or are confused about cholesterol).
If your cholesterol level is motivating you to make a lifestyle change and focus on getting healthier, that’s great. But if your cholesterol level is giving you an excuse to simply take a prescription, then you need pause and reflect for a second.
That prescription is not solving the problem and you cannot just take a pill to absolve yourself of the responsibility of taking care of yourself.
It is irresponsible as a human to simply take a pill and not check yourself and the way you are handling your nutrition and lifestyle to better impact your health.
Pills have their place, but this truly isn't it for the vast majority of Americans.
If your triglycerides are high, your blood sugar is high, and your cholesterol is high… your cholesterol is most likely high because of each of those other problems.
A doctor prescribing a statin drug for you is not going to solve these problems.
While your doctor may not say it (though I wish he/she would), you need to take responsibility and change your dietary and lifestyle habits, not just pop a pill.
Statin drugs interfere with the liver‘s natural ability to synthesize cholesterol. This is not supporting a healthy normal body function. It's getting in the way.
The only time a prescription is you taking care of yourself is when your body does not make it naturally, like a thyroid hormone, insulin if you are type 1 diabetic, or perhaps low-dose Naltrexone if your immune system is out of balance.
Critical notes on statin drugs:
Statin drugs have only proven to be beneficial in men who have previously had a heart attack before. If you have not had a heart attack before, then the statin is most likely causing your body more harm than good.
Additionally you are on a statin drug, you must be taking the supplement, CoQ10*. Statins deplete CoQ10, which is needed for proper brain function. Responsible doctors now are aware of this and do tend to prescribe the supplement together with a statin, but if they do not, you still need to be taking it. Your body will suffer further, needlessly, as an effect of the statin drug.
References / Articles
- Genes, LDL-Cholesterol Levels, and the Central Role of LDL Receptor Activity in Heart Disease by Chris Masterjohn
- Why Cholesterol is Essential for Optimal Health, and the Six Most Important Risk Factors for Heart Disease
- How to Make Sense of your Cholesterol Levels [graphic]
- [NPR] Doctors Often Receive Payments from Drug Companies
- How doctors in the US actually get paid more for writing more statin prescriptions
- Coenzyme Q10 for Healthy Hearts
- The Great Cholesterol Myth, Jonny Bowden
- The Cholesterol Myths: Exposing the Fallacy that Saturated Fat and Cholesterol Cause Heart Disease, Uffe Ravnskov (no link)
- How Statin Drugs Really Lower Cholesterol (and kill you one cell at a time), James B. and Hannah Yoseph
- The Great Cholesterol Con: The truth about what causes heart disease and how to avoid it, Malcolm Kendrick
- Balanced Bites Podcast Episode #131: Cholesterol Confusion, Gum & Do I Really Need to Eat Meat?
- Balanced Bites Podcast Episode #101: Cholesterol Clarity with Jimmy Moore
- The Healthy Skeptic Podcast Episode 11 – Christ Masterjohn on cholesterol & heart disease (Part 1)
Balanced Bites Master Class
Liz and I cover this topic in great detail in the Master Class. Gifting options are available for the holiday season.
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* The recommended dosage for CoQ10is 200 mg / day, so you'd need to take 3-4 capsules/ day.