Dr. Roy Murrell, DC 200 NE 20th Avenue, Suite 140 Portland Oregon 97232 - disclaimer - 971-312-9497
THE CHOLESTEROL MYTH
So much has been said and written about the dangers of cholesterol in the last 10 years. I thought it important to reveal what some scientists (at least those not closely associated with the pharmaceutical industry) are saying that contradicts our main-stream medicine philosophy on this subject.
The medical community, with strong pushing from the drug companies, have convinced the public that certain levels of cholesterol will cause heart disease and that you should keep yours below their recommended levels. The preferred treatment protocol to attain these low levels is to take what is known as a Statin (cholesterol lowering drug) and there are several different kinds on the market. There are some 26 million Americans taking just Lipitor alone.
WHAT IS CHOLESTEROL AND WHY DO WE NEED IT?
Cholesterol is a type of fat that:
- is a major component of most of our hormones
- is a major component of all cell walls
- reacts with sunlight to produce Vit.D
- plays a major role in our memory and neurological function
The two most common forms of cholesterol are HDL (high-density lipoproteins) and LDL (low-density). Basically this is cholesterol attached to different kinds of proteins that help transport it through the blood. 75% of all cholesterol in your body is made by the Liver and has nothing to do with diet. HDLs are called "the good cholesterol" because they take cholesterol back to the liver, but the irony is they take it back to the liver to be recycled and reused, not to be eliminated. LDLs carry cholesterol to the tissue where it is used for the functions listed above. You could not survive without it. There are different sizes of LDLs and the very small ones are considered to be a risk because they can get trapped in the lining of the blood vessels and become oxidized causing an inflammatory response.
Also making up your total cholesterol are your Triglyceride levels. High levels of these fats are associated with over consumption of high-glycemic foods (high sugar content) along with grains, alcohol, and smoking. I’ll talk about the risk of these later and their role in inflammation.
TOTAL CHOLESTEROL AND HEART DISEASE RISK
There are many who say that total cholesterol levels are a very poor indication of heart disease risk. Half of all heart attack patients have what is considered normal cholesterol and there are patients who have low cholesterol and are considered at high risk due to their HDL/LDL ratios. A much better indication for risk is the HDL/Cholesterol ratio and the Triglyceride/HDL ratio. Just divide your HDL by your Cholesterol and that percentage should ideally be above 24. You can also divide your Triglycerides by your HDL and that percentage should be below 2. That being said, these are still only an indication, and far from the total picture.
THE CONNECTION BETWEEN CHOLESTEROL AND INFLAMMATION
There is a great deal of credible science that points to inflammation being the major heart disease risk, not cholesterol. Just what is their connection? Everyone is familiar with inflammation; it makes you hurt! Actually inflammation is our body's natural process of responding to irritated or injured tissue. The mechanics of inflammation are:
- Your blood vessels constrict to keep you from bleeding to death
- Your blood becomes thicker so it can clot
- Your immune system sends cells and chemicals to fight viruses and bacteria that could infect the area
- Cells multiply to repair damage to the tissue
- Some of this repair tissue is not the same structure as the original tissue and is commonly called a scar
When it is your blood vessels that are damaged, the scar that is left from the repair is called a plaque, which everyone knows can be a source of blocked arteries. A blocked artery in the heart is essentially a heart attack (the heart muscle is dying due to lack of oxygen and nutrients getting to the muscle).
Cholesterol comes into the picture because your body needs it to build new cells. If you have irritated, inflamed blood vessels, the immune inflammatory response will trigger the liver to make more cholesterol and send it to the site of the irritation to help in the repair process. It is the irritation and inflammation that is starting the disease process, not the cholesterol. If someone has chronic inflammation, they become a high risk for continued scaring of the walls of the blood vessels that can result in a vascular occlusion.
Many scientists feel that we are treating a symptom and not the cause (how many times have you heard that in our health care system?) We should be treating the cause of the chronic inflammation. Unfortunately, there is no money to be made preventing inflammation.
How do we know if we have systemic inflammation? One of the best tests is the C-reactive protein marker (CRP) in the blood.
- A CRP of under 1 is considered a low risk
- A level of 1-3 is a moderate risk
- A level of 3 or higher is considered a high risk
There are some who feel this focus on cholesterol is an invented disease that evolved when they learned how to measure cholesterol in the blood. What quickly followed was a new drug that essentially blocks your liver from making cholesterol and that drug has become a blockbuster.
WHAT ARE THE RISKS OF CHOLESTEROL LOWERING DRUGS?
As mentioned above, Statin drugs block an enzyme in your liver that is essential for making cholesterol. Unfortunately, the drugs also block a whole family of intermediary molecules that are essential for a host of important functions. For starters, Statins deplete your body’s store of Co-enzyme Q10.
Most people have heard of CoQ10 but do not really understand what it does. It plays an essential role in the Mitochondria of every cell in the body. The Mitochondria are the power-plants of the cell; they produce the energy the cell runs on, and so the energy you run on. The heart is, as you would expect, is a huge energy consumer. Heart cells have more CoQ10 than any other cells. There have been numerous studies that show statin drugs deplete CoQ10 and weaken the heart's ability to pump blood. This is essentially what congestive heart failure is, and we currently have an epidemic of it in this country and getting worse every year
Statins are also linked to:
- An increased risk of polyneuropathy (nerve damage that causes pain in the hands and feet)
- Cognitive impairment, including memory loss (This is the second most common side effect next to muscle weakness)
- Decreased function of the immune system (There have been some studies that show patients with very low cholesterol levels from Statins have higher rates of cancer and autoimmune diseases)
- Liver problems, including a potential increase in liver enzymes
DO STATIN DRUGS REALLY PREVENT HEART ATTACKS?
In the industry, most drugs have what is called an NNT number which stands for "Number Needed to Treat". What it means is: how many people need to take a drug to prevent 1 case of the disease or in this case, one heart attack. Lipitor likes to boast that it reduces heart attacks by 36% but it you follow on to the fine print it states that in a large study 3% of people taking a sugar pill and 2% of people taking Lipitor had heart attacks. So out of a 100 people there was one less heart attack in the group taking Lipitor for 3 years of the study and all this at a cost of millions of health care dollars and untold additional health issues from the known side effects. Statins have been on the market since the late 80’s and we have yet to see any substantial decrease in heart attack related deaths.
HOW DO YOU LOWER YOUR RISK OF VASCULAR INFLAMMATION?
The best way to prevent inflammation is related to dietary habits (that is why there is no money in treating the real cause of this problem). For years we have been told that eating saturated fat was the root of all cholesterol and heart problems. This has been totally proven to be false in several good studies. That being said, there are good fats and bad fats but it has nothing to do with saturation. It has everything to do with what type of fats you cook with and how you cook with them. The worst thing you can do is overheat a fat that is not meant for cooking. It breaks down their bonds and turns them into trans-fats. I think everyone has heard of trans-fats by now and how bad they are for your heart. One of the best fats to saute with is coconut oil. It has a high smoke point (it takes the heat without breaking down) and it is very shelf stable (does not turn rancid). Grapeseed oil is also very heat stable and has a very mild flavor. Olive oil is a great oil but you don't want to heat it too hot. Most of your vegetable oils are not good for cooking with the exception of peanut oil.
Other sources of inflammation are:
- High consumption of sugar and grains
- No exercise
- Emotional Stress
- High consumption of Alcohol
HOW TO LOWER YOUR CHOLESTEROL NATURALLY
If you do have high cholesterol (say above 200) or abnormal HDL/LDL ratios, it is usually easy to improve them with diet alone. The first thing you want to eliminate is SUGAR or anything that has high levels of Fructose in it. If you did not read my last blog on Fructose, it is on my web site. Fructose converts to cholesterol in your liver! Other sources of Fructose are honey, Agave, and of course high-fructose corn syrup. I highly recommend Stevia as an alternative sweetener; just use a tiny bit as it is very, very sweet.
It is also very important to consume at least 2000 mg/day of high-quality fish oil. I recommend Nordic Naturals but there are other good brands as well. Fish oil alone can vastly improve your HDL and LDL levels.
Try to buy only organic, grass fed meats along with organic raw nuts and seeds.
Last, but not least, EXERCISE!!!!!!!! Especially cardiovascular exercise. I have not had a patient yet that could not bring their cholesterol down using these simple steps. (Sometimes, they are not so simple if you are a sugar addict).
If you are currently on Statin medication: look at changing your diet and talk to your physician about decreasing your dose or getting off them all together. If this is not possible for you, make sure you take CoQ10 supplements to help counter the effects of the drug. In addition, do your own research. There is extensive information on the web that is based on actual, credible, scientific research.
Yours in Health
NOTE: Just a reminder that as of Aug 23rd my online appointment system will require everyone to set up an actual password. Before now, it only required your email to access to the system, but that is now changing. You will be prompted after the 23rd with instructions to set up a password (at least 8 characters, at least 1 capital, at least 1 lowercase, and at least 1 number). You can still use your email for login.