High cholesterol level in the blood (hypercholesterolemia) is a supposedly well-known risk factor for impairment of your endothelium and atherosclerosis. Approximately 100 million Americans have hypercholesterolemia, which is not surprising, with diets high in saturated fat and cholesterol. Foods high in animal fat, like fatty meats, whole-fat dairy products, and fried foods are the biggest reasons for high blood cholesterol.
However, cholesterol itself may not be as big of a risk factor for heart disease as many scientists and doctors have thought for years. Cholesterol is our most important molecule because it provides structure to every cell in our body. Without it we cannot produce sex hormones or bile synthesis. Cholesterol will not stick to your arterial walls if your endothelium is healthy. When it can be a problem is when your blood vessels start becoming damaged, which makes the surface rough, and this gives it something to attach to. If you are taking an HMG-CoA reductase inhibitor, also called a statin drug, which is a class of drugs commonly used to treat high cholesterol, this article is a must read.
Harry Elwardt, N.D., Ph.D. states in his book, Let’s Stop the #1 Killer of Americans Today, A Natural Approach to Preventing and Reversing Heart Disease, “Hypercholesterolemia is the health issue of the 21st century. It is actually an invented disease.” He goes on to say that it “exhibits no outward signs–unlike other conditions of the blood, such as diabetes or anemia, diseases that manifest telltale symptoms like thirst or weakness–hypercholesterolemia requires the services of a physician to detect its presence.” For this reason, many perfectly healthy-feeling people suffer from high cholesterol, and feeling good is actually a symptom of this condition.
Prior to 1984, when the Cholesterol Consensus Conference was held, the parameters for high cholesterol was cholesterol over 240 with other risk factors, such as smoking or being overweight. After that conference, the guidelines were changed to anyone with a cholesterol level over 200 was considered to have high cholesterol. Now the number has been moved down even further to 180.
Because of these reductions in the parameters for high cholesterol, more and more people are being prescribed statin drugs to lower their cholesterol level. If you have suffered a heart attack, you are automatically given these medications, even if you already have a low cholesterol level.
According to fairly recent studies done by some of the top research institutions, including Harvard, more than 60% of heart attack victims have normal cholesterol levels, and by comparison, the majority of people with high cholesterol never suffer a heart attack.
The following is an excerpt from Dr. Joseph Mercola in his August 10, 2010 newsletter. I strongly encourage you to read it in its entirety, as it contains extremely important information regarding cholesterol myths.
What is Cholesterol, and Why Do You Need It?
That’s right, you do need cholesterol.
This soft, waxy substance is found not only in your bloodstream, but also in every cell in your body, where it helps to produce cell membranes, hormones, vitamin D and bile acids that help you to digest fat. Cholesterol also helps in the formation of your memories and is vital for neurological function.
Your liver makes about 75 percent of your body’s cholesterol, and according to conventional medicine, there are two types:
1. High-density lipoprotein, or HDL: This is the “good” cholesterol that helps to keep cholesterol away from your arteries and remove any excess from arterial plaque, which may help to prevent heart disease.
2. Low-density lipoprotein, or LDL: This “bad” cholesterol circulates in your blood and, according to conventional thinking, may build up in your arteries, forming plaque that makes your arteries narrow and less flexible (a condition called atherosclerosis). If a clot forms in one of these narrowed arteries leading to your heart or brain, a heart attack or stroke may result.
* Triglycerides: Elevated levels of this dangerous fat have been linked to heart disease and diabetes. Triglyceride levels are known to rise from eating too many grains and sugars, being physically inactive, smoking cigarettes, drinking alcohol excessively and being overweight or obese.
* Lipoprotein (a), or Lp(a): Lp(a) is a substance that is made up of an LDL “bad cholesterol” part plus a protein (apoprotein a). Elevated Lp(a) levels are a very strong risk factor for heart disease. This has been well established, yet very few physicians check for it in their patients.
Your Total Cholesterol Level is NOT a Great Indicator of Your Heart Disease Risk
Health officials in the United States urge everyone over the age of 20 to have their cholesterol tested once every five years. Part of this test is your total cholesterol, or the sum of your blood’s cholesterol content, including HDL, LDLs, and VLDLs..
The American Heart Association recommends that your total cholesterol is less than 200 mg/dL, but what they do not tell you is that total cholesterol level is just about worthless in determining your risk for heart disease, unless it is above 330.
In addition, the AHA updated their guidelines in 2004, lowering the recommended level of LDL cholesterol from 130 to LDL to less than 100, or even less than 70 for patients at very high risk.
In order to achieve these outrageous and dangerously low targets, you typically need to take multiple cholesterol-lowering drugs. So the guidelines instantly increased the market for these dangerous drugs. Now, with testing children’s cholesterol levels, they’re increasing their market even more.
I have seen a number of people with total cholesterol levels over 250 who actually were at low heart disease risk due to their HDL levels. Conversely, I have seen even more who had cholesterol levels under 200 that were at a very high risk of heart disease based on the following additional tests:
* HDL/Cholesterol ratio * Triglyceride/HDL ratios
HDL percentage is a very potent heart disease risk factor. Just divide your HDL level by your cholesterol. That percentage should ideally be above 24 percent.
You can also do the same thing with your triglycerides and HDL ratio. That percentage should be below 2.
Keep in mind, however, that these are still simply guidelines, and there’s a lot more that goes into your risk of heart disease than any one of these numbers. In fact, it was only after word got out that total cholesterol is a poor predictor of heart disease that HDL and LDL cholesterol were brought into the picture.
They give you a closer idea of what’s going on, but they still do not show you everything.
Cholesterol is Neither “Good” Nor “Bad”
Now that we’ve defined good and bad cholesterol, it has to be said that there is actually only one type of cholesterol. Ron Rosedale, MD, who is widely considered to be one of the leading anti-aging doctor in the United States, does an excellent job of explaining this concept:
“Notice please that LDL and HDL are lipoproteins — fats combined with proteins. There is only one cholesterol. There is no such thing as “good” or “bad” cholesterol. Cholesterol is just cholesterol.
It combines with other fats and proteins to be carried through the bloodstream, since fat and our watery blood do not mix very well.
Fatty substances therefore must be shuttled to and from our tissues and cells using proteins. LDL and HDL are forms of proteins and are far from being just cholesterol.
In fact we now know there are many types of these fat and protein particles. LDL particles come in many sizes and large LDL particles are not a problem. Only the so-called small dense LDL particles can potentially be a problem, because they can squeeze through the lining of the arteries and if they oxidize, otherwise known as turning rancid, they can cause damage and inflammation.
Thus, you might say that there is “good LDL” and “bad LDL.”
Also, some HDL particles are better than others. Knowing just your total cholesterol tells you very little. Even knowing your LDL and HDL levels will not tell you very much.”
Cholesterol is Your Friend, Not Your Enemy
Before we continue, I really would like you to get your mind around this concept.
In the United States, the idea that cholesterol is evil is very much engrained in most people’s minds. But this is a very harmful myth that needs to be put to rest right now.
“First and foremost,” Dr. Rosedale points out, “cholesterol is a vital component of every cell membrane on Earth. In other words, there is no life on Earth that can live without cholesterol.
That will automatically tell you that, in and of itself, it cannot be evil. In fact, it is one of our best friends.
We would not be here without it. No wonder lowering cholesterol too much increases one’s risk of dying. Cholesterol is also a precursor to all of the steroid hormones. You cannot make estrogen, testosterone, cortisone, and a host of other vital hormones without cholesterol.”
When our endothelium is damaged, LDL cholesterol circulating in the blood becomes trapped beneath it, where it becomes oxidized. This causes white blood cells, or monocytes, to come from the blood to the vessel wall to attack and ingest the oxidized cholesterol because it is perceived to be a foreign substance in the body. The white blood cells begin to stick to the endothelium and penetrate the arterial wall. If you continue eating a high-fat diet, then the white blood cells will become severely swollen with fat and turn into foam cells (so called because of their foamy appearance).
For fear of being overrun by the LDL cholesterol, the white blood cells start sending out distress signals in the form of chemokines, which are proteins that attract more white blood cells. Foam cells also make a free radical called superoxide anion in an effort to destroy the oxidized cholesterol, however, it actually causes more LDL cholesterol to become oxidized, which leads to the destruction of nitric oxide. This well-intended but unfortunate chain reaction leads to the formation of a fatty streak.
Fatty streaks themselves do not hinder blood flow, but cause yellowish blemishes to form on the blood vessel wall. The foam cells, however, in these blemishes can rupture through the endothelial wall. Platelets form in the area of the endothelial damage in an attempt to seal off the tear. Because of the damage, vascular smooth muscle cells and fibroblasts invade the area. In an attempt to stop this invasion, the foam cells, platelets, and damaged endothelial cells form scar tissue around the fatty deposit.
When this fatty deposit becomes larger and full of cells and unwanted substances, it is called complex plaque. A fibrous cap forms over the complex plaque similar to an abscess in the skin. This plaque protrudes beyond the inner vessel wall and begins to obstruct blood flow. The domelike cap of the plaque is made up of scar tissue, covered by a thin layer of damaged endothelium. Beneath this cap is a combination of substances which are similar to pus. These are comprised of liquified cholesterol, calcium crystals, dead cells, and the white blood cells which were originally trying to fix the problem. When cells die it is called necrosis and this is what causes the pus to form in areas of infection or inflammation.
When this abscess-like formation of plaque is formed, white blood cells may invade the fibrous cap and begin eating away the scar tissue. This combined with the pressure from your blood flow can cause the plaque to rupture, which can be deadly. If this rupture occurs in a coronary artery, then a heart attack results, if it is in a carotid artery, then you suffer a stroke. If this occurs in a vessel leading to the legs or abdomen, it can cause a severe pain in this area.
It is quite a complex chain of events that is set in motion when our endothelium becomes damaged. A damaged endothelium makes high cholesterol levels a serious risk factor for heart disease. This is why it is essential to take steps to prevent this from happening, or to reverse the process if it has already begun. The production of nitric oxide by a healthy endothelium is the key factor for preventing or reversing the progression of plaque development or atherosclerosis.
The following open letter is from Dwight Lundell, MD, past Chief of Staff and Chief of Surgery at Banner Heart Hospital, Mesa, AZ. His private practice, Cardiac Care Center was in Mesa, AZ. Recently Dr. Lundell left surgery to focus on the nutritional treatment of heart disease. He is the founder of Healthy Humans Foundation that promotes human health with a focus on helping large corporations promote wellness. He is the author of The Cure for Heart Disease and The Great Cholesterol Lie.
Heart Surgeon Admits Huge Mistake!
“We physicians with all our training, knowledge and authority often acquire a rather large ego that tends to make it difficult to admit we are wrong.
So, here it is. I freely admit to being wrong.. As a heart surgeon with 25 years experience, having performed over 5,000 open-heart surgeries, today is my day to right the wrong with medical and scientific fact.
I trained for many years with other prominent physicians labeled “opinion makers.” Bombarded with scientific literature, continually attending education seminars, we opinion makers insisted heart disease resulted from the simple fact of elevated blood cholesterol.
The only accepted therapy was prescribing medications to lower cholesterol and a diet that severely restricted fat intake. The latter of course we insisted would lower cholesterol and heart disease. Deviations from these recommendations were considered heresy and could quite possibly result in malpractice.
It Is Not Working!
These recommendations are no longer scientifically or morally defensible. The discovery a few years ago that inflammation in the artery wall is the real cause of heart disease is slowly leading to a paradigm shift in how heart disease and other chronic ailments will be treated.
The long-established dietary recommendations have created epidemics of obesity and diabetes, the consequences of which dwarf any historical plague in terms of mortality, human suffering and dire economic consequences.
Despite the fact that 25% of the population takes expensive statin medications and despite the fact we have reduced the fat content of our diets, more Americans will die this year of heart disease than ever before.
Statistics from the American Heart Association show that 75 million Americans currently suffer from heart disease, 20 million have diabetes and 57 million have pre-diabetes. These disorders are affecting younger and younger people in greater numbers every year.
Simply stated, without inflammation being present in the body, there is no way that cholesterol would accumulate in the wall of the blood vessel and cause heart disease and strokes. Without inflammation, cholesterol would move freely throughout the body as nature intended. It is inflammation that causes cholesterol to become trapped.
Inflammation is not complicated — it is quite simply your body’s natural defense to a foreign invader such as a bacteria, toxin or virus. The cycle of inflammation is perfect in how it protects your body from these bacterial and viral invaders. However, if we chronically expose the body to injury by toxins or foods the human
body was never designed to process, a condition occurs called chronic inflammation. Chronic inflammation is just as harmful as acute inflammation is beneficial.
What thoughtful person would willfully expose himself repeatedly to foods or other substances that are known to cause injury to the body? Well, smokers perhaps, but at least they made that choice willfully.
The rest of us have simply followed the recommended mainstream diet that is low in fat and high in polyunsaturated fats and carbohydrates, not knowing we were causing repeated injury to our blood vessels. This repeated injury creates chronic inflammation leading to heart disease, stroke, diabetes and obesity.
Let me repeat that. The injury and inflammation in our blood vessels is caused by the low fat diet recommended for years by mainstream medicine.
What are the biggest culprits of chronic inflammation? Quite simply, they are the overload of simple, highly processed carbohydrates (sugar, flour and all the products made from them) and the excess consumption of omega-6 vegetable oils like soybean, corn and sunflower that are found in many processed foods.
Take a moment to visualize rubbing a stiff brush repeatedly over soft skin until it becomes quite red and nearly bleeding. you kept this up several times a day, every day for five years. If you could tolerate this painful brushing, you would have a bleeding, swollen infected area that became worse with each repeated injury. This is a good way to visualize the inflammatory process that could be going on in your body right now.
Regardless of where the inflammatory process occurs, externally or internally, it is the same. I have peered inside thousands upon thousands of arteries. A diseased artery looks as if someone took a brush and scrubbed repeatedly against its wall. Several times a day, every day, the foods we eat create small injuries compounding into more injuries, causing the body to respond continuously and appropriately with inflammation.
While we savor the tantalizing taste of a sweet roll, our bodies respond alarmingly as if a foreign invader arrived declaring war. Foods loaded with sugars and simple carbohydrates, or processed with omega-6 oils for long shelf life have been the mainstay of the American diet for six decades. These foods have been slowly poisoning everyone.
How does eating a simple sweet roll create a cascade of inflammation to make you sick?
Imagine spilling syrup on your keyboard and you have a visual of what occurs inside the cell. When we consume simple carbohydrates such as sugar, blood sugar rises rapidly. In response, your pancreas secretes insulin whose primary purpose is to drive sugar into each cell where it is stored for energy. If the cell is full and does not need glucose, it is rejected to avoid extra sugar gumming up the works.
When your full cells reject the extra glucose, blood sugar rises producing more insulin and the glucose converts to stored fat.
What does all this have to do with inflammation? Blood sugar is controlled in a very narrow range. Extra sugar molecules attach to a variety of proteins that in turn injure the blood vessel wall. This repeated injury to the blood vessel wall sets off inflammation. When you spike your blood sugar level several times a day, every day, it is exactly like taking sandpaper to the inside of your delicate blood vessels.
While you may not be able to see it, rest assured it is there. I saw it in over 5,000 surgical patients spanning 25 years who all shared one common denominator — inflammation in their arteries.
Let’s get back to the sweet roll. That innocent looking goody not only contains sugars, it is baked in one of many omega-6 oils such as soybean. Chips and fries are soaked in soybean oil; processed foods are manufactured with omega-6 oils for longer shelf life. While omega-6’s are essential –they are part of every cell membrane controlling what goes in and out of the cell — they must be in the correct balance with omega-3’s.
If the balance shifts by consuming excessive omega-6, the cell membrane produces chemicals called cytokines that directly cause inflammation.
Today’s mainstream American diet has produced an extreme imbalance of these two fats. The ratio of imbalance ranges from 15:1 to as high as 30:1 in favor of omega-6. That’s a tremendous amount of cytokines causing inflammation. In today’s food environment, a 3:1 ratio would be optimal and healthy.
To make matters worse, the excess weight you are carrying from eating these foods creates overloaded fat cells that pour out large quantities of pro-inflammatory chemicals that add to the injury caused by having high blood sugar. The process that began with a sweet roll turns into a vicious cycle over time that creates heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and finally, Alzheimer’s disease, as the inflammatory process continues unabated.
There is no escaping the fact that the more we consume prepared and processed foods, the more we trip the inflammation switch little by little each day. The human body cannot process, nor was it designed to consume, foods packed with sugars and soaked in omega-6 oils.
There is but one answer to quieting inflammation, and that is returning to foods closer to their natural state. To build muscle, eat more protein.
Choose carbohydrates that are very complex such as colorful fruits and vegetables. Cut down on or eliminate inflammation-causing omega-6 fats like corn and soybean oil and the processed foods that are made from them. One tablespoon of corn oil contains 7,280 mg of omega-6; soybean contains 6,940 mg. Instead, use olive oil or butter from grass-fed beef.
Animal fats contain less than 20% omega-6 and are much less likely to cause inflammation than the supposedly healthy oils labeled polyunsaturated. Forget the “science” that has been drummed into your head for decades. The science that saturated fat alone causes heart disease is non-existent. The science that saturated fat raises blood cholesterol is also very weak. Since we now know that cholesterol is not the cause of heart disease, the concern about saturated fat is even more absurd today.
The cholesterol theory led to the no-fat, low-fat recommendations that in turn created the very foods now causing an epidemic of inflammation.
Mainstream medicine made a terrible mistake when it advised people to avoid saturated fat in favor of foods high in omega-6 fats. We now have an epidemic of arterial inflammation leading to heart disease and other silent killers.
What you can do is choose whole foods your grandmother served and not those your mom turned to as grocery store aisles filled with manufactured foods. By eliminating inflammatory foods and adding essential nutrients from fresh unprocessed food, you will reverse years of damage in your arteries and throughout your body from consuming the typical American diet.”
Eating heart healthy food, adopting a regular exercise routine three to five times per week, and utilizing nutritional supplements are the steps that will improve your vascular health and combat high cholesterol.
A significant study in 1997 conducted by Dr. Rainer H. Boger, along with his research team at the Hanover Medical School in Germany, compared the effects of oral L-arginine to lovastatin (trade name: Mevacor). Lovastatin was the first statin drug approved by the FDA as a cholesterol-lowering medication. Many physicians already considered statins as the standard by which all other forms of treatment were measured in regards to bringing down high cholesterol levels. Certainly few doctor’s expected L-arginine to come close to lovastatin’s effectiveness.
Rabbits were used as an animal model because their blood vessels respond similarly to humans in terms of cholesterol plaque formation in the blood vessels when exposed to a high-fat diet. The rabbits were fed a one percent cholesterol diet for four weeks, followed by a .5 percent cholesterol diet for 12 more weeks. This amount will cause significant plaque development in rabbits in a rather short period of time.
All the rabbits were fed the same food, however, they didn’t all receive the same liquid diet. They were divided into three groups with one group getting just plain drinking water, while another group received water with lovastatin in it, and the third group got water containing dissolved L-arginine.
As predicted, the rabbits that drank plain water had significant atherosclerotic plaque build-up in their carotid arteries and aorta. Their blood vessel walls were also thickened, with the inside diameter being narrowed. These rabbits also had a decreased ability to produce nitric oxide.
The rabbits receiving lovastatin in their water showed significant signs of protection from plaque formation in their coronary and brain arteries, and less arterial wall thickening. They also had less impairment of nitric oxide production.
What surprised the researchers, however, was that the group of rabbits receiving L-arginine in their water showed similar signs of protection from the high-fat diet, and actually even exceeded the results of the lovastatin group.
This study was published in Circulation, the official journal of the American Heart Association, in August 1997. It concluded that “lovastatin had a weaker inhibitory effect on carotid plaque formation and aortic artery intimal [vessel wall] thickening than L-arginine.”
Another significant finding in the study was that L-arginine appeared to have an inhibitory affect on oxygen free radicals, where lovastatin did not inhibit free radicals and even appeared to energize them. These results definitely diminished some of this “miracle drug’s” reputation, especially when you factor in the high price of statin drugs and the potential side effects, ranging from impaired mental function to cancer. L-arginine has emerged as a serious treatment consideration for high cholesterol.