“Eating foods that contain any cholesterol above 0 mg is unhealthy.”- T. Colin Campbell, PhD, author of The China Study.Burgers. Bacon. Cheese fries. What do they have in common (besides being some people’s idea of delicious)? They’re all high in cholesterol.
What is Cholesterol and What Your Doctor May Not Tell you About it?
Cholesterol, a waxy substance produced by the liver and found in certain foods, is needed to make vitamin D and some hormones, build cell walls, and create bile salts that help you digest fat. Actually, your liver produces about 1,000 milligrams of cholesterol a day, enough cholesterol so that if you never touched another cheese fry, you’d be OK. But it’s hard to avoid cholesterol entirely because so many foods contain it.
Too much cholesterol in the body can lead to serious problems like heart disease. Many factors can contribute to high cholesterol, but the good news is there are things you can do to control them.
Lipids are fats that are found throughout the body. Cholesterol, a type of lipid, is found in foods from animal sources. This means that eggs, meats, and whole-fat dairy products (including milk, cheese, and ice cream) are loaded with cholesterol — and vegetables, fruits, and grains contain none.
Besides the 1,000 milligrams of cholesterol that your liver produces each day, you probably consume about 150 to 250 milligrams in the foods you eat. Because cholesterol can’t travel alone through the bloodstream, it has to combine with certain proteins. These proteins act like trucks, picking up the cholesterol and transporting it to different parts of the body. When this happens, the cholesterol and protein form a lipoprotein together.
Here are some facts:
1. Cholesterol is not a deadly poison, but a substance that you need to be healthy. High cholesterol itself does not cause heart disease.
2. People who have low blood cholesterol have the same rates of heart disease as people who have high blood cholesterol.
3. The cholesterol found in your blood comes from two sources: cholesterol in food that you eat and cholesterol that your liver makes from other nutrients.
4. The amount of cholesterol that your liver produces varies according to how much cholesterol you eat. If you eat a lot of cholesterol, your liver produces less. If you don’t eat much cholesterol, your liver produces more. This is why a low cholesterol diet does not typically decrease a person’s blood cholesterol by more than a few percent.
5. Drugs that solely lower your cholesterol do not decrease your risk of dying from heart disease, nor do they increase your lifespan. These drugs pose dangers to your health and may decrease your lifespan.
6. The newer cholesterol-lowering drugs – called statins – do reduce your risk of heart disease, but through mechanisms that are not related to lower blood cholesterol. And alarmingly, statins like lipitor mevacor, zocor, pravachol, and lescol are known to stimulate cancer in rodents.
What about HDL and LDL?
Well, here are some facts about LDL and HDL that you are going to be surprised to learn:
– LDL and HDL are not types of cholesterol.
– LDL and HDL are lipoproteins that transport cholesterol through your blood circulatory system.
– LDL stands for Low Density Lipoprotein, and HDL stands for High Density Lipoprotein.
– LDL is often mistakenly thought of as being bad cholesterol because it carries cholesterol to your arteries.
– HDL is often mistakenly referred to as good cholesterol because it carries cholesterol away from your arteries (to your liver).
– LDL and HDL carry the same cholesterol.
Dangers of High Cholesterol
When you have too much cholesterol, it can be dangerous to your health. When LDL cholesterol levels are high, cholesterol is deposited on the walls of arteries and forms a hard substance called plaque. Over time, plaque causes the arteries to become narrower, decreasing blood flow and causing a condition called atherosclerosis (pronounced: ah-thuh-ro-skluh-RO-sis), or hardening of the arteries.
When atherosclerosis affects the coronary arteries (the blood vessels that supply the muscles of the heart), the condition is called coronary artery disease, which puts a person at risk for having a heart attack. When atherosclerosis affects the blood vessels that supply the brain, the condition is called cerebral vascular disease, which puts a person at risk of having a stroke.
Atherosclerosis may also block blood flow to other vital organs, including the kidneys and intestines. This is why it’s so important to start paying attention to cholesterol levels as a teen — you can delay or prevent serious health problems in the future.
Did you Know
Where Conventional Guidelines Come From
Sadly, conventional guidelines that promote lower cholesterol levels for a healthy heart are influenced in large part by pharmaceutical companies earning billions of dollars with their cholesterol-lowering drugs.
For example, in the summer of 2004, a panel of physicians lowered the “safe” level of LDL cholesterol from 130 to 100, and further recommended that people at high risk of developing cardiovascular disease aim to lower their LDL levels to 70.
This modification in medical standard of practice caused an estimated eight million Americans to become instant candidates for cholesterol-related drug therapy.
While this “news” was covered by major media outlets and news wires, only one newspaper, Newsday, reported that most of the physicians responsible for establishing the new recommendations had a conflict of interest. Almost all had received money – usually in the form of grants or honoraria – from at least ten drug companies. The National Cholesterol Educational Program, the source of the new medical treatment guidelines for cholesterol, failed to report these financial disclosures.
Guidelines for Healthy HDL, LDL, Total Cholesterol, and Triglyceride Levels
Ideally, it’s best to have a blood cholesterol level of over 150 mg/dL (3.9 mmol/L). But if your blood cholesterol level is lower than this, so long as you are eating a Plant based nutrient-rich ”superfood” diet and not suffering from any health challenges, there is likely no cause for concern.
Low cholesterol over the long term may lead to depression, increased risk of stroke, and numerous problems related to hormonal imbalances. If you are not getting enough vitamin D from your diet, having low cholesterol may lead to vitamin D deficiency, as sunlight creates vitamin D in your body by acting on cholesterol found in your skin.
Ideally, your HDL/total cholesterol ratio should be above 25%. Generally, the higher this ratio, the better. If this ratio is 10-15 percent or lower, there increased risk of eventually experiencing a heart attack.
Here’s my take-home perspective on cholesterol and your health:
Rather than focus just on the numbers from your latest blood test, your health is best served by:
1. Ensuring regular intake of a wide variety of plant based nutrient rich superfoods (vegetables, legumes, fruits, whole grains, and small amounts of nuts and seeds).
2. Ensuring regular intake of healthy fats, such as those found in avocados, nuts and seeds.
3. Minimizing intake of animal foods.
4. Striving to live a balanced life that includes adequate rest, physical activity, exposure to fresh air and sunlight (without getting burned), meaningful relationships, and a sense of purpose.