Despite all the controversy, high blood cholesterol is associated with heart disease
There is a ton of confusion today about cholesterol and heart disease. For decades we in the U.S. (and throughout much of the world) have been told that if we eat too much cholesterol we increase our heart disease risk. To be more specific, the risk is the development of atheroschelorosis, which is a narrowing of the arteries caused by excessive plaque deposition.
Lately however there has been a lot of science which casts doubt on the causal link between cholesterol and heart disease. Even the U. S. Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion said this in its Scientific Report of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee:
Previously, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommended that cholesterol intake be limited to no more than 300 mg/day. The 2015 DGAC will not bring forward this recommendation because available evidence shows no appreciable relationship between consumption of dietary cholesterol and serum cholesterol, consistent with the conclusions of the AHA/ACC report.2 35 Cholesterol is not a nutrient of concern for overconsumption.
Still, the association between high blood cholesterol levels (specifically LDL cholesterol, but also total cholesterol) and coronary heart disease remains and is not really disputable. I was fascinated by how strong this association really is as discussed in the video I am linking below.
How Do We Know that Cholesterol Causes Heart Disease?
I am linking below to a video titled “How Do We Know that Cholesterol Causes Heart Disease?” recently posted by Dr. Michael Greger, physician, New York Times bestselling author, and internationally recognized speaker on nutrition, food safety, and public health issues. Dr. Greger publishes videos and blogs at nutritionfacts.org.
In this video he discusses how we could ever have an actual gold standard random controlled trial experiment which would prove that maintaining a low blood LDL level throughout life would prevent the development of coronary vascular disease, also known as coronary heart disease. After all, it would be immoral to have an experimental group which was intentionally fed a high LDL cholesterol creating diet knowing what we do about the associated risk.
Further complicating the issue is all the other lifestyle influences such a test group would have that potentially confound any results. Controlling for these over three or four decades would be quite the challenge, to say the least.
It turns out however that there is a population in which part of the group has a naturally occurring genetic variation which prevents LDL blood cholesterol from ever getting higher than the optimum range. No matter what these people eat or do, their LDL level cannot possibly be a factor in any end result of the study.
Amazingly, it turns out that there is a greater than 80% reduction in risk of CVD in this group compared to the rest of the population with the genetic variation which most of us carry. That is quite simply a massive reduction – most studies of this sort would show reductions only a quarter or a tenth of that. The odds of this occurring by chance are frankly so large as to make this the closest we will ever come to proof positive that higher LDL levels in the blood throughout life leads to high risk of CVD.
High blood LDL cholesterol is not the whole story
I think this makes it clear the association between higher LDL levels and CVD development cannot be denied, but one should think again before we stop eating cholesterol containing foods. There are a number of factors which are involved here, and this is way more complicated than just how much cholesterol we eat.
For starters, our liver produces the vast majority of the cholesterol our body uses – it is a necessary substance for our body to function and even if we ate a zero cholesterol diet our liver would do its best to produce enough to fulfill the body’s needs. When we do consume larger amounts of cholesterol, the liver responds by downregulating its own production to maintain a proper level.
I discuss some of the intricacies of this system in this prior post titled Found My Fitness – Dr. Ronald Krauss on LDL Cholesterol, Particle Size, Heart Disease & Atherogenic Dyslipidemia. This post features an extended interview with one of the premier research scientists in the field of blood cholesterol and heart disease, and gives fantastic information on the latest cutting edge thoughts as to the true causal mechanisms.
I also have a prior post on ways you can achieve a cholesterol level which is not dangerous, see the post titled Dr Hyman – seven ways to optimize your cholesterol for these tips. High on the list will be diet – but not for the reasons we have been led to believe.
The dietary villains are more likely sugar (especially fructose) and highly refined carbohydrates. Additionally unhealthy fats such as industrial fats used in processed foods like trans fats, hydrogenated fats (margarine), and vegetable oils such as corn oil, soybean oil, sunflower oil, and canola oil lead to a less healthy blood lipid profile and more inflammation.
However, healthier fats such as Omega-3 fats, avocados, nuts, seeds, coconut oil and olive oil boost and support a good blood lipid profile.
I strongly encourage you to spend some time looking at all the resources provided in this post – getting this right may mean the difference between life and death. Yes, that would be your life or death.
Even if you have decades of bad diet and lifestyle already racked up, it is never too late to begin a healthy whole foods diet and exercise program which can stop any further damage and even begin to reverse any damage which has occurred already.