Medical authorities continue to recommend drugs and low-fat diets to reduce cholesterol. However, there is much more to the cholesterol story.
Cholesterol is an essential body chemical, mostly synthesized in the liver. It is the precursor or raw material used to make the vital pituitary, adrenal and sex hormones. Cholesterol is also required to form vitamin D and bile acids. The liver makes about 2 grams of cholesterol daily, regardless of diet. Under stress, the body makes more cholesterol in order to make more adrenal or stress hormones.
Cholesterol is a mixture of compounds. These include high density lipoproteins or HDL, and low density lipoproteins or LDL. The latter contain lipoprotein-A, thought by some authorities to be important in the genesis of heart disease.
HDL, which is unoxidized cholesterol, is sometimes called ''good cholesterol'', while LDL, the oxidized form, is often termed ''bad cholesterol''. Blood laboratories often measure the ratio between the HDL and total cholesterol.
The cholesterol theory of heart disease asserts that: 1) The risk of cardiovascular disease correlates with the serum level of cholesterol; and 2) Eating cholesterol-containing foods raises your cholesterol level. Let us explore this theory and alternative hypotheses in more detail.
About 100 years ago scientists noted that fatty deposits in the arteries often contain cholesterol. Of course, it was not known whether cholesterol deposits were the cause or the result of heart disease. Studies were done, including the large Framingham study, that found a definite correlation between high serum cholesterol levels and the risk of heart disease.
However, the picture is not as clear as it seems. The Framingham study found that LDL or oxidized cholesterol was more predictive of heart disease than total cholesterol. Also, the study could not correlate eating foods containing cholesterol and an increase in the blood cholesterol.
Furthermore, many studies from around the world do not support the simplistic idea that eating more cholesterol or saturated fat increases the risk of heart disease. In an interesting book, The Milk Of Human Kindness Is Not Pasteurized,(1) William C. Douglass, MD cites the following:
Many other studies show no significant effect on blood cholesterol from eating eggs or other cholesterol-containing foods. Several are reported in The New Vegetarian, by Gary and Steve Null. A study in France found that although butter consumption is much higher in Western than in Eastern France, the mortality from heart disease in Western France is almost half that of Eastern France.(6)
Before Western eating habits were introduced into the Eskimo population, they lived almost exclusively on animal meat and fat. Yet the incidence of heart disease was very low and cholesterol levels were below 200 mg.(7) Similar results were found in studies in the Soviet Union, India, and elsewhere.(8)(9)
The cholesterol theory of heart disease is very simplistic. It is like saying that duct tape wrapped around a damaged water hose is the cause of the hose damage. More likely, the tape - and the cholesterol - are the result of the damage, not the cause. In fact, two scientists, Brown and Goldstein, won a Nobel Prize in 1985 for their research into this theory. Cholesterol plaques are often there to protect a damaged artery. After all, a clogged artery is far preferable to a ruptured one. Elevated cholesterol is associated with heart disease, but may not be its cause.
If cholesterol is not the cause of heart disease, what are the causes? Many factors may contribute to cardiovascular disease. A properly performed hair mineral analysis can help identify a number of them. Here are some of the major factors suspected in cardiovascular disease.
There are many points to be considered. For example, the egg was indicted as a major cause of elevated cholesterol based on studies in the 1940s and 1950s. However, it turned out that in those studies powdered eggs were used.(10) These processed eggs contain oxidized cholesterol, the type known to cause problems. However, when the studies were repeated with fresh eggs, they did not raise cholesterol significantly.(11) However, many physicians and health authorities still quote the old studies.
Also on the subject of eggs, it has been found that eggs from chickens that are allowed to run free, so-called cage-free eggs, have less cholesterol. This means the way our food is produced influences its nutritional content.
There are many different types of fats. Studies have shown that a diet high in fish, which contain anti-inflammatory fats, can reduce heart disease.(12)
In nutritional research, there are different body types. Some handle fats much better than others. Those whom Dr. Paul C. Eck called fast oxidizers require some fats and oils to help normalize body chemistry. Slow oxidizers, by contrast, do poorly on fats. This fact alone means that studies that look at the effects of fats on large groups are flawed unless they take into account different body chemistries.
This can help account for divergent results of studies, some of which show no ill effect of fats, while others show that saturated fats, for example, are not healthy. Thus, the idea of metabolic types can be most helpful to assess the effects of fats on any particular person. Let us explore this is more detail.
Fast oxidizers often develop problems with cholesterol. There are several reasons for this. One cause of elevated cholesterol or high LDL levels in fast oxidizers is a diet high in sugars and carbohydrates. The problem occurs because carbohydrates further unbalance their fast oxidation rate. This places more stress on the body, which in turn can increase the cholesterol level.
One might think fast oxidizers would have low cholesterol because they burn their fats and other nutrients faster. In theory, this is true. However, many people with a fast oxidizer pattern on their hair analysis are in fact slow oxidizers under stress. The stress is of a type that causes a temporary speed-up of their oxidation rate. We know this is true because on a retest the oxidation rate often slows. Stress of any kind can elevate the cholesterol level as the body seeks to produce more raw material to make stress hormones.
Fast oxidizers often require some fats or oils in their diet. These often do not further elevate the cholesterol level. Fast oxidizers may become irritable, hungry and nervous if they go on a very low-fat diet.
If your hair analysis indicates fast oxidation and you wish to restrict your fats, use high-quality vegetable oils which contain no cholesterol. These include avocado, palm oil, coconut oil, olive oil and health store oils like flaxseed and hempseed. Although palm and coconut oils contain saturated fasts, they contain no cholesterol. It is best to avoid processed vegetable oils, like corn, soy, sunflower, safflower, and peanut oils sold in the supermarket. These have had all their vitamin E removed, and can cause more problems.
Some health authorities recommend restricting all fats and oils when the cholesterol is elevated. However, fast oxidizers often note a reduction in cholesterol when some fats and oils are added to the diet, substituting for high carbohydrates in the diet.
Fast oxidizers are often deficient in copper, zinc and magnesium. Any of these deficiencies can contribute to cardiovascular disease. Fast oxidizers may also develop excessive constriction of the coronary arteries due to excessive adrenal activity, and low calcium and magnesium levels. This can precipitate sudden and massive heart attacks.
Slow oxidizers have more difficulty converting cholesterol into adrenal and sex hormones. The body may compensate by raising cholesterol to help produce more stress hormones. This is one possible cause of elevated cholesterol levels. The solution is to improve glandular activity. Slow oxidizers do not feel as well on fats. Therefore, they do best restricting fats and oils of all types. Slow oxidizers may be under stress for other reasons, which can elevate their cholesterol level. They may also have zinc deficiency and/or high levels of toxic metals such as cadmium, which can lead to arterial disease.
A hair analysis pattern often associated with cardiovascular disease and elevated cholesterol is a ratio of sodium to potassium less than 2.5:1. This is a chronic stress pattern, associated with excessive tissue breakdown, fatigue, diabetes, and heavy metal toxicity, all of which may contribute to cardiovascular disease.
Other mineral patterns associated with heart disease include low copper, low magnesium, low zinc, elevated cadmium.
Many people think they are doing themselves a favor by eating margarine. They are not. All margarine is made by heating vegetable oil and bubbling hydrogen through the mixture to produce an artificially saturated fat. (The advertising about polyunsaturated oil used in margarine is misleading. The oil is saturated by the time they finish with it.) The problems with margarine are:
The problems with margarine apply equally to commercial peanut butters, vegetable shortening such as Crisco, fake whip cream products such as Cool-Whip, and many fried foods, salad dressings and crackers made with hydrogenated oils. These artificially saturated fats are worse for the body than naturally-occurring fats.
Reducing cholesterol and increasing the HDL/LDL ratio can usually be accomplished with nutritional methods. Here are some guidelines:
Such a holistic approach is endorsed by Jonathan Wright, MD, a leading holistic physician and former medical columnist for Prevention Magazine. He writes:
"Only a few patients of the hundreds I've treated for high cholesterol have had to severely limit dietary intake (of fat). Usually, it is a matter of correcting the metabolism rather than the diet".(13)
Several classes of drugs are used to lower cholesterol. Unfortunately, many have significant side effects. For example, in one study, patients placed on gemfibrozil did have reduced cardiac events than a placebo group. However, the overall death rate was almost identical. Those taking the drug had a higher incidence of violence, accidents and intercranial hemorrhages.(14) Note that studies show that a low cholesterol level, below 130, is not beneficial either.
New recommendations suggest the use of medication whenever cholesterol is over 200 mg.(15) This ignores the research that total cholesterol is not nearly as important as LDL and its ratio to the total cholesterol.
Drugs do not address the biochemical causes for high cholesterol in most cases. This means that pathology in the body may continue to progress, despite the use of these drugs. Drugs ought be used as a last resort, only after natural methods have been tried.
Natural approaches to cholesterol and heart disease have no side effects, except perhaps improved general health. Also, they address deeper causes to create a more permanent correction. Before stopping any medication, we recommend consulting a physician.
In summary, high cholesterol can often be a symptom of stress or imbalanced chemistry, but not necessarily the cause. If you are healthy and your cholesterol level is within normal limits, don't be a fat hater and abandon all eggs, butter and meats. Do skip refined foods such as white flour, sugar, margarine and other hydrogenated oil products. Fats and oils are not all the same, by any means. Eating healthful fats and oils often pose no problem, whereas the refined oils can cause significant heart problems.
Some people need to restrict fats, including slow oxidizers and at times those with elevated cholesterol. A mineral analysis will provide more information in this area. By combining a scientific nutrition program with healthful lifestyle and appropriate diet most people can reduce their cholesterol and their risk of heart disease without drugs.