Nicholas Corrin, MSOM, L.Ac.
Or do we? Where is the proof that high cholesterol is actually so bad for us? Is there any real evidence?
In the United States which, in a cloud of delusion, prides itself on having the most advanced medical care in the world, the number one killer is heart disease. Much of this, we are told, is attributable to elevated cholesterol and associated atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries). The story goes that cholesterol and triglycerides circulating in the bloodstream generate plaque, which gums up our arteries like calcium deposits on a saucepan. Thus, we are admonished to follow a low fat, low cholesterol diet, and woe betide our cholesterol rise above a certain scary number, (1) we should listen to our doctor and take statins, cholesterol lowering drugs such as Lipitor.
In the United States there is a term bandied about in medical circles known as “The French Paradox”. This refers to the fact that the French, lovers of oysters, ripe cheeses, croissants and petit-fours, consume a diet that is far higher in cholesterol and saturated fats than we Americans do, yet suffer far lower incidences of cardiovascular disease and stroke. Not only that, they smoke like chimneys. How can we explain this? The fact that we – or rather, the US medical establishment – cannot explain it, implies that it is a mystery. Yet upon closer examination, the mystery vanishes.
Let’s leave aside, for the time being, the fact that the French, compared to us Americans, have always been fairly comfortable with the existence of paradox. It is even remotely sexy. If you think about things at all, you come to realize that paradoxes are almost innate to life. Things don’t just line up in straight line, like in some fantasy dog training school. Yet that is how we Americans like it: all synched up and obedient, generic and perfectly square, like Kraft cheese slices. But life doesn’t approve of that. Life likes paradoxes.
Not being at ease with life and its many paradoxes, ironies and contradictions is a philosophical problem which ends up becoming a physiological problem. Alexis De Tocqueville ( 1805-1859), presaged this back in the mid nineteenth century. De Tocqueville is justly famous for two major works of social history. One is entitled, The French Revolution, the other, Democracy In America. In the latter book, De Tocqueville, who travelled at large and observed the mores of the population of early settlers in the United States noted, amongst other things that ,when eating dinner Americans, unlike the French, would not engage in philosophical discourse of any kind. They would simply eat the food on the plates with relish, but without the slightest engagement in thoughtful discourse.
Very early on then, eating and thinking went their separate ways in the US, like the archetypal divorced couple.
What has this got to do with cholesterol and cardiovascular disease? Everything. For one reason, if you are not focused on conversation, your tendency will be to overeat when in company. Your one principal focus will be on filling your belly, not in communicating your thoughts and reflections on various topics of life. Where do you imagine the sad, promotional concept of an All-You-Can-Eat dinner came from? Second, if you do think at all, that thinking will revolve around the contents of your belly, and if you feel over full, you may well end up feeling guilty. After all, is it not sinful to be gluttonous?
If we feel guilty, we tighten up internally. And if we tighten up internally, we generate internal stress which leads to inflammation. We do this by unconsciously switching our autonomic nervous systems to sympathetic mode. Guilt or remorse will invariably perform this switch: when pursued by any inner sense of guilt or other tension, our involuntary system gears up into sympathetic mode. What happens then is that we have:
- Vasoconstriction (narrowing of the blood vessel walls) .
- A subsequent rise in blood pressure predisposing us to hypertension.
- A movement of red blood cells out of the digestive system towards the skeletal muscles, thus weakening blood flow through the liver and kidneys, our principal organs of detoxification.
- A release of granulocytes (inflammatory white blood cells) into the system creating an inflammatory state within the blood which is a precursor to cancer..
- An adrenal over-production of cortisol, which has been clearly shown to induce an accumulation of fat cells around the midriff: abdominal weight gain.
It is not just what we eat, it is also the way we eat that is important and affects our overall health.
Clearly, in France, they don’t worry too much about cholesterol, and they stay healthier longer than Americans do, despite our often frantic attempts to limit cholesterol consumption. So if we have been brainwashed by the medical establishment into believing that cholesterol is so very bad for us, how come the medical establishment has not been able to significantly reduce heart attacks and strokes? Could it be that their focus has been elsewhere, on the tremendous profits to be made from marketing cholesterol lowering drugs such as Lipitor, with all their deleterious side effects (2), and their complete failure to lower risks of heart attacks (3)?
Cholesterol Is A Natural And Vital Substance Made By Our Bodies
Normally, high density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol is produced in the body through an eight step pathway originating with a two carbon molecule, Acetyl-CoA. Now, when physicians blithely prescribe statins as “cholesterol lowering drugs”, what they are really doing is throwing a big wrench into this vital, eight step metabolic pathway. More precisely, statins inhibit the function of HMG-CoA, the enzyme responsible for converting HMG into mevalonate. (This is the second step of the metabolic pathway towards cholesterol synthesis. The first step is the conversion of Acetyl-CoA into HMG). This would be bad enough if the end result simply meant that no cholesterol was being produced in the body. However, mevalonate is also a precursor of Dolichol and Ubiqinone. So, someone on statins is short-circuiting their endogenous production of not one but three vital substances: 1) HDL cholesterol. 2) Dolichol, and 3) Ubiquinone (aka Co-Enzyme Q10).
What does this short circuiting mean for the body?
To answer that question, we need to understand what role these three vital substances play in our overall health.
- Dolichol ensures that DNA can direct intracellular proteins to their appropriate places. Without Dolichol, these proteins are like goods abandoned on a loading dock.
- Ubiqinone is essential for the production of ATP, the mitochondrial energy source fueling each of our trillions of nucleated cells. It is particularly important for the maintenance of muscle, ligament, nerve and connective tissue, and most especially for heart muscle. Deficiency of ubiquinone can lead both to muscle wasting and increased susceptibility to heart attacks. Without adequate supplies of ubiquinone in the body, things will tend to run down or to break down. (4)
- HDL Cholesterol is the principal raw material out of which our adrenal glands make hormones, especially corticoids. Glucocorticoids regulate blood sugars, and mineralcorticoids regulate mineral equilibrium in our fluids and tissues. When we are under severe stress, the adrenal glands use cholesterol to manufacture cortisol, the so-called stress hormone. The adrenals also make use of cholesterol to produce testosterone, estrogen and progesterone, our principal sex and reproductive hormones. Further, the structural integrity of our cells depends greatly upon adequate levels of cholesterol, as this is the substance used for the maintenance, replication and repair of phospholipid cell membranes. Dr. Bruce Lipton has argued that it is the cell membrane which is the real brain of the cell (5), so we can see how a depletion in our innate production of cholesterol would endanger cellular communication and response, and indeed, cellular intelligence. Without adequate cholesterol, our cells become confused, indecisive. (And without Dolichol, as we have already seen, they don’t know where to put the proteins generated by our DNA). Cholesterol is equally important for the human brain, which is largely made up of this reviled substance. Cholesterol regulates serotonin uptake by its prevailing influence on serotonin receptors. Depletion of cholesterol resources for the brain can lead to memory failure, coordination loss, abnormal gait,cognitive impairment and sleep disruption.
Yes, Okay, But What About The Bad Cholesterol?
Supposedly, there is “good” cholesterol (HDL) and “bad” cholesterol (LDL). The ratio between these two is crucial. We want to have more of the “good” cholesterol than the “bad”. One reason for this is that the HDL helps to clear away excess accumulations of LDL from the bloodstream. It is like a responsible elder sister picking up after its messy younger sibling. So, if we follow our doctor’s advice and take statins, we eliminate our production of HDL. What will that do to our ability to clean up mess in the bloodstream?
How bad is “bad” cholesterol, anyway? If we consider the question of what are sometimes called “bad” fats, we could categorize these as (i) Denatured fats and (ii) Oxidized fats.
Transfatty acids are the most dangerous and the worst kinds of fats. These are denatured fats, fats whose molecular structure has been mis-shaped through overheating, micro-waving or genetic engineering and rancidity. These fats are known to be highly dangerous as the body has no way of healthfully absorbing them. Denatured is another way of saying, no longer in a natural state. Since they have been denatured, this means that their molecular structure no longer fits with our metabolic and hormonal receptors, nor do we have the enzymes to break down these products. The body cannot absorb these fats so it instigates an inflammatory reaction leading to further oxidation. And when the body cannot successfully rid itself of toxins, it will produce fat cells to store them. These fat cells become toxic depositories consisting of oxidized exogenous fats the body does not know how to break down or eliminate.
Cholesterol is not one of these denatured fats. However, too much ingested cholesterol will certainly place a strain on the body’s clean up system. Too much LDL cholesterol circulating in the blood can combine with free calcium, as already mentioned, to generate plaque coating arteries. LDL can combine with incompletely digested protein by-products (such as casein) or toxic fat metabolites from trans-fatty acids. These combined ingredients can produce mineral crystals in the blood which directly contribute to plaque composition. When these particles are present in the blood, blood flow becomes sluggish, erythrocytes (red blood cells) agglomerate, the blood becomes de-oxygenated and viscous: in a word, blood slows down and thickens. Fibrin (clotted blood residue) is mass-produced as the blood hyper-coagulates due to the presence of these gluey or mineraloid particles. Fibrin itself then becomes part of arterial plaque and creates a kind of wall behind which chronic infections fester. The micro-organisms seriously endanger our health. (Please read our article on Chronic Inflammation on the About Us/articles page). Vulnerable plaque (plaque enclosing chronic infectious material) is responsible for 85% of heart attacks. (6) Cholesterol is not the sole culprit here. The whole process is far more complex than that. Cholesterol has been turned into the fall guy in a simplistic analysis geared to the profitable marketing of harmful and basically useless cholesterol lowering drugs.
How Does Calcification Interact With Cholesterol?
As we have seen, plaque build-up and concomitant heart disease and stroke is conventionally attributed to high levels of LDL cholesterol due to excessive intake of meats, seafood and dairy products. Yet the “French Paradox” shows us clearly that there is no linear cause-and-effect relationship between high intake of such foods and incidence of heart attacks and strokes. Nor is there any definitive relationship between high levels of LDL cholesterol and production of arterial plaque. In a recent study conducted at the Beth Israel Medical Center in New York City, 182 patients on stains were examined and evaluated for progressive build up of plaque over a period of over one year. Despite lowering their LDL cholesterol levels, these patients all showed an overall increase of 9.2% in the thickness of their arterial plaque. (7)
How can this be explained? If plaque continues to build up in the arteries despite aggressive use of statins then a) The argument that stains reduce the risk of heart attack collapses. b) There must be some other basic cause of plaque build up, wholly independent of circulating cholesterol levels. Arterial plaque is a calcified deposit, so where does the calcium come from? Well, whenever the body is in an overly acidic state (with a PH below 7.0), it will try to neutralize the acidosis by alkalizing the blood. The simplest way for it to do this is to leach calcium out of the bones. This calcium is strip mined out of the bones in order to alkalize the acidity in the bloodstream. When calcium is stripped from our bones to counteract acid levels in the blood, this “plundered” or “borrowed” calcium leads to a weakening of the bone structure, a condition known as osteo-porosis. Acidic blood and tissues can be caused by excessive protein, carbohydrate or sugar intake. Acidic blood or cell/tissue is a sympathetic environment for cancer and the microorganisms associated with them, as it is for other degenerative diseases and their associated microorganisms. Conversely, these pathogens and their diseases further acidify blood and tissues. If calcium is leached from the bones to re-balance blood with an acidic PH, the circulating calcium will end up being deposited as plaque on arterial walls, regardless of cholesterol. It will become emmeshed with fibrin and create a coating behind which infectious microorganisms can hide and protect themselves from macrophages and other immune cells, and where antibiotics cannot reach them. When portions of vulnerable plaque rupture and release into the blood, a heart attack or stroke is imminent.
What Is The Best Approach To Cholesterol Consumption?
- Moderation in all things. Excess of any substance, even water, is harmful. But some consumption of cholesterol in the form of butter, meats or seafood has not been proven to be intrinsically harmful to health.
- The way we eat and the way we worry about what we eat can be as important as what we eat.
- Since we know that the body absolutely requires both cholesterol itself and the metabolic pathway leading to its production, it would be extremely dangerous to interfere with this process by taking statins.
- A strong HDL to LDL ratio is a marker of health and a guarantee that the clean up process is sustainable from within.
- Consuming natural fish-derived oils with essential fatty acids such as omega-3 (with EPA and DHA) will enhance our body’s production of HDL, and will lower inflammation anywhere within the body. Unheated monosaturated fats such as olive oil are highly beneficial, as are cold-pressed flaxseed, avocado and walnut oils.
- Avoid all transfatty acids and denatured fats.
- Denatured fats (and in fact all processed foods) devitalize the body and generate a breeding ground for micro-organisms, leading to states of chronic infection and associated degenerative disease.
- Understand the difference between ordinary plaque and vulnerable plaque. (Please read our article on Chronic Inflammation on the Eclectichealing/About Us/articles page).
- Understand the need to avoid hyper-coagulability and the role of fibrin in plaque production. The key to sustained health is reducing fibrinous plaque and controlling the harmful microorganisms that hide behind its impermeable walls. For preventive and treatment advice, please read our article on Chronic Infection on the Eclectichealing/About Us/articles page.
- In the 1980’s, a cholesterol level of over 240 was deemed too high. Later, the figure was dropped to 200, and then to 180. The implicit tendency is to persuade people that their cholesterol levels are probably too high and corral the into taking statins as a corrective measure. For more detailed analysis go to Dangers of Statin Drugs: What You Haven’t Been Told About Popular Cholesterol-Lowering Medicines.
- Cancer, cardiac arrest cognitive impairment, depression, dizziness, necrotizing pancreatitis, polyneuropathy, rhabdomyolysis (muscle wasting). Ibid.
- Jackson PR, British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology, 2001; 52: 439-446.
- It was assumed until recently that supplementing with CoQ10 would correct for this deficiency, but due to problems with the bio-availability of ubiquinone in CoQ10 form, this has not been the case, especially for people over the age of forty. However, the recent development of Ubiquinol, a successfully engineered, fully bioavailable, lipid form of ubiquinone has now surmounted this problem.
- The Biology of Belief, Bruce Lipton, Mountain of Love Productions/Elite Books, Santa Rosa, CA, 2005, pp.75-95.
- Heart Disease, America’s No. 1 Killer, Barry F. Gordon, gordonresearch.com
- Relation of aggressiveness of lipid-lowering treatment to changes in calcified plaque burden by electron beam tomography, Hecht HS et al. American Journal of Cardiology 2003; 92: 334-336
©Nicholas Corrin & Eclectic Healing Arts, 2009
This article is meant to inform, and is for educational purposes only. In no way is it intended to diagnose or to treat any condition or disease, nor is it intended to prescribe or to suggest to prescribe anything. It is recommended that no actions be taken independently of a consultation with a qualified medical health professional. It is strongly recommended that no-one seek to self-diagnose or to discontinue or replace any medication they may be on without full discussion with their physician.