Cholesterol Deceptions: From Eggs to Statins, What Your Doctor Didn’t Tell You About Cholesterol
Over 16 percent of U.S. adults have high cholesterol, defined as 240 mg/dL and above, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Even the average level for Americans, 200 mg/dL, is borderline high, they say.
Some experts believe statin drugs are vastly overprescribed and could be leading Americans to unnecessarily lower their cholesterol to dangerously low levels.
This high cholesterol, public health agencies say, is putting people at an increased risk of heart disease, the leading cause of death in the United States. This stated “fact” scares millions of Americans into take statin cholesterol-lowering drugs to get their levels as low as possible … but what if this “fact” was actually not true?
Does Cholesterol Cause Heart Disease?
Cholesterol is actually an essential part of your body, used to produce cell membranes, steroid hormones, vitamin D and the bile acids your body needs to digest fat. Your brain needs cholesterol to function properly, as does your immune system, and if a cell becomes damaged, it needs cholesterol in order to be repaired.
In fact, making excess cholesterol is actually your body’s response to inflammation, which it does to help heal and repair your cells. So if you have high cholesterol you probably have high inflammation levels too (more on this later).
Many Americans are under the mistaken impression that all cholesterol is bad, but in reality cholesterol is good for your body and necessary for you to live. Unfortunately, the “lipid hypothesis” (aka the “diet-heart hypothesis”), the one that claims foods high in saturated fats drive up your cholesterol levels, which clog your arteries and lead to heart disease, is widely accepted and has helped to spread the misinformation about cholesterol throughout the public.
But the lipid hypothesis is actually seriously flawed.
In his book The Cholesterol Myths, Uffe Ravnskov, MD, PhD explained that Ancel Keys, who performed the study upon which the Lipid Hypothesis is based, used cherry-picked data to prove his point that countries with the highest intake of animal fat have the highest rates of heart disease.
Dr. Ravnskov revealed that the countries used in the study were handpicked, and those that did NOT show that eating a lot of animal fat lead to higher rates of heart disease were left out of the study, leading to entirely skewed, and faulty, data.
One recent study even found that there is no association between eating saturated fat (which is supposed to drive up cholesterol levels) and heart disease. The authors wrote:
“According to the classic ‘diet-heart’ hypothesis, high intake of SFAs [saturated fats] and cholesterol and low intake of PUFAs [polyunsaturated fats] increase serum cholesterol levels and risk of CHD [coronary heart disease].
However, few within-population studies have been able to demonstrate consistent associations with any specific dietary lipids, with the exception of trans fats and omega–3 fatty acids.
The available evidence from Cohort and randomized controlled trials is unsatisfactory and unreliable to make judgment about and substantiate the effects of dietary fat on risk of CHD … There is probably no direct relation between total fat intake and risk of CHD.”
Does This Mean You Can Eat Eggs Again?
If you’ve been shunning eggs because you fear they will raise your cholesterol, you needn’t avoid this healthy protein source any longer.
For starters, eating cholesterol is not what gives you high cholesterol. According to the Harvard Heart Letter, it’s a myth that all the cholesterol in eggs goes into your bloodstream and your arteries.
“For most people, only a small amount of the cholesterol in food passes into the blood,” the Heart Letter states. “The only large study to look at the impact of egg consumption on heart disease—not on cholesterol levels or other intermediaries—found no connection between the two.”
Eggs are also an excellent source of healthy nutrients, including choline, a B vitamin that may help reduce your risk of heart disease, cancer, dementia and more. Egg yolks also provide the most readily absorbed form of lutein, a yellow-hued carotenoid that may help fight everything from cancer and cataracts to macular degeneration and aging.
Is it true that eating eggs will give you heart disease? No! The only large study to look at the link between eggs and heart disease found no connection.
What is Actually High When it Comes to Cholesterol?
Not only does evidence suggest that saturated fat does not cause heart disease by way of high cholesterol, but there is considerable questioning of what actually constitutes “high” cholesterol in the first place.
The American Heart Association states, “About half of American adults have levels that are too high (200 mg/dL or higher) and about 1 in 5 has a level in the high-risk zone (240 mg/dL or higher).”
But according to lipid biochemistry expert Mary Enig, PhD in the Weston A. Price Foundation quarterly magazine:
“Blood cholesterol levels between 200 and 240 mg/dl are normal. These levels have always been normal. In older women, serum cholesterol levels greatly above these numbers are also quite normal, and in fact they have been shown to be associated with longevity.
Since 1984, however, in the United States and other parts of the western world, these normal numbers have been treated as if they were an indication of a disease in progress or a potential for disease in the future.”
What this means is that many Americans may be taking statin cholesterol-lowering drugs unnecessarily, believing their cholesterol is dangerously high when it is not.
According to Dr. Joseph Mercola, “ … Total cholesterol level is just about worthless in determining your risk for heart disease, unless it is above 330.”
Statin Drugs: Is Modern Medicine’s Cure-All Harming Your Health?
Cholesterol-lowering drugs known as statins are among the most commonly prescribed drugs in the United States.
They work by interfering with an enzyme that your body needs to make cholesterol. Along with lowering cholesterol, the drugs — which include Lipitor, Zocor, Mevacor, Pravachol, Crestor and others — may also help your body reabsorb cholesterol that has accumulated on your artery walls, helping to prevent further blockage.
However, although cholesterol drugs do lower cholesterol, there is question over whether or not they actually lower your risk of heart disease.
For instance, as Business Week reported, James M. Wright, a physician and professor at the University of British Columbia, analyzed evidence from years of trials with statins and was surprised at what he found among data from patients with no heart disease who were taking the drugs:
He found no benefit in people over the age of 65, no matter how much their cholesterol declines, and no benefit in women of any age. He did see a small reduction in the number of heart attacks for middle-aged men taking statins in clinical trials.
But even for these men, there was no overall reduction in total deaths or illnesses requiring hospitalization—despite big reductions in “bad” cholesterol. “Most people are taking something with no chance of benefit and a risk of harm,” says Wright.”
As Business Week continued, when you look at the fine print of data surrounding cholesterol drugs, the benefits often altogether disappear. Referring to one figure stated by drug maker Pfizer, which said 3 percent of patients taking a placebo had a heart attack compared to 2 percent of patients on the statin drug Lipitor:
“The numbers in that sentence mean that for every 100 people in the trial, which lasted 3 1/3 years, three people on placebos and two people on Lipitor had heart attacks.
The difference credited to the drug? One fewer heart attack per 100 people.
So to spare one person a heart attack, 100 people had to take Lipitor for more than three years. The other 99 got no measurable benefit.”
Suddenly the drugs don’t sound so miraculous, do they?
They also carry steep risks.
In one of the most revealing looks into the true side effects of statin drugs, a review published in the American Journal of Cardiovascular Drugs found nearly 900 studies of adverse effects linked to the drugs.
“Muscle problems are the best known of statin drugs’ adverse side effects,” Beatrice Golomb, MD, PhD, associate professor of medicine at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine and co-author of the study, told EurekAlert. “But cognitive problems and peripheral neuropathy, or pain or numbness in the extremities like fingers and toes, are also widely reported.”
Other side effects included increases in blood glucose levels, tendon problems and an increase in liver enzymes, leading to permanent liver damage. Because of this latter risk, people taking the drugs must have their liver function tested periodically.
Nausea, diarrhea, abdominal pain, constipation, headaches and skin rash are other known side effects.
Statin drugs are also known to block the production of important nutrients in your body, including CoQ10, which is beneficial to heart health and muscle function. If CoQ10 levels become depleted, which is common in those who take statin drugs, it can actually cause heart failure.
So What is the Best Way to Maintain Healthy Cholesterol Levels?
Eating lots of fast food can lead to chronic inflammation in your body, which is a trigger for your system to make more cholesterol. If you want to lower your cholesterol, cutting out fast food … to curb the underlying cause of inflammation … is a wise first step.
Remember the inflammation connection? Your body tends to make more cholesterol when it’s in a chronically inflamed state. What causes the underlying inflammation?
Inflammation is often due to poor diet and the consumption of processed foods or lack of live healthy raw foods. For instance, if you eat a lot of fast food, you probably have increased inflammation levels, as pro-inflammatory foods include sugar, soda, alcohol, bread, trans fats and red meat.
Inflammation is a problem because when your body is in a chronic state of inflammation, the inflammation can lodge in your muscles, joints and tissues. In fact, chronic inflammation is a leading cause of many diseases, both physical and neurological, including heart disease.
So, if you’re interested in keeping your heart healthy without taking drugs, reducing inflammation is an excellent first step, as this will typically naturally put your cholesterol levels into a healthy range. Some top tips to do this are:
- Eating a healthy diet with plenty of raw fruits and vegetables. Avoid processed foods and buy whole foods whenever possible. Fast food should be only a very occasional indulgence, or not on your diet plan at all, and raw foods should make up a regular part of your meals.
- Exercising regularly
- Not smoking
- Managing stress in your life
- Limiting alcohol
- Detoxing regularly. There is some evidence that heart disease (and other chronic illnesses) are caused or exacerabated by an accumulation of heavy metals and other toxins in your body.
Natural detox products can help you to clean your body of toxic metals and other poisons. Ask your health care practitioner.
The steps above will help you to lower chronic inflammation in your body so that your cholesterol levels naturally revert to a healthy range, no drugs required.