We are obsessed with lowering cholesterol. We believe lower numbers are good for us. The reasoning is simple: lower cholesterol means less plaque which means fewer heart attacks. The premise looks legit and makes good sense, at least on the surface.
The trouble starts when you dig a tad deeper than popular internet stories and find less popular fact or two that arrogantly challenge that nicely put together lipid theory.
1. Plaque buildup does not come from blood cholesterol
Total cholesterol has been shown NOT to correlate with the development of fatty streaks that initiate plaque buildup.[i] The plaque does not come from floating blood cholesterol, but from an inflammatory signal coming from the immune system. It simply means that blood cholesterol without an inflammatory trigger does not attach itself to arteries. Consequently, an alerted patient should demand from a competent doctor to aim at calming down the inflammation, not at lowering cholesterol.
Any patient should stay away from docs that don’t understand plaque-inflammation connection and those that insist on lowering cholesterol without looking at the immune system. Cholesterol is a hormone maker, brain booster, and youthfulness guardian. Are you sure you want to get rid of it just to please a doctor?
2. Tracking total cholesterol is useless
This is what’s scary: even though total cholesterol role in cardiac risk has been totally debunked, many health professionals are still using it as a guide. Don’t make the same mistake. You’d be much better off ogling more meaningful parameters than tracking total cholesterol whereabouts. Look up LDL/HDL, otherwise known as a ratio of bad to good cholesterol. LDL/HDL is a much better gauge of atherogenic risk than total cholesterol, which is basically a useless number.
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How does LDL/HDL work? Simple. The lower the better. Anything above 5 suggests a very high atherogenic risk.[ii] Anything between 3 and 5 suggests slower plaque buildup. Anything below 2 is great. Curious how you score? Take out your most recent blood results and fit the numbers in the equation.
Here is a very common example of what not to do. Imagine you doing your standard medical check up, when suddenly a doctor drops a cholesterol bomb: the numbers are high and they need to go down. You panic, just as anybody else would, and rush to go on low fat diet and lipid lowering pills. You continue without hesitation until your doctor tells you otherwise. Mistake.
What if your HDL was 3.18 mmol/L (123 mg/dL) and LDL 2.8 mmol/L (108 mg/dL)? What if your LDL/HDL ratio was so awesome that your arteries were clean like a whistle? What if you were misinformed? What if you got a treatment for a non-existing condition? What if your health was to decline due to lack of proper insight?
You get the point. Don’t throw away your hormone maker, brain booster, and youthfulness guardian just because your doc is old school.
3. Low cholesterol can kill you
This is not a joke, neither something I made up last night. Low cholesterol is deadly. Low numbers are linked to shorter lifespan, higher cancer risk, higher mortality from infections, and even strokes(!).
Low cholesterol does not protect the heart and in many cases acts against it. Don’t fall for low-fat diet promises and life-saving sham pills. They may not be good for you.
Don’t panic. Instead of worrying to no end about your heart health, you’d be better off learning whether lowering cholesterol in YOUR case is warranted. I have a suggestion.
Pick up a good read, an exceptional eye opener that will change your perception on health forever. Discover rarely-mentioned studies that bluntly expose medical lies, cholesterol traps, and health misconceptions. Pick up “Cholesterol Trap” and you will never waste your precious time on some nonsense fads again.