Do you have high cholesterol?
If so, you are not alone! Around 50% of all American adults actually have elevated cholesterol levels. And it is a confusing condition to navigate since many doctors are unable to stay updated on the latest research and discoveries.
This article is intended to to help you take control of your cholesterol without resorting to statin drugs which do not address the root cause of elevated cholesterol and can often have disastrous side effects.
The Basics of Cholesterol
First, let’s take a look at the basics. Cholesterol is found in every of cell of your body. It is a waxy, fat-like substance that circulates in your blood and is utilized to create cell membranes, hormones, and vitamin D. Your liver creates the cholesterol you need from the fats that you consume.
Cholesterol does not dissolve in the blood. Instead, cholesterol is transported by carriers called lipoproteins which house the cholesterol on the inside with a layer of protein on the outside. These carriers transport cholesterol between cells to be used for various biological functions.
Types of Cholesterol
There are two primary types of cholesterol. Each of which is carried by a different type of lipoprotein.
High-density lipoproteins (HDL) carry the so-called “good” cholesterol. This is the kind of lipoprotein that scavenges cholesterol particles and carries them to the liver to be dealt with.
Low-density lipoproteins (LDL) are often referred to as “bad” cholesterol. This lipoprotein carries cholesterol to cells and it is the kind of cholesterol that ends up deposited on arterial walls.
Unfortunately, when most doctors see patients with high cholesterol, they prescribe potentially dangerous pharmaceutical statin drugs instead of recommending healthy diet and lifestyle changes.
The Truth About Statins
With 15 million Americans currently on statin drugs, it is important to be aware of their numerous downsides. It is true that statins can be effective at lowering overall cholesterol levels but in many patients the harmful side effects far outweigh the benefits.
Often, statins will lower cholesterol so much that the body does not have enough cholesterol available to maintain proper brain function. Cholesterol is so important to brain health that up to 25% of the body’s cholesterol is stored there.
Statins can also inhibit the benefits of omega-3 fats. This is due to their proclivity to metabolize omega-6 fatty acids, which leads to increased insulin resistance, elevated blood glucose levels, and the eventual development of type 2 diabetes.
Chronic use of statins has also been shown to interfere with the body’s production of coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10). CoQ10 is critical for immune and nervous system health, and also bolsters heart health, proper muscle function, and healthy blood pressure, among much else. If you are on statins it is very important to supplement with CoQ10.
Other side effects of statins include: achy joints, fatigue, liver stress, muscle pains, and even fibromyalgia.
What’s more, one of the most common side effects of statins that I regularly see in my practice is hormone imbalance.
Cholesterol and Your Hormones
That’s right, healthy cholesterol levels are crucial to hormonal health.
This is the reason why so many Americans tend to develop high cholesterol in their 40’s and 50’s.
Cholesterol is critically important for the biosynthesis of sex hormones which include testosterone, estrogen, and progesterone. Cholesterol also supports the production of important glucocorticoids such as cortisol and mineralocorticoids such as aldosterone.
When these hormone levels are low the liver ramps up production of cholesterol, which is the raw substrate from which the hormones are manufactured. It is quite common that patients with low hormone levels also have high cholesterol.
The solution to this problem is often found in the diet. When the patient avoids unhealthy fats that raise bad cholesterol and eats more fats that help raise good cholesterol the hormones become balanced and the cholesterol returns to normal.
So what should you eat to lower your cholesterol?
Good Fat vs. Bad Fat
Healthy fats to eat include: Omega 3 fats from salmon, sardines, fish oil and krill oil supplements, organic extra virgin olive oil, avocado oil (you can cook with this at a high smoke point), pasture-raised egg yolks, grass-fed butter, nuts, nut butters, MCT powder (oil can cause diarrhea), and low sugar 75% (or more) dark chocolate.
I consider organic extra virgin olive oil to be the “king of oils.” This is because it has the remarkable ability to lower LDL cholesterol while at the same time raising HDL.
HDL acts like a scrub brush scrubbing plaque off the arteries, so the higher your HDL cholesterol is the more you will have cardio protection from heart attack and stroke.
As you probably already know, excess saturated fat intake is associated with elevated LDL cholesterol levels.
However, this is not the whole story.
This is because there are actually two sub-groups of LDL particles. LDL particle pattern A is a large fluffy cholesterol particle that is less prone to oxidation and less likely to stick to arterial walls. LDL particle pattern B is a smaller and denser particle that is easily oxidized and more likely to build up in the arteries.
It turns out that consumption of saturated fats does not actually raise the small particle pattern B but it raises the large fluffy pattern A which is neutral and does not cause heart disease. If a person has high cholesterol I will do an NMR lipo-profile which separates the different types of cholesterol to see if there is a predominance of the dangerous particle pattern B or the fluffy benign particle pattern A.
Therefore, saturated fats such as coconut oil, grass-fed beef, pasture-raised egg yolks, and grass-fed butter can be a nutrient dense part of a healthy diet.
Beware of Oxidation
The type of cholesterol is not the only thing that matters. It is also important if cholesterol is oxidized or not. Oxidation is when a cholesterol particle becomes rancid. When the cholesterol molecule is oxidized, it is most atherogenic, meaning it causes plaque formation in the arteries.
The most common cause of oxidized cholesterol is the consumption of polyunsaturated fats. Most of the oils in restaurants fast food chains, salad dressings, potato chips, processed food are polyunsaturated fats.
Polyunsaturated fats include: canola oil, vegetable oil, corn oil, safflower oil, sunflower oil, soybean oil, and grapeseed oil.
Now this may be confusing because many doctors will tell you to eat more polyunsaturated fats because it lowers cholesterol. The dirty secret is that although consuming these oils can actually lead to lower cholesterol, it also leads to higher amounts oxidized cholesterol which in turn leads to inflammation and heart disease.
It is also important to avoid artificial trans fats. Trans fatty acids are created by an industrial process that adds hydrogen to liquid vegetable oils to make them more solid. You will see these fats labeled in processed food as “partially hydrogenated oils.” Beware of any product with this ingredient on the package.
One of the most important nutrients to support healthy cholesterol is fiber. Fiber can be obtained in the diet through the consumption of vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seeds. You can also supplement with fiber formulas such as Divine Health’s Living Chia. Chia is a remarkable fiber supplement because it contains 50% soluble fiber and 50% insoluble fiber. Soluble fiber binds to cholesterol in the gut while insoluble fiber sweeps it out to the toilet. This is why I call chia seeds the “king of seeds!”
You can also use additional supplements such as Divine Health’s Cholesterol Support formula. This formula is loaded with plant based nutrition such as plant sterols, pomegranate, and citrus bergamot. These nutrients have powerful cholesterol supporting properties.