There are some things that get so culturally ingrained into our minds that we tend to accept them as we have been told over and over again. However, seldom do we question or check to see if some of these things are actually true. We tend to think that things can only be as we have structured them to be in our mind as logical. It takes some new information for us to really wrap our heads around another possibility and even then it may take decades for full acceptance. One great historical example of this was the realization that the world was round. In hindsight, we chuckle at the thought of people having this idea, but they created a logical explanation based around what they knew. They knew that they couldn’t see forever so they figured there must be a cliff somewhere out there. Can you imagine how hard it would have been to convince people of this fact at that time?!?! In 30 years people will likely think the same of us with our views on many nutrition topics. The world of human nutrition has more cases like this than we can count. We know relatively little compared to the amount of unknown. Our understanding of cholesterol numbers are one specific example that I’m going to explain today.
When most of us think of cholesterol, we automatically think of the clogging of arteries which leads to cardiovascular disease (heart attacks). The mental picture of seeing lard or hardened fat lends weight to this idea that eating these things causes buildup in the body but that’s far from what actually happens. When your blood vessels become inflamed/damaged due to free radicals in your blood, (usually caused by inflammatory foods or toxic particles) your immune system sends out a signal to attend to this damage. This immune response sends cholesterol to patch up the hole in your arteries. Then, just like any other serious wound, you are left with some scar tissue. It is this scar tissue that “clogs” arteries and over time can cause a heart attack. In the mainstream medical field, cholesterol is condemned as enemy #1 in the fight against cardiovascular disease. Did anyone catch the problem with this? We’re metaphorically blaming the messenger, or in this case, the medic! Cholesterol is actually coming to heal and protect you from imminent danger. This is like having to amputate a leg because you have diabetes then blaming the doctor for weight gain because you couldn’t exercise enough! The problem wasn’t the doctor or the amputation. The problem was the ability to regulate blood sugar appropriately in the first place. In this case, with cholesterol, we should be asking ourselves, what can be done to reduce the inflammation in the arteries?
Knowing this about cholesterol, doesn’t however discount the value that we receive in getting our cholesterol levels checked. While cholesterol doesn’t directly cause heart disease, it still plays a role, and if certain cholesterol numbers become too high they are more likely to degrade and crash before being used to heal one to the arteries. Many of you know HDL as our “good cholesterol” and LDL as our “bad cholesterol”. This is somewhat true, but not quite. First off, the cholesterol itself is the same in both cases. HDL (high-density lipoprotein) and LDL (low-density lipoprotein) are the carriers for cholesterol along with triglycerides (fats), fat soluble vitamins (A, D, E, and K), and other cofactors. Secondly, your HDL count is derived from your LDL. Confused? Your body actually packages up all those nutrients in an LDL particle to be distributed where needed throughout the body. The LDL actually becomes an HDL because the previously fat laden lipoprotein becomes more dense as it’s contents are distributed to tissues. Hence, low density and high density. The lipoprotein carrier is the same, but the contents inside have changed. The lipoprotein then returns to the liver to be repackaged and performs the whole process again before being decommissioned. Here’s the catch, if that LDL is originally packed with unstable fats (processed, high omega 6 oils) or a lack of stable (saturated, monounsaturated, and omega 3) fats and travels in a highly inflammatory bloodstream, such as those with a lot of sugar or other free radicals, it never gets the chance to make it back to the liver. When this happens, the LDL fails to distribute it’s goods and becomes oxidized in the blood. This is what I mean when I say degrade and crash. When this particle becomes oxidized it’s like a boat in the middle of the ocean being hit by a missile. The boat (LDL particle) is a sitting duck for missiles (sugar, toxins, free radicals, etc.) and everyone on board (cholesterol, fats, vitamins) are left floating around in the ocean (the blood). You can also have problems in this cycle if your liver is overloaded, but I'll save that issue for another time.
Science has proven that cholesterol is NOT the bad guy. Mainstream medicine, however, still hasn't changed practices and procedures for prescribing medication and giving nutritional advice.
So really, it’s not that cholesterol is the bad guy here. It’s the fact that we’ve got LDL particles being destroyed in a dangerous environment. The first thing way we help this number is by reducing the number of free radicals and toxins that we take in through our diet and lifestyle. Do you know what the number 1 source of free radicals is in the human diet? Here’s the sad part. The food/ingredient we were all told to consume to replace high cholesterol foods: low-saturated fat and cholesterol vegetable oils. We’ve all been told to eat margarine instead of butter. Nearly all packaged foods are made with or contain soybean, cottonseed, canola, grapeseed, or other vegetable oils just so they can say low cholesterol. These oils, even the ones that say no trans-fat, are the biggest reason why we have our insides literally on fire. They’re unstable, degrade easily, and combined with uncontrolled blood sugar, are destroying our health.
The second thing we want to do is raise our HDL cholesterol because it’s a safer place to be as we stated earlier. HDL particles actually receive cholesterol from LDL particles when they meet in the liver. So having extremely low LDL cholesterol can actually inhibit your body’s ability to have sufficient amounts of cholesterol in HDL particles. We can help this process in a couple ways. First, we need to make sure our liver in functioning correctly because it’s the liver’s job to help repackage and carry out this process. Second, we need to make sure we are taking in sufficient amounts of good quality fats. The quality and quantity of the fats you consume can make a huge difference in the strength of the LDL and HDL particles in fighting against oxidation and efficiently completing the lipid cycle of distribution. For a copy of my best and worst fats to cook with and consume, subscribe below.
Most importantly, with cholesterol numbers, we need to take into account each person’s situation as an individual. This is because cholesterol numbers are just numbers unless you really have a good idea about the full picture. Forget cholesterol numbers, this is an important point on understanding how to help heal people from any condition. This is also where many general practitioners in the medical field will fail to truly heal people. Understanding the full scope of a person’s lifestyle and diet is just as important as identifying the condition itself. To truly fix the problem, you have to identify the possible causes and eliminate those causes. Nutrition and health is not as easy as a+b=c. It’s calculus, not algebra. If certain conditions are met, a+b=c but if other conditions are met, a+d(b-x)/a lot of other characters I can't type in word =c.
I hope this sheds some light on a topic that is often misunderstood in our health. Please feel free to ask any questions you have here or on the Facebook page as this topic is certainly deeper than I've covered here.
Shanahan, Catherine, and Luke Shanahan. Deep Nutrition: Why Your Genes Need Traditional Food. Lawai, HI: Big Box, 2009. Print.
Bowman, Barbara A. Present Knowledge in Nutrition. Washington, DC: ILSI Pr., 2006. Print.
Taubes, Gary. Good Calories, Bad Calories: Challenging the Conventional Wisdom on Diet, Weight Control, and Disease. New York: Knopf, 2007. Print.