There is no denying that heart disease is one of the most serious health problems affecting modern men. Last year alone 1,000,000 Americans had a heart attack, and heart disease ultimately kills 1 in every 4 US adults! (1)*.
Here’s the strange part about heart disease…
Some people who have heart attacks are overweight. Some are thin. Some are old, and many others are in their 30s & 40s.
Even stranger: many heart attack victims even have PERFECTLY NORMAL cholesterol levels.
So, is cholesterol bad for your health? Let's answer that now by busting the 3 biggest cholesterol myths that are adding so much confusion to this very important question.
Myth #1: High cholesterol causes heart attacks.
Let’s start with the most common assumptions: high cholesterol = increased heart attack risk.
This is common knowledge preached by many doctors, nutritionists, and personal trainers, so it has to be true, right?
Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. New data is showing that roughly 50% of all heart attack patients happen to have completely normal cholesterol levels (2)*.
Spurred by these controversial findings, researchers from the Harvard Medical School crunched some more data, and found out that roughly 81% of all heart attacks are actually related to other lifestyle factors such as smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, lack of exercise, and obesity (3)*.
Cholesterol is not the main culprit.
So, is cholesterol bad for your health? It’s already seeming less scary, and we’re just getting started. Let’s bust Myth #2.
Myth #2: LDL is “bad” cholesterol.
High total cholesterol may not be the cause of heart attacks, but you’ve probably also heard that LDL cholesterol (commonly referred to as BAD cholesterol) will clog up your arteries.
Again, it's not that simple.
When it comes to analyzing your health, I’d caution you to be wary when anybody vilifies something that our bodies naturally produce in large quantities (like cholesterol). Our bodies always produce things for a specific reason.
LDL is no exception. As a transport protein, LDL carries fat and cholesterol into our metabolically active cells for use. Our cells require fat and cholesterol to build hormones and burn for energy.
That said, large amounts of LDLs that float around the bloodstream for an extended period of time is a bad thing.
These floating LDLs can be oxidized (kind of like how metal rusts when it sits outside for a long time). The “rusting” of LDL transforms these normally healthy particles into a dangerous secondary subtype called LDL oxidized (LDLox).
This is where we get into trouble. LDLox are hard, dense molecules that stiffen arteries and reduce blood flow, and we definitely don’t want these guys floating around. So, the right amounts of LDL are good for our normal functioning, but when oxidized into LDLox, heart disease can result.
Unfortunately, most normal blood panels don’t differentiate between the beneficial types of LDL and the LDL oxidized subtype. Next time you get blood work, consider asking your doctor for an expanded VAP cholesterol test that will measure the different LDL subtypes.
You may have high LDL levels with perfectly normal LDL oxidized levels, which would mean you are at a lower risk of heart disease from an LDL cholesterol perspective. Cool right?
Always check with your doctor when making medical decisions about your health, as this is NOT medical advice. This is simply information for you to start doing your own research.
Next, let’s move on to my favorite cholesterol myth of all…
Myth #3: Eating cholesterol leads to high cholesterol
Our bodies love cholesterol.
Among its many functions, cholesterol helps: build hormones such as testosterone and estrogen, create healthy cell membranes, and even aids in energy production.
Our bodies love cholesterol so much we actually internally produce 75% of the total cholesterol level. Your liver is actually making cholesterol right now as you read this.
Now, the average diet adds roughly another 300-500mg of cholesterol from foods such as meats, dairy, or eggs.
But here’s the cool part: when we eat cholesterol, our bodies decrease their own internal production.
This is yet another example of beautifully orchestrated human biology that maintains a balance between our internal and external environments.
Our ancient ancestors ate large amounts of cholesterol from animal meats that they trapped. They didn’t experience the rampant heart disease that is leading to over 1,000,000 heart attacks each year. So, what the heck is going on? Where is the real culprit?
The true culprit: the high carbohydrate, high sugar diet.
That soda? That favorite pastry of yours? That bag of chips? Yep. They all stimulate cholesterol production in the body far beyond the effects of actually consuming cholesterol from animal sources. And the ironic part about this scenario is that these foods contain no cholesterol themselves – just sugar.
Here’s what happens to your body when you eat sugar
Your body releases a hormone called insulin in response to high carbohydrate, high sugar meal. While floating around, insulin’s primary function is to transport sugars into our cells for use.
One of insulin's many secondary functions is to actually stimulate your body’s own cholesterol production in the liver.
In fact, if you eat a very high carbohydrate diet with lots of sugars, you can stop eating cholesterol for the rest of your life and still have high cholesterol.
Doctors in Europe have practiced this for years: the fastest way to lower cholesterol and improve triglyceride levels is to cut back on the carbs. American medicine is a bit slower to catch on.
My recommendation: keep eating whole eggs and start cutting out refined, processed sugars. If you are still skeptical, you can check out Vince Gironda's story. He ate 36 eggs a day for 2 weeks then had blood work taken to prove this very point!
The results from his post-eggfest blood work?
Great HDL (good cholesterol) levels and normal LDL (“bad cholesterol”).
Summary: So Is Cholesterol Bad For Your Health?
New research suggests that cholesterol isn’t bad for you. Our bodies need it and make it naturally for hormone production, cell membrane health, and energy sources.
High cholesterol does not equal heart attacks. Remember the study I showed you above that over 50% of people who experience heart attacks have completely normal cholesterol.
Drinking, smoking, eating process foods, having high levels of belly fat, and not exercising are the more likely risk factors for a heart attack.
LDL cholesterol is not all bad; it actually helps cells get energy from the foods we eat. The LDL oxidized sub-type, however, is dangerous.
Eating cholesterol does not necessarily lead to higher cholesterol. Our body balances cholesterol consumption by decreasing internal production. Eating a high sugar and carbohydrate diet is the fastest way to stimulate cholesterol production in the body.
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Now that we’ve demystified the question: “is cholesterol bad for your health?” I’d love to hear your thoughts about these myths. Which myth was most surprising to you? Let me know in the comments below this post.
Yours in Lifelong Health,
Small note about research cited in this article:
*Always remember: weight loss results & health changes/improvements vary from individual to individual. Just because these studies cite certain data does not mean you will experience these results/outcomes. Always consult with your doctor before making decisions about your health. This is not medical advice – simply well-researched information. Thanks for reading!