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Cholesterol - Villain or Victim?

Setting the record straight - What you should know about Cholesterol

Although it gets a bad rap, cholesterol is a steroid necessary for body function.  The body produces cholesterol naturally and utilizes it for cell wall function and hormone production (estrogen, testosterone). Its presence in the body is not malicious; however, because the body produces it, there is no dietary requirement that must be ingest per day.

Good, Bad, or Neither?

The first thing everyone should understand about cholesterol is that the “good” cholesterol (known as HDL) and the “bad” cholesterol (known as LDL) are very poor labels. In fact, HDL (high density lipoprotein) and LDL (low density lipoprotein) are not even cholesterol at all; they are proteins that carry cholesterol. LDL carries cholesterol from your liver to other body parts and HDL carries cholesterol from your body, back to your liver.

Switching Standards without Support

Before 1993, the recommended total cholesterol level in the blood was 240 mg/dl. Then a panel of 10 doctors agreed to lower it from 240 to 200 mg/dl. This increased the number of Americans who were eligible to take a statin drug (i.e. Lipitor, Zocor, Crestor) by over 37 million. Now nearly two decades later, there is absolutely no evidence that there has been a decrease in heart attacks, which was the original aim of increasing the medication.

High Cholesterol is Not the Real Issue

I speak to all my patients about getting to the cause of their health problems. No one on Earth has high cholesterol because of a deficiency in statin drugs. High cholesterol is not a diagnosis; it is merely a symptom of poor health. With all the risks and side effects associated with statin medications (headaches, muscle pain/weakness, constipation, kidney failure), I am not convinced the benefit (if there is any at all) outweighs the risk.

Just Tell Me What To Do!

The best thing to do? The only time it is safe to come off your medication is under the supervision of your prescribing physician. Talk to you doctor about coming off the medication for a few months while adding exercise and increasing raw vegetable intake.  If your doctor insists you stay on the medication (consider getting a second opinion) you must find a good Co-Q10 supplement. Statin drugs deplete the body of this energy-producing molecule that is synthesized naturally in your body.  Because of this, it's best to replenish CO-Q10 with a quality nutritional supplement in order to avoid some of the statin drug side effects.

Find a holistic practitioner that will take the time to get to the cause of your health problem. Your cholesterol is high for a reason and it is not because of a deficiency in statin drugs. If you want to be drug free, then you have to be willing to live a drug-free lifestyle. People who exercise regularly, eat plenty of vegetables and lean meats, and practice stress reduction techniques will not have high cholesterol levels and will ultimately live healthier and happier lives.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Tracey Eakin June 21, 2012 at 01:47 PM
Dr. Turo, thank you for such a good summary on cholesterol. If I can take your recommendations one step farther, I believe your patients would benefit even more from your suggestions. An effective way to reduce your cholesterol is by not ingesting it at all, which includes not eating even lean meats. You are right, cholesterol is a structural component of our cell membranes, and so it is not possible to remove it as you can fat in any meat and dairy products. Keeping overall fat intake low is important as well as your body will make excess cholesterol if there is excess fat in your diet. A low-fat, plant-based lifestyle is an enjoyable and easy way to accomplish both of these objectives. Per Caldwell Esselstyn, MD of the Cleveland Clinic, there is no evidence in the scientific literature of any cardiac event in someone with total cholesterol below 150. This can be obtained if a low-fat, animal product-free lifestyle is adopted. Thank you Dr. Turo for taking the mystery out of cholesterol.
Dr. Dan Turo June 21, 2012 at 05:16 PM
Tracey, I agree that we should all be eating more organic vegetables, fruits, and nuts. Although, based on how we have evolved as a species, we are genetically designed to consume meat. The portion of meat necessary is well below what the average American consumes. However, I think it is wrong to place blame on animal products for the source of high cholesterol without looking at the quality and sources. Provided we eat meat that is coming from sources that are fed a genetically congruent diet (not corn or wheat), it would make sense that we are obtaining vital nutrients (especially B vitamins) through those meat sources. How do you and your patients obtain the essential B vitamins, especially B 12, when animal sources are the best or only source? In regards to a low fat diet, again I agree that we consume way too much fat as an American society. However, if you look at the native Inuit culture in the very northern hemisphere, conservatively, over 50% of their diet comes from animal fat and yet their incidence of heart disease is low compared to those who eat a Westernized diet. This is most likely due to the massive amount of omega 3 fatty acids that they consume through meat consumption, which has amazing cardiovascular benefits, including decreased inflammation and lower cholesterol levels. At the end of the day, we all need to eat more God-made food and less man-altered food if we wish to achieve better health.
Alan June 22, 2012 at 02:32 PM
Great article - thanks for your succinct and articulate description of a tough topic. I recently read a very insightful book that digs into what science knows about metabolism/diet and how it relates to fat, protein, and carbohydrates - Good Calories, Bad Calories - by Gary Taubes. Taubes is a science writer for the NYTimes and others. His conclusion: scientifically, we know less than we should know; but based on what we do know, carbohydrates are the likely dietary villain, and we should probably be less afraid of fat. The most interesting part of the book is digging into what we know, albeit little, about carbohydrates and their connection to "diseases of civilization" - pretty compelling hypotheses that excessive carbohydrate consumption is driving heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer's, etc. On the cholesterol side, I am getting my first Lipid NMR next week so that I can pay attention to my LDL/HDL particle counts. I have read that our current obsession with LDL/HDL-C (the standard lipid panel that we all get) is pretty meaningless when it comes to disease detection, and your information that we artificially lowered the threshold for concern from 240 to 200 in the 1990s furthers my skepticism... Would love to discuss my NMR results with you, if you are available. Thanks again!
Lorena Ferrara June 22, 2012 at 06:31 PM
My total cholesterol is 315. LDL=212 HDL=45 Tryg=288 I have a sibling that died at 49 yrs. old from a heart attack. I'm 53 and in pretty good health, eat alot of fruits and veggies and very little meat. I just started to walk on the treadmill and at 5'6" weigh 160. Female. Should I be on statins or no?
Dr Daniel Turo June 23, 2012 at 12:53 PM
Alan, thank you for your kind words and great insight! I would be happy to discuss your profile results with you. I am located at 625 Lowries Run Rd STE 100, Pgh, 15237. Feel free to call the office at 412-369-0400 to schedule a time that we can chat in person or over the phone. Sincerely, Dr. Dan
Dr Daniel Turo June 23, 2012 at 03:40 PM
Lorena, thank you for your question. First, I must say that you should NEVER go off medication without consulting your prescribing physician. Since you eat "very little meat" my concern would be that you are not getting enough Omega 3 fatty acids in your diet. The balance of Omega 3 and Omega 6 fats is essential for healthy cognition, cardiovascular, and liver function. Your liver is your body's oil filter and if it is not getting enough new and healthy oil, than you may have increased inflammation in your body, which would lead to increased LDL levels. I am concerned about your high numbers and would be happy to discuss more information. Sincerely, Dr. Dan

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