Cholesterol: The Sad Truth

Blaming new health problems on old foods does not make sense.

“Are high cholesterol foods unhealthyfor us?" The media over the last 50-60 years certainly thinks so. 

We cannot tarnish all meats, butters, eggs and fish etc with the same brush and say they are all unhealthy. There are some god awful meats out there that are bad for our health and will contribute towards Coronary Heart Disease (CHD) our number 1 killer. For 50 years (due to Ancel Key’s work) foods like bacon, beef, sausages, black pudding, butter, prawns and eggs etc have been put forward as “artery clogging” foods.

This resulted in the government recommending a higher carbohydrate diet as a result (following the USA guidelines).

CHD is a major problem and has been for a long time in the UK being our top killer (80, 000 deaths a year) for a while now. So it is vital that we get the debate of whether saturated fat and high cholesterol foods prevents CHD or contributes towards CHD absolutely right.

The science behind these mechanisms are highly detailed in our Personal Training courses. For too long cholesterol has been the culprit for causing atherosclerosis and arteriosclerosis (hardening and clogging of the arteries). Cholesterol (as you will read later) actually helps to repair the arteries when inflamed and roughed up.

Let’s not forget around 85% of all cholesterol in our blood is produced by the body itself from our liver and cells. Here is some of the vital job roles cholesterol plays in your body:

  • Hormone production – stored in our adrenal glands and helps produce steroid hormones.
  • Digestion – it helps the liver create bile acids to digest foods.
  • Structural component of our cells – a protective layer if you like (very important).
  • Vitamin D production – helps synthesis one of our main fat soluble vitamins.

 

What happens when our arteries gets roughed up and inflamed?

Without cholesterol you would be dead.

The brain and nervous system is full of it. The big issue is that cholesterol gets oxidised and plaques out due to inflammation of the arteries. 

Contrast to popular belief, when people talk about the so-called “bad” and “good” cholesterol, they’re actually referring to the proteins that carry cholesterol around. HDL’s and LDL’s are not cholesterol. They are proteins that carry cholesterol. LDL carries cholesterol to your arteries (if early signs of inflammation occur) and HDL carries old cholesterol from the arteries to the liver to be recycled.

Not all LDL’s are bad either, there is the type that is large and fluffy (good ones) and the small dense ones (type B- the most harmful). Once type b LDL’s gets damaged due to oxidation, it can penetrate the wall of the artery. If this continues a plaque starts to form – now you are on the way to heart disease.

Having a diet super rich in fast releasing carbohydrate, processed foods, high emotional stress, lots of booze and cigarettes will boost the type b LDL’s blood markers in your diet leading to heart disease.

Interestingly, the French have the highest recorded cholesterol levels and one of the highest consumption rates of saturated fat in Europe. Despite this they have the lowest level of CHD. There are other factors to consider here such as a diet rich in fruit and veg, regular exercise and 2 hour lunch breaks (yes that is true!).

More cardiologists are coming forward and are failing to see direct correlation with high cholesterol diets and high CHD’s. Did you know half the people that have heart attacks have low cholesterol blood markers.  

Rumour has it the USA authorities will be changing their food guidelines and stating that cholesterol is harmless and are recommending higher consumption rates of it. More and more newspapers are publishing articles suggesting the same.  

Blaming new health problems on old foods does not make sense. CHD did not become a problem until about a hundred years ago. The obesity epidemic hit the map around 1980 and the type 2 diabetes epidemics followed soon after. These are the biggest health problems in the world, and it seems pretty clear that diet has a lot to do with them.

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References 

The French paradox: lessons for other countries. Heart. 2004 Jan; 90(1): 107–111.

M Bonthuis et al (2010) Dairy consumption and patterns of mortality of Australian adults. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition (2010) 64, 569–577

Santos et al (2010) Systematic review and meta-analysis of clinical trials of the effects of low carbohydrate diets on cardiovascular risk factors. Vol 13, Iss11, pages 1048–1066.

Chowdhury et al (2014) Association of Dietary, Circulating, and Supplement Fatty Acids With Coronary Risk: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis.

Fernandez (2006) Dietary cholesterol provided by eggs and plasma lipoproteins in healthy populations. Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care. Jan;9(1):8-12.

Wang et al (2006) n−3 Fatty acids from fish or fish-oil supplements, but not α-linolenic acid, benefit cardiovascular disease outcomes in primary- and secondary-prevention studies: a systematic review1,2,3. American Society for Clinical Nutrition.

Grant et al (2005) Benefits and requirements of vitamin D for optimal health: a review. Altern Med Rev. Jun;10(2):94-111.