CHOLESTEROL

Roles of Cholesterol in the Body 

Firstly, let’s point out that cholesterol is not a bad guy.  Every cell in the body needs cholesterol to ensure proper cell membrane function, and from cholesterol the liver makes up bile acids (vital in digestion and absorption of fats, oils and fat-soluble vitamins), and our liver discards some excess cholesterol through bile acids. Some very important hormones (eg sex hormones such as testosterone and estrogen, the adrenal corticosteroids such as aldosterone and cortisol) and vitamin D are made from cholesterol. The skin uses cholesterol to protect us against the wear and tear of sun, wind and water, and helps damaged skin to heal, and prevents infections from foreign agents.  Cholesterol also acts as an antioxidant when needed.  Much of the brain itself is made from cholesterol. Without cholesterol, we would die!

Digestive processes reduce dietary cholesterols to shorter chain fatty acids (smaller molecules) before they enter the blood stream. (Re the Eskimos and Masai, who consume huge amounts of cholesterol daily in their diets, but do not have high serum cholesterol readings). Serum cholesterol readings are measuring the amounts of cholesterol the body is making.  That is all.  So what if it is making “high” levels?  (and incidentally, who said that 6.0 or 8.0 or 10.0 is “too high”?  As a race, Japanese people do not suffer of heart disease, and they have “normal” readings of 10, 15, 20). The liver (and other body cells) that make cholesterols know just how much to make, at any given moment.

The liver makes enough cholesterol for the needs of the entire body from 2-carbon acetates it derives from the breakdown1 of fruit sugars and protein, as well as from essential fatty acids.  Cholesterol is not "essential", that is we do not need to take any cholesterol as such into our bodies through food, because body cells synthesize it. On the other hand, we don’t need to worry about how much cholesterol we might be consuming; it just is not an issue, as you will see.

Our cells make the cholesterols they need in response to daily needs.  For instance, we drink alcohol, it dissolves in and fluidises cellular membranes.  In a healing response, cells build more cholesterol into the membrane bringing it back to a normal (less fluid) state.  As the alcohol wears off, the membrane hardens, so some membrane cholesterol is removed to re-establish normal (greater) membrane fluidity. The excess cholesterol is hooked up to an essential fatty acid (EFA), for example an omega-3, then shipped via blood to the liver to either be changed into bile salts for excretion (given the presence of necessary vitamins, minerals and enzymes in the liver), or to be recycled. Bile salts are dumped into the intestines where they are picked up by bowel fibre, and provided the bowel is sufficiently active, they are eliminated before they can be reabsorbed and recycled (see info on Leaky Gut Syndrome). So you see, the body has regulatory mechanisms which are quite adequate to handle cholesterol on a minute by minute basis; the last thing we need is drugs for such purposes!!

The Medical Cholesterol Dogma: Cholesterol Causes Heart and Vascular Disease

The most commonly accepted theory2 of cardiovascular disease (CVD) states that when too much cholesterol builds up in the body, it is deposited in the arterial walls causing atherosclerosis, a narrowing of the arteries and vessels.  Excess cholesterol and saturated fatty acids can make our blood platelets "sticky" increasing the risk a clot thus increasing the risk of angina and heart disease, heart attack, stroke, gangrene, as well as blindness, deafness, edema and kidney failure.

None of this has been proved, it is a theory which time has honoured, so that it has now become dogma. For all the “cholesterol lowering” drugs of the past 40 years, CVD is still on the increase.  All the recent evidence suggests that we have been barking up the wrong tree.  In fact it is worse than this. There is no other substance as widely publicised by the medical profession - and no bigger health scandal.

"The cholesterol lowering enterprise threatens to turn a large percentage of the healthy population into patients..."(British Medical Journal 304; 6824, p.431). The cholesterol scare is big business for doctors, laboratories and drug companies.  The new generation cholesterol-lowering drugs like simvastatin and pravastatin (statins) are very expensive, but offer a risk reduction of heart attack of only 2% (if that).  In this context, Erasmus wrote  "In spite of new findings, the dinosaur of old dogma continues to lumber on in medical practice.  Economics rather than health or truth drives the old beast. The practice of medicine, contrary to idealistic notions, popular belief, and the desperate hope of the ignorant and seriously ill, is not about care...or cure...but about making money...Change comes slowly and is strongly resisted" (Erasmus, op. cit. p.202). It is also a powerful marketing gimmick for vegetable oil and margarine manufacturers who can advertise their products as 'cholesterol-free', but whose products in fact cause free radical damage throughout the body, including the arteries. This is the real culprit in coronary and other artery diseases, and cancers (see InfoSheet Fats and Oils).

So What Does "High" Cholesterol Mean?

Firstly, please be aware that there is no such thing as "good and bad" cholesterol; it is all good. LDLs (the so-called 'bad guys') are just as important and good as HDLs (the so-called 'good guys').  LDLs have special tasks, to carry other cholesterols, triglycerides and fat-soluble vitamins to cells where they are needed, and HDLs take them back to the liver as required.  The confusion exists because a high LDL reading simply means that our system is being overloaded by cholesterol either from abnormally high synthesis, and/or from too slow a removal.  It does not mean we are at a greater risk of heart disease or stroke.

Also, everyone is different, some livers make higher levels and others lower levels of cholesterol. What might be important, if you are interested in the serum results of a blood test, is the ratio between the HDLs and the LDLs. If the ratio is 1(HDLs) : 5 (LDLs) or lower, then you have absolutely nothing to fear. So the “total cholesterol” level is irrelevant.  In this scenario, 5 might be “bad” and 12 might be “good”. It all depends on the ratio. So you must check the ratio before you do anything that might upset what the liver is doing.  And best trust your liver, not some doctor who quite arbitrarily says “Your cholesterol is too high”!  What sort of errant nonsense is that?!

Consider the following:-

  • Dietary cholesterol consumption has remained constant over the past 100 years, whilst CVD (cardiovascular disease such as stroke, heart attack) has skyrocketed. What does that tell you?
  • The huge US Framingham Heart Study, according to its director Dr William Kannel, showed "no discernible association between the amount of cholesterol in the diet and the level of cholesterol in the blood...".
  • People in many other cultures consume far more cholesterol than we do, and have far less heart disease. For example, the Masai consume mostly meat, blood and milk, up to 2000mg of cholesterol a day, yet maintain a 3.5mmol/l serum cholesterol and have a low incidence of heart disease.
  • The British medical journal The Lancet said in 1931, (June 13) that heart attack was almost unknown before 1926, before margarine, when butter, lard, tallow and other saturated fats were eaten without fear.
  • The BMJ reported in 1989 the results of the Renfrew and Paisley survey that showed serum cholesterol levels (high or low) made no difference when it came to fatal MI (heart attacks). Over half the number of patients suffering an MI (heart attack) have cholesterol levels within the recommended range.
  • The Roseta study showed that American Italians with high serum cholesterol actually had less than 50% of deaths from MI than the rest of the USA.  Several other more recent studies also show the benefits of the 'Mediterranean diet' which confirm less death from MI and cancer.
  • CVD risk factors which are at least as important, if not more so than serum cholesterol, include the consumption of refined sugar, animal fats, food additives, and especially trans-fatty acids eg margarines.
  • Drugs that lower cholesterol do not (statistically) reduce heart attacks or deaths from atherosclerosis. So why are they being prescribed so frequently?
  • Lp(a) and its adhesive protein apo(a)3 which looks like LDL, is a strong risk factor for CVD.  Measurements on which cholesterol dogma is based have erroneously lumped LDL and Lp(a) together.  Disassociated from Lp(a), LDL appears to be only a weak risk factor.  This means LDL has been wrongly blamed for damage done by Lp(a).  Lp(a) often increases when serum vitamin C levels are low, and decrease when vit C is high.
  • It is lipoprotein A – Lp(a), which adheres to the walls of the arteries in atherosclerosis, not cholesterol.
  • Increased intake of vitamin C (to several grams per day) and other anti-oxidants can keep Lp(a) levels down, build strong, thin artery walls with strong connective tissue, and reverse and cure cardiovascular disease.
  • C-reactive Protein (CRP – produced by the liver in response to inflammation) is the most reliable marker for cardiovascular disease, far more reliable than serum cholesterol levels. It signals that something is wrong, and needs to be further investigated (one does not ‘treat the marker’!!)

Confusion and Controversy

One must look to the advent of polyunsaturated vegetable fats (eg margarine) and oils (as in fried foods), among other things, to explain the paradox.  "MI (myocardial infarction; heart attack) deaths have increased in direct ratio to the consumption of polyunsaturated fats as oils and margarines"4. There is no doubt whatsoever that low cholesterol intake does not prevent heart attacks. But worse, low cholesterol levels may be associated with being a cause of cancer. Cancer patients seem almost invariably to have low serum cholesterol levels.  Cholesterol may be, in fact, part of our defence system against cancer5. We know that cholesterol is also an antioxidant.  And we know that cholesterol is the main building block of the brain and central nervous system, and I suspect that dementia patients would be found to be low in serum cholesterol.

Cholesterol is a marker, a messenger, not an enemy

“Abnormally” elevated serum cholesterol may be more a sign of nutrient deficiency than a problem in its own right.  "Cholesterol is not the cause of heart disease"6.   "Cholesterol ...is not the primary villain in cardiovascular disease, and an accusing finger points at 'experts' who concocted the cholesterol theory to drum up business by spreading fear" (Erasmus, op.cit. pp72, 3).  Indiscriminate lowering of cholesterol actually increases the risk of cancer and Alzheimer’s disease, because as LDLs are needed to transport the fat-soluble antioxidant vitamins E, A, and carotene.  Studies have shown that elderly females with cholesterol over 7 mmol/l survive longer than those with cholesterol of 4.5mmol/l or lower.  Mortality was 5 times higher in the lower group than in the 7 mmol/l group! 

Cholesterol and the Brain, and the Central Nervous System

Much of the architecture (structure) of the brain, and indeed the spinal cord and the nerves, are made out of cholesterol.  Brain cells also have a limited lifespan (about 6 years), and are constantly being replaced.  So the liver is constantly making the necessary cholesterols and shipping them off in the bloodstream, to the brain for that purpose.  What happens to brain-renewal if some drug artificially suppresses the ability of the liver to manufacture new brain cells?  Have we even noticed the incidental rise in the number of diagnosed Alzheimer’s (dementia) patients and a correlation with rising numbers of prescriptions for anti-cholesterol drugs?

Low cholesterol levels also reduce the numbers of serotonin brain receptors, thus increasing anxiety, depression and psychoses, attempted suicides, and predisposing to dementia.

So, if you are at all concerned about your cholesterol levels, the best solution is to ensure adequate nutrient intake and waste elimination, and trust to Nature. Rather than merely reducing cholesterol levels, we must heed the signs, and take all the appropriate lifestyle and dietary steps to avoid atherosclerosis and heart disease,  but let’s not "shoot the messenger".

Conclusion

We know a lot more about cholesterol today than we did in 1956 when the “cholesterol –cardiovascular disease” theory was spawned.  The best studies show that there is no truth in the theory, but for whatever reasons the dogma remains.  It is important to realise that the damage caused by polyunsaturated oils and margarines to cardiac arteries, and other sensitive tissue as well, is a major cause for the increased incidence of CVD and sudden heart attack (MI), and probably lung and other cancer as well, in affluent countries. 

In fact, we'd go further, and suggest you forget cholesterol tests forever, they mean nothing, and the costs simply fund the coffers of those who perpetuate the myth.  Says Professor Pinckney "Hitler did it.  He was not the first, but he did it quite successfully.  'It' being the big lie.  What is even worse, the big lie about cholesterol may well kill millions of people".  For more reading, see Smith and Pinckney The Cholesterol Conspiracy; Jeffreys op cit;  Erasmus op cit;  Mann, George Coronary Heart Disease: The Dietary Sense and Nonsense. Take responsibility for your health, and adopt the lifestyle and dietary principles that will reduce your risk of CVD.

Statin drugs (like ‘Lipitor’) reduce the amount of coenzyme Q10, an enzyme vital for cellular energy, especially in cardiac muscle. Lack of Q10 generally causes muscle fatigue, and when cardiac muscle becomes fatigued, it can stop working.  Statin drugs can cause the heart to stop beating!!  Chelation agents can strip and dissolve the plaque from the walls of arteries and arterioles, indeed anywhere that fibrin builds up, such as also in the brain, kidneys and liver.


1. 2-carbon acetates are produced as part of the energy-production cycle called the Krebs cycle in mitochondria of cells.  15 of these two-carbon acetates are hooked together, 3 carbons are clipped off to produce the 27-carbon cholesterol molecule. 

2. There are several theories as to what causes atherosclerosis.  Others include a) in the absence or deficiency of antioxidants, free radicals in our bloodstream, damage arterial wall cells, and cholesterol deposition is part of a mechanism that attempts to repair this damage; b) unnaturally rapid arterial wall cell proliferation (hyperplasia - an attempt to heal?); c) if antioxidants are low, cholesterol and triglycerides are oxidised causing arterial damage and thickening.  Professor Linus Pauling and Dr Rath developed a unifying theory, which is that poor vitamin C status (a key antioxidant) most fully explains the events of CVD. In humans (especially in affluent countries) current vitamin C intake is inadequate when compared to other animals which actually can make vitamin C from glucose - they normally make several grams per 100 pounds/ 40 kg of body weight, Note: animals do not suffer cardiovascular disease. And we are eating less and less foods with vitamin C actually in them, for whatever reason.  See Erasmus, Udo Fats that Heal, Fats that Kill , (1993, Alive Books, Canada) pp70 - 72. It is noteworthy that Pauling's research went against established dogma and commercial interests, and was not peer published (he a Nobel Chemistry Prize winner!!).

3. Apo(a) is an adhesive arterial wall repairer, and it thickens the artery wall. 

4. Mackinnon, AU The Origin of the Modern Epidemic of Coronary Artery Disease Journal of the Royal College of GPs, April 1987, pp174-176

5. Consider this, that heavy smoking Japanese have nothing like the western rates of lung cancer; they do not have high hydrogenated fat intake either (ieg margarine).

6. Jeffreys, Toni Ph.D Your Health at Risk (1998)
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