Updated: Mar 3, 2019
Why is it that we have suddenly (albeit over the past 35 years) come to where we are now in our health? It’s as if we have abandoned our roots and reset our focus on everything else, other than our health. Fact is, one in four Americans over the age of 40 are currently taking a statin drug under the illusion that it will decrease their risk for heart disease. One in 4 people take a drug that in its 35 year history has failed to drop the rate of heart disease in the United States, and has in fact increased the risk of diabetes and dementia.
Anyone who has ever applied for life insurance knows the frustration that their blood profile numbers deliver. It’s as if the pharmaceutical companies have been allowed to quietly redefine our blood health over the past three decades in such a way that it’s almost impossible to meet the criteria to stay off drugs and get the lowest insurance rates.
So, before quietly and grumpily accepting your diagnosis and acquiescing to medication, perhaps you should be aware of a few things regarding triglycerides and cholesterol.
Let’s begin by making two important observations. Triglycerides are primarily produced from excess carbohydrates, particularly glucose and fructose. As far as HDL levels, you see an association of low HDL levels in people who have high blood sugar, which is caused by excess carbohydrates, particularly glucose and fructose. Your cholesterol is simply a reaction to arterial damage, not the cause of your plaque or you increased risk factors. Your heart disease risk lies in your triglyceride, insulin and inflammation levels, not in your cholesterol numbers.
If this is your first epiphany don’t let it worry you. Most people still believe that bad cholesterol is caused by too much fat, especially saturated fat, and food such as eggs and meat (I will save you the satisfaction of looking it up, none of that is true).
Fact is, and counter to your doctor's advice, you can dramatically reduce your non-vegetable carbohydrates (because vegies have some carbs) and eat as much saturated fat as you want. And what would happen? Your triglycerides would plummet without drugs and your HDL would improve.
The demonization of saturated fat and cholesterol is incorrect. It is poor science with even worse results when you follow it. It may actually ensure that you need statins to control your condition, or perhaps that’s what the big drug companies want you to do anyway……Hmmmm. So, to clarify, the good fats are the natural fats. When you're talking about natural saturated fats, you're looking at high-quality fats.
The bad fats are the hydrogenated or Partially hydrogenated fats – especially the unnatural oils like corn oil and soybean oil, which becomes heavily oxidized [when heated] — and consequently are very unhealthy.
It's not that you should eat fat with reckless abandon. Just avoid those artificial vegetable fats and stay with the fats that are really high quality, such as avocado and olive oil and coconut oil.
Remember, dietary cholesterol does not clog your arteries and cause heart attacks! But your doctor’s medical education says it does, which is sad when you think about it. Actually, your liver controls the level of cholesterol in your blood, not your food, and even if you had no intake of cholesterol, your liver would make it anyway, because that is what it does. And while people with heart disease have cholesterol clogging their arteries, it's not the consumption of cholesterol that causes it to accumulate there, far from it.
If it’s not cholesterol then what is it? Well, clogged arteries are actually caused by inflammation in the arterial walls. The cholesterol gets placed there because your body attempts to protect itself by packing cholesterol there. That’s right, cholesterol is used by the human body to repair damage not kill you! We physiologists have actually known this for some time.
So the question should be, what causes the inflammation in the arterial wall right? So forget the idea that you eat an egg and the cholesterol has no other place to go than to strangle your arteries. In reality, the key dietary factors promoting chronic inflammation are: sugar, artificial sweeteners, fructose, trans fats, and oxidized cholesterol, which again is what you get when you heat partially hydrogenated vegetable oils, not from eating eggs.
So let’s look at some good fats and bad fats. Obviously, coconut oil comes to mind as the healthy choice. Here’s why it’s healthy. It is one of the slowest oils to oxidize when heated, making it a great choice for cooking! Yep.
Coconut oil also does not promote inflammation; on the contrary, coconut oil has potent anti-inflammatory activity. Another study in the February 2010 issue of "Pharmaceutical Biology" found virgin coconut oil -- which is processed at low heat without chemicals -- reduced ear and paw swelling in rats, while also inhibiting chronic inflammation.
Interestingly, research has shown that vegetable oil consumption, something I am telling you is bad for you, actually lowers cholesterol levels. Yes, it’s true! So if you give corn oil to people who have heart disease, you would expect them to have a greater longevity and better health right? Nope! That’s not what happens. A trial published in 1965 tested that hypothesis by giving men diagnosed with heart disease a couple of tablespoons of corn oil each day. The health outcomes were then compared to men with heart disease who did not receive corn oil. And do you know what. After three years the results spoke for themselves. The men who consumed the corn oil had lower cholesterol and twice as many heart attacks and deaths from heart disease compared to the group that basically ate what they wanted.
This should have stopped any kind of belief that lowering cholesterol is good for you, EVER! The paper explicitly stated that people with heart disease should not consume corn oil; it is unhealthy. And yet, the American Heart Association still recommends corn oil to people. One has to question why this would be. Two reasons come to mind: 1) the studies find corn oil lowers your cholesterol and the AHA are fixated on this or 2) the corn oil industry is a sponsor to the American Heart Association. A SAD FACT but true.
Conventional medicine continues to insist that high cholesterol is bad for your heart, but excessively low cholesterol can have very serious consequences, including an elevated risk of dementia , depression, aggression, and stroke.
Low cholesterol can also cut your life short. Studies in the elderly find that higher cholesterol in people over 60 is actually associated with better health and longevity, even at 300, so again, the continued use of statins has a frustrating and unproductive history.
Look, let’s get our facts straight about the great statin drug hoax. Most people do not need them, and yet the pharmaceutical companies, in full knowledge of the available research, continue to tell people they need them, especially if they are over 60. These guidelines are in direct opposition to the facts, and to the reality that cholesterol is more than just a number. It was never about your total cholesterol levels after all. Granted, standard blood lipid tests are useful for determining whether your ratio of total HDL to LDL cholesterol is within a healthy range. But those cholesterol tests won’t tell you about your HDL and LDL fractions (that is, whether you have predominantly small dense cholesterol particles, or large buoyant ones). I realize it sounds like something out of a Star Wars sequel, but particle size is extraordinarily important, because research shows that small dense LDL cholesterol is inflammatory and toxic to blood vessels. It’s the smaller ones that can find their way between gaps in the endothelial cells (called gap junctions) where they can become oxidized and cause inflammation. The big buoyant LDL does not appear to be an issue however. So it’s not your total number it’s your particle or fraction assessment. Even more troubling is a high level of Lipoprotein(a), or Lp(a)—the most dangerous blood lipids. Lp(a) is a specific type of small LDL cholesterol particle that inflames the blood and makes it sticky—people with Lp(a) are more prone to clotting and heart attacks.
So in reality it’s about your level of inflammation and the type or particle composition of your cholesterol that matters more than anything else, not your total number. Do keep in mind that this is newer science and as yet the particle tests that exist are not able to differentiate between all fractions of lipoproteins. But the science is clear, it’s no longer about the total cholesterol anymore, it’s your particle distribution. Moreover, reducing your total cholesterol does not reduce your small dense LDL’s, so your risk does not really change.
When I try to talk about this subject to medical physicians I often get a deer in the headlights phenomenon. Total cholesterol to physicians is their holy grail. It’s the opportunity to reduce their patient’s heart disease risk because that’s what they were taught in school after all. But, looking at the available literature one cannot but help think that the medical profession's ignorance about cholesterol was crafted by careful design, starting over a century ago with the Flexner Report, funded by the Carnegie and Rockefeller foundations, who wanted nutritional science to be excised from the medical school curriculum. To a great extent this has been successful, despite the growing consensus that cardiovascular disease is a "food-borne" illness. Many physicians are ill-prepared to advise patients on what they should eat to best protect them from heart attack or stroke. One survey published in 2003, found that 96 percent of internists and 84 percent of cardiologists who responded did not know that a low-fat diet, in general, would increase triglycerides in the blood. Most believed that triglycerides would decrease. Remember, low fat is not low sugar or low processed carbohydrates.
For the past few decades, most physicians have been, and still are, nutritionally ignorant with the average doctor receiving only 20 hours of nutritional education and the average number of contact hours in medical schools actually decreasing. But, let’s just look at one school, Harvard. Of Harvard's 8,900 professors and lecturers, 1,600 admit that either they or a family member have had some kind of business link to drug companies — sometimes worth hundreds of thousands of dollars — that could bias their teaching or research. Additionally, pharma contributed more than $11.5 million to the school last year for research and continuing-education classes! It doesn’t stop there though, drug companies have paid doctors $1.4 billion in 2013 alone in grants for research or to prescribe their drugs. Most surveys find that about 13.5 percent of any medical schools budget comes from industrial-pharmaceutical sources (in fiscal 2003). About half of the budget comes from grants from agencies such as the National Institute of Health. But the NIH has also partnered with big pharma, so the likelihood of any real freedom of information not tainted by the pharmaceutical industry is slim.
One example is the deceptive use of relative risk and absolute risk, something used in most research, especially in things like statin drugs. To be clear, a typical heart disease study might last two or three years, and in that time, perhaps two percent of the people in the any placebo group might have a heart attack. The actual incidence of heart attack is then two percent right? But let’s say in the group receiving the actual drug being studied, perhaps only one percent of the people have a heart attack. The difference between the placebo and the treatment group is one percent — this is the absolute risk reduction.
But the relative risk (the one reported) is 50%. So the risk is really only lowered 1%, not 50%! So, for primary prevention, preventing a first cardiac episode, the best of the cholesterol studies has shown approximately a 1% mortality benefit in taking a cholesterol lowering medication. That means that these drugs fail nearly 99% who take them. For secondary prevention—trying to prevent a second cardiac event—the numbers are not much better as the best studies show approximately a 3.5 percent reduction in mortality. Therefore, using statins for secondary prevention fails 96.5 percent who take them.
So, twenty-five percent — or one in four — Americans over the age of 40 are currently taking a statin that most likely they do not need. If you are reading this and you're not taking a statin, congratulations. But it's almost guaranteed that someone you know is on this drug and taking the drug will not reduce your absolute risk by very much. The two contenders for heart attack are inflammation and triglycerides with cholesterol being the byproduct of arterial damage due to inflammation. There’s also a third contender. Statin drugs can cut your natural production of C0-Q10 by as much as 50%. Co-Q10, which shares the same pathway that statins block is responsible for muscular contraction. This includes cardiac function too. So an unintended byproduct of statin use is a decreased cardiac function, which can lead to heart failure and heart attacks.
But, the real question then is not what supplement should you take, even though if you are on a statin almost certainly Co-Q10 will protect your heart. And it’s certainly not what drug do I need to drop my cholesterol, because that might increase my risk of diabetes and heart attack. The real question is how do I drop my inflammation and triglyceride levels?
First, you need to eliminate ALL processed foods (which are loaded with refined sugar and carbs, processed fructose, and trans fat—all of which promote heart disease by increasing inflammation and triglyceride levels) with whole, unprocessed or minimally processed foods, ideally organic and/or locally grown food is best. A Paleo approach is appropriate, but the Mediterranean Diet works really well too.
Next, if you are able, avoid meats and other animal products such as dairy and eggs sourced from animals raised in confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs). These animals are fed low nutritional products, mostly refined carbohydrates which affects the quality of the product. Instead, opt for grass-fed, pastured varieties, raised according to organic standards.
Eliminate no-fat and low-fat foods. Fat is not your enemy, but trans fats and processed carbs are. You should increase consumption of healthy fats while cutting back on sugar and fructose. Half of the population suffers with insulin resistance and would benefit from consuming 50-55 percent of their daily calories from healthy saturated fats, such as avocados, butter made from raw grass-fed organic milk, raw dairy, organic pastured egg yolks, coconuts and coconut oil, unheated organic nut oils, raw nuts, and grass-fed meats. No- or low-fat foods are usually processed foods that are high in sugar, which raises your small, dense LDL particles. Balancing your omega-3 to omega-6 ratio is also key for heart health, as these fatty acids help build the cells in your arteries that make the prostacyclin that keeps your blood flowing smoothly. Omega-3 deficiency can cause or contribute to very serious health problems, both mental and physical, and may be a significant underlying factor of up to 96,000 premature deaths each year, not to mention mental disorders, especially when anti-depressants are taken.
You also need the appropriate ratios of calcium, magnesium, sodium, and potassium, and all of these are generally abundant in a whole food diet. To get more fresh vegetables into your diet, consider juicing, but keep in mind that your meal plate should be 70% vegetables if you want to be healthy.
Optimize your vitamin D3 levels. Some researchers believe that optimizing your vitamin D level through regular sun exposure, as opposed to taking an oral supplement, may be key to optimizing your heart health. If you do opt for a supplement, you also increase your need for vitamin K2 and magnesium. Get your blood serum levels checked first. Try to shoot for around 50-55 on a 25(OH) hydroxyl D test.
Optimize your gut health. Regularly eating fermented foods, such as fermented vegetables, will help reseed your gut with beneficial bacteria that may play an important role in preventing heart disease and countless other health problems.
Quit smoking and reduce your grain alcohol consumption.
Exercise regularly. Exercise is actually one of the safest, most effective ways to prevent and treat heart disease. In 2013, researchers at Harvard and Stanford reviewed 305 randomized controlled trials, concluding there were "no statistically detectable differences" between physical activity and medications for heart disease. For cardiovascular, do HIIT, which requires but a fraction of the time compared to conventional cardio, has been shown to be especially effective. For strength training I prefer whole body vibration, but virtually any functional exercise plan is effective.
As I have mentioned, avoid statins as the side effects of these drugs are numerous, while the benefits are debatable. In my view, the only group of people who may benefit from a cholesterol-lowering medication are those with genetic familial hypercholesterolemia. This is a condition characterized by abnormally high cholesterol, which tends to be resistant to lowering with lifestyle strategies like diet and exercise. Obviously you can also have normal levels of cholesterol and still be at risk, so particle size or type of LDL is important to understand.
Finally, avoid advice from poorly trained doctors. Most doctors recommend a low-fat, high-carb diet and artificially sweetened "diet" foods and beverages to lose weight and protect your heart. This is simply insanity.
Take control of your health because waiting until tomorrow is a monumental flaw in taking control of your life.