10 Critical Cholesterol Facts & What Your Lipid Panel Won’t Tell You


1. Cholesterol is not the villain.

Often vilified by mainstream medical doctors and the media, cholesterol, one of the most important molecules in our body, serves many functions including: cell membrane integrity and function; production of vitamin D; digestion as a large part of bile; the precursor to hormones such as testosterone, estrogen, progesterone and cortisol.

In addition, synapses— the magical areas where communication between brain cells takes place—are lined by cholesterol-rich membranes responsible for passing neurotransmitters like serotonin, GABA, and dopamine back and forth. Myelin, the white matter that insulates brain circuits, is made from tightly-wound membranes containing 75% of the brain’s cholesterol. Cholesterol also helps guide developing nerve endings to their destinations on “lipid rafts”.

If the brain is too low in cholesterol, its membranes, synapses, myelin and lipid rafts can’t form or function properly, bringing all brain activity—including mood regulation, learning, and memory— to a screeching halt. 

“High cholesterol and heart disease are not the same thing. Cholesterol does not cause heart disease, and it’s not even a good predictor of it. More than 50% of admissions to hospitals in the U.S. for cardiovascular disease happen to people who have normal cholesterol, and at least half the people with elevated cholesterol have very normal and healthy hearts.” says Dr. Jonny Bowden, author of “The Great Cholesterol Myth.”

Dr. Dwight Lundell, author of “The Cure For Heart Disease” says that “we’ve long known that atherosclerosis is an inflammatory disease. In the absence of inflammation or injury to the endothelial cell, the cholesterol would never go through the arterial wall and it would never stay there.” It’s a little like blaming the firemen because they’re always at the scene of the fire. Correlation, however, does not equal causation.

2. There is no such thing as good or bad cholesterol.

The chemical formula for cholesterol is C27H46O. There is no good version or bad version of this formula. HDL is not even cholesterol, let alone good. LDL is not even cholesterol, let alone bad. Humans and animals alike make LDL and HDL for a reason. Both serve the immune system. Both serve to transport vital nutrients (like cholesterol and fat soluble vitamins) for a reason. HDL stands for High Density Lipoprotein. LDL stands for Low Density Lipoprotein. (There are three other lipoproteins, by the way, chylomicrons, VLDL and IDL, and they all serve a purpose).

3. People with high cholesterol live longer.

Cardiologist Dr. Aseem Malhotra, author of “The Pioppi Diet,” talks about a study which was published in the annals of Nutrition & Metabolism which showed that for people over the age of 60, the association of LDL cholesterol and cardiovascular mortality diminishes – it almost becomes negligible. In overall mortality, there was an inverse association with LDL. So the higher your LDL cholesterol, the less likely you are to die.

Dr. Harlan Krumholz of the Department of Cardiovascular Medicine at Yale University, has been quoted as saying that old people with low cholesterol died twice as often from a heart attack as did old people with a high cholesterol.

4. Cholesterol can be too low.

You’d never know it from listening to your conventional cardiologist, but low cholesterol levels can be even more of a problem than high ones—which is why you should be very wary of doctors who constantly push their patients to reduce their LDL levels. It’s not only misguided, but it’s also dangerous.

Cholesterol plays a vital role in brain health, immune health, the production of vitamin D and various hormones, and the body’s ability to preserve and repair cellular membranes. Without enough of it, you may experience memory problems and be more likely to suffer a hemorrhagic stroke, more susceptible to gastrointestinal issues, and more prone to infectious disease.

5. Cholesterol is only dangerous when it’s oxidized.

According to cardiologist Dr. Stephen Sinatra, co-author of “The Great Cholesterol Myth,” oxidation can occur when cholesterol molecules come into contact with free radicals, toxins, and other inflammatory particles in the blood. Once oxidized, cholesterol particles can then damage the delicate endothelial lining of arteries. “This is one reason why it’s so important to consistently eat a low-carb, anti-inflammatory diet, keep stress levels low, avoid known toxins, and supplement with additional antioxidant support.”

6. Small-dense LDL particles are more inflammatory than large ones.

Cholesterol particle size and number is much important than total cholesterol. If your test results show the majority of your LDL particles are the small, undesirable kind, then changing your diet and lifestyle are non-negotiable. A good anti-inflammatory diet, particularly a low-carb diet are particularly helpful at improving their size and number. People who have predominantly small LDL cholesterol particles should also be more diligent about getting regular blood tests to monitor their levels.

7. HDL, triglycerides, and insulin resistance are better markers for heart disease.

According to Dr. Malhotra, the focus should be on insulin resistance or metabolic syndrome, which includes things such as high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes or impaired glucose tolerance, fatty liver disease, etc. If you have metabolic syndrome and your admitted to the hospital with a heart attack (we know that about 2/3 of the people in the U.S. admitted to the hospital for heart attacks have metabolic syndrome) you’re 50% more likely to either die or be readmitted to the hospital within a year. 

8. Conventional medicine is “treating” high cholesterol with dangerous drugs.

“We are treating cholesterol with medications (whose benefits have been grossly exaggerated) that have multiple and serious side effects and they are being wildly over-prescribed,” says Dr. Bowden. One in three people are now taking statins (the class of drugs that are used to lower cholesterol).  Statins are fast becoming a trillion dollar industry. (Seems to me that’s a pretty good reason to try to keep us all confused and afraid about our cholesterol — it keeps us on medications.)

Unfortunately most, if not all, of the studies that drove the guidelines and information surrounding the use of statin prescriptions have been industry sponsored studies. In addition, the panel of physicians (The National Cholesterol Educational Program) responsible for making these recommendations were found to have had conflicts of interest. Almost all had received money — usually in the form of grants or honoraria — from at least ten drug companies. They failed to report these financial disclosures.

According to Dr. Malhotra, “There is an issue around absolute risk and relative risk. The reality is that when you look at the published data — if you have established heart disease and have had a heart attack, and you take a statin every day for five years, there is a 1 in 83 chance that will save your life.  That means that for 82 out of the 83 people, it’s not going to save your life. (Great odds, eh?) That’s information that isn’t being explained to the patient, and it’s a much more informative and transparent way for patients to understand the benefits that they’re going to get. When you look at people with low risk, otherwise healthy people, there is no mortality benefit. People should know that, if they haven’t had a heart attack, according to published literature they’re not going to live one day longer from taking a statin.”

9. A low-carb, high fat diet goes farther to prevent heart disease than any drug intervention available.

“When you spike your blood sugar level several times a day, every day, it is exactly like taking sandpaper to the inside of your delicate blood vessels,” says cardiologist Dwight Lundell, who says he has “peered inside thousands upon thousands of arteries.” He writes to “take a moment to visualize rubbing a stiff brush repeatedly over soft skin until it becomes quite red and nearly bleeding, this is a good way to visualize the inflammatory process that could be going on in your body right now.”

Lundell blames not only sugar and refined carbohydrates, but the proportion of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids in Western diets. Excessive omega-6 acids create inflammation, and American diets that are high in corn, canola, vegetable and soybean oils often involve omega-6:omega-3 ratios around 15:1. Lundell is not alone in saying that the ratio should ideally be around 3:1.

10. You’re probably having the wrong blood work done.

The standard blood cholesterol test (lipid panel) does not measure LDL – it estimates it. In addition, the fasting blood cholesterol test can only measure total cholesterol and HDL. According to Dr. Sinatra, focusing on the total amount of cholesterol in your blood—particularly the amount of LDL cholesterol—has gone the way of dinosaurs. He says it’s “pretty much a useless piece of information” unless you have more information.

A more current and effective way to manage your heart health is to have a cholesterol fractionation test (also sometimes called a cholesterol particle size test). Cholesterol “fractions” are the sub-types of LDL and HDL; some are benign, and some are inflammatory and can raise cardiovascular risk. For example, LDL comes in two different sized particles: large and small. The large particles are buoyant and mostly harmless. The small particles, however, are considerably more risky.

Unfortunately, cholesterol particle size tests are not commonly ordered by conventional doctors quite yet. But thanks to technology, you can order one for yourself called the NMR Lipoprofile through True Health Labs. It’s a super easy process, just add the test to your cart and find your draw location. The results are emailed to you within a few days.

What now?

If you’re concerned about your cholesterol, have cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome, or are on a cholesterol lowering medication, it’s probably time to order the NMR Lipoprofile from True Health Labs and see what your risks truly are.

Next, educate yourself! Medical mistakes and properly dispensed prescription medications are now the 3rd leading cause of death in America. A little knowledge goes a long way in the prevention of these mistakes.

Recommended Reading:

“The Pioppi Diet” by Dr. Aseem Malhotra

“The Big Fat Surprise” by Nina Teicholz

“The Great Cholesterol Myth” by Dr. Jonny Bowden & Dr. Stephen Sinatra

Heart of the Matter, Part 1 Dietary Villains

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