I had a vendor table at the Heart Expo last year and did a lot of research leading up to it. I wanted to ensure I had the most recent science regarding cardiovascular disease. In this blog post I am going to outline some of my main findings in a way that hopefully doesn’t further complicate the chaotic world of “high cholesterol.”
First, at the Heart Expo I saw people getting worksheets with a list of low cholesterol foods. I want to point out that dietary cholesterol does not cause a heart attack. In fact, half of all heart attacks are in people with “normal” cholesterol. For example, the French have the highest cholesterol and the lowest rates of heart disease. Give that a think. I also saw a booth that was giving out heart shaped hersheys chocolate. That was discouraging. I know they meant well, but it sends a message regardless – candy is just fine for you and your heart. Read on to see the two things that you actually need to decrease significantly to improve heart health. Bet you can already guess one of them.
Arterial inflammation is the major cause of heart disease. It happens when cholesterol is oxidized and damages your blood vessel walls, so yes, cholesterol is involved in the process, but it’s not the root cause. It starts out with good intentions, but then a diet of inflammatory foods and a life with chronic stress causes a serious disruption to our lipid cycle.
Did you know the liver makes 80% of our cholesterol? Why would our bodies make cholesterol if it causes heart disease? Cholesterol is tightly regulated in our body — if you eat a high cholesterol diet, your liver simply doesn’t make as much and vice versa. We need cholesterol to survive. It makes up our steroid hormones, cell membranes, synthesizes Vitamin D from the sun on our skin, helps with digestion — it is found in every cell in our bodies. So go ahead and eat the full egg, you crazy person you.
HDL (“good”) and LDL (“bad”) cholesterol are talked about a lot. HDL is considered good because it travels away from our arteries to our liver for elimination from our body. LDL is considered bad because it transports cholesterol (and so much more) to the cells in your body. They are both lipoproteins, the carriers of contents (fat soluble vitamins A,D,E,K, choline, Co-Q-10, dietary fatty acids, cholesterol, phospholipids and more) that our body needs.
Think of LDL and HDL as packages. If LDL is high it’s because the address label has been messed with and thus unreadable by our cells (your package recipient). It has nowhere to go. It cannot be delivered. Eventually, it gets tired of traveling around your bloodstream that it ends up emptying its contents in your arteries. Yikes.
Why did the package label get all screwed up in the first place? A diet high in sugar will glycate the lipoprotein making it unreadable. This is why diabetics typically have high LDL levels. Also, a diet high in vegetable oil will cause oxidation also making it unreadable. Want to make sure your lipoproteins are delivering their contents effectively and not roaming your bloodstream causing damage to your vessels? Stop eating so much sugar and vegetable oil and start eating more antioxidants to combat the oxidation that is taking place.
I don’t see LDL as a bad thing, the concern is whether or not your body is able to control where fats and cholesterol will end up and thus prevent the particles and its contents from dumping inside your arteries. High LDL is a sign of inflammation. It is carrying contents needed for cell repair, so chronic inflammation will equate to high LDL. Let’s stop being so mad at our LDL and look at it as a warning sign, it is trying desperately to put out the fire! When you see a house burning down and firefighters outside, do you blame the firefighters? Do you take a pill to lower the amount of firefighters in hopes that will put out the fire? Just because LDL is at the scene of the crime, doesn’t mean it’s the perpetrator.
Always look for the root cause. Hint: it’s usually inflammation. What could be causing that inflammation? Poor Diet. High Stress. Less than 8 Hours of Sleep. Sedentary lifestyle. Loneliness. Abdominal Obesity. Smoking. Age. — these are all risk factors for heart disease. And guess what, they are ALL modifiable! You’re in control. You are not a victim of bad genes, you can turn it around with the right tools. Click here for a list of my favorite anti-inflammatory foods for your use as well as a column of the most harmful inflammatory ones.
Also, saturated fat does not cause heart disease. Let’s just throw that one in the garbage for good, shall we?
Okay, go grab your Lipid Panel, time to nerd out!
If you are really concerned about heart disease, ask your doctor for an LDL-P test. This tests the particle counts in your lipoproteins. It’s a better indicator for heart disease.
Here’s my results from a basic lipid panel. It contains 4 numbers:
Total Cholesterol – 223 “borderline high”
LDL – 118
HDL – 95
Triglycerides – 51
According to Dr. Cate Shanahan, the two numbers she’s most interested in are triglycerides and HDL levels. HDL should be over 45 in men and over 50 in women. She likes to see LDL less than 3x the HDL value. She says that this ratio, along with triglyceride levels less than 150, tell her a person’s fat-distribution system, lipoproteins, and diet are healthy. She doesn’t worry about a high total cholesterol number if the ratio of LDL:HDL is within an acceptable range. Also to note, if the triglycerides are above 150 and/or HDL is below 40, it’s very likely your lipoprotein cycle is disrupted. What disrupts a lipid cycle? Vegetable oil and Sugar.
Let’s look at my numbers for an example:
1. HDL is 95, well over the 50 she hopes for
2. LDL:HDL is nearly 1:1 and she is looking for a ratio of 3:1 or lower
3. Triglycerides are 51, well below her hope of <150
Dr. Shanahan also notes a Fasting Blood Glucose of >89 is an indicator of prediabetes. Sugar sugar sugar everywhere!
So my panel is looking just fine, despite my “borderline high” total cholesterol.
In summary: Stop eating vegetable oil and so much sugar. Cardiovascular health is EXTREMELY responsive to dietary and lifestyle changes! This is great news, now go act on it!
And since I get the “what is vegetable oil” question so often, here is a list of oils to avoid:
Think: pastries, most dressings, most sauces, all fried food, any knock-off “butters,” most vegetarian meat replacements, most protein bars, most chips and crackers…
For a chart and more information on good fats vs. bad fats, click here
Hope this helps answer some questions around heart health! It’s a very complex subject, and I’m in no way diagnosing or treating anyone. I am relaying information from a doctor that has studied this area extensively. Check out Dr. Cate Shanahans website or buy her book “Deep Nutrition,” for a really comprehensive read regarding all areas of health.
If you want to have a consult with me to discuss what YOU should do to keep a healthy cardiovascular system, or how you should change your diet to achieve a healthier lipid panel, you can book on my website or send me an email so we can talk further!
All my best,