“It is virtually impossible to explain how vital cholesterol is to the human body. If you had no cholesterol in your body you would be dead. No cells, no bone structure, no muscles, no hormones, no sex, no reproductive system, no digestion, no brain function, no memory, no nerve endings, no movement, no human life – nothing without cholesterol. It is utterly vital and we die instantly without it,” says Zoe Harcombe
In other words, if you want to live, you need cholesterol.
Cholesterol has been demonised since the 1950s, with Ancel Keys’ flawed study, which stated that saturated fat raised blood cholesterol and caused heart disease. The problem with his research was that he only chose data from the seven countries that fitted in with his theories, instead of including all 22 countries, which would have shown very different results. This triggered a dietary frenzy that saw the elimination of all foods containing cholesterol from the diet.
In 2004, Sylvan Lee Weinberg, originally an outspoken supporter of Ancel Keys’ work said, “The low-fat, high-carbohydrate diet… may well have played an unintended role in the current epidemics of obesity, lipid abnormalities, type 2 diabetes, and metabolic syndromes. This diet can no longer be defended by appeal to the authority of prestigious medical organizations.”
The fact of the matter is that 75% of the cholesterol our body needs to perform all of its functions is produced in the liver, and only 25% of cholesterol comes from the food we eat. Our bodies closely monitor the amount of cholesterol in the blood by controlling the amount the liver produces. When we eat more cholesterol-rich foods, the liver makes less cholesterol and vice versa.
If cholesterol was so bad for us, why does our body produce it?
This is all well-known information, but to “undemonise” cholesterol would mean that the $100 billion statin industry would be in some serious trouble.
“French Cardiologist Dr. Michel De Lorgeril own analysis reveals that all studies published after 2006 reveal “no benefit” of statins for cardiovascular prevention in all groups of patients.”
Good vs. Bad Cholesterol:
Cholesterol has been separated into good and bad cholesterol. HDL cholesterol is known as the good cholesterol and LDL cholesterol is known as bad cholesterol.
But, HDL and LDL are actually not cholesterol at all – they are fats combined with proteins, known as lipoproteins, which transport cholesterol. They are classified according to their density: HDL stands for high-dense lipoprotein and LDL stands for low-dense lipoprotein.
There is no such thing as good and bad cholesterol; cholesterol is just cholesterol.
Cholesterol is a sterol (a combination of a steroid and alcohol). It is a fatty, waxy substance that isn’t soluble in water. Because blood is predominantly water, cholesterol needs to be transported in something, this is where lipoproteins come in, by attaching to lipoproteins, cholesterol is actually transported as a protein.
HDL is seen as the “good cholesterol” because it prevents cholesterol from accumulating and clogging arteries. HDL’s job is to take cholesterol back to your liver to be recycled. It’s far easier to recycle cholesterol than it is to make it again. Because cholesterol is so important, we need a ready supply of it.
LDL is seen as the “bad cholesterol” because it circulates in your blood and is thought to clog up your arteries. But, LDL’s job is to transport cholesterol to the tissues so that it can make new cells and repair old damaged ones, which is actually beyond important for a healthy body.
What is necessary to consider about LDL is the size of the particles, which are regulated through diet, and not drugs.
Small, dense LDL particles can get stuck between the cells that line the arteries and because they can’t circulate anymore they go rancid and begin to oxidise, which leads to inflammation. Inflammation damages tissues. To repair the damage you need cholesterol, which is where LDL comes in. If the LDL particles are small, due to the food you are eating, the problem can be compounded as more and more inflammation occurs, due to the small particles getting stuck in the arterial lining and becoming oxidised, which can impede cardiovascular function.
Dr William Davis says, “In my personal experience with thousands of patients with heart disease, nearly 90 percent express the small LDL pattern to at least a moderate, if not severe, degree.”
Another important factor about LDL is the number of particles.
LDL particles are supposed to be large so that they don’t get stuck. If you eat properly, a diet low in sugar and refined carbs, but rich in saturated fat, you will make sure that your LDL functions correctly. Sugar is actually the main culprit of heart disease, inflammation, and oxidation and causes small LDL particles.
“Eating saturated fats raises levels of large, fluffy LDL particles—the type that do not contribute to heart disease. Further, eating saturated fat may even change the small, dense LDL in your body into the healthier large, fluffy LDL!”Says Dr. Mercola
What makes LDL particles small?
Triglycerides are the key to the size and number of LDL particles, and thus a more important marker.
Triglycerides by definition are dietary fats, so whenever we eat fat, it converts to triglycerides in the body. Because triglycerides are essential to the body, it produces its own, which is moderated by the amount of fat consumed. But, eating too many carbs and sugars results in abnormally high levels of triglycerides, which get stored as visceral fat and fat deposits in the liver. Visceral fat acts as a triglyceride receptory, which causes a constant flow of triglycerides in and out of the fats cells and into the bloodstream. With a diet high in sugar and carbs, your body is not able to monitor the amount of triglycerides it produces; there is just a constant supply.
According to Dr William Davis, “Triglycerides occur in the bloodstream mostly as Very Low-Density Lipoproteins, VLDL, that interact with other lipoprotein particles. Abundant triglycerides in VLDL encounter LDL particles and make them triglyceride-rich. This leads to the formation of small LDL particles that causes coronary heart disease and heart attack.”
According to Chris Kresser, “Each LDL particle has a certain number of cholesterol molecules and a certain number of triglycerides. As the number of triglycerides increases, the amount of cholesterol it can carry decreases, and the liver will have to make more LDL particles to carry a given amount of cholesterol around the body. This person will end up with a higher number of LDL particles.”
Our CBC Dr Stephan Vosloo believes that there are many theories to why LDL particles become small and dense. The one that makes the most sense to him is that the LDL particle receptors can become damaged with a high presence of triglycerides. The LDL particles are then seen by the immune system to be abnormal, which is why they become oxidised. Oxidation changes the structure, which makes them small and dense. He also believes that an LDL particle only has a lifespan of three days, and the older it gets, due to having to move so many triglycerides, the smaller and more oxidised the particles become. In order words, small is an indication of age.
Saturated fat not only improves the size of LDL particles, but it also raises levels of HDL.
Why high total cholesterol means nothing:
If your doctor only measures your total, LDL and HDL cholesterol, it will only tell you the concentration of cholesterol inside the lipoprotein, it won’t tell you anything that is going on with that cholesterol like the size or the number of the LDL particles, the level of triglycerides or the number of HDL particles. This is why total cholesterol is a poor indicator of cardiovascular health.
What factors increase the likelihood of heart disease?
A recent study which looked at the relationship between heart disease and lifestyle suggested that 90% of Cardiovascular disease is caused by modifiable diet and lifestyle factors.
We know that our bodies need cholesterol to survive and the amount of cholesterol our body produces is carefully regulated. It is not the saturated fat in our diets that is the problem it is a high-carb and high sugar diet that causes excess triglycerides and inflammation that leads to heart disease.
How to focus on improving your LDL particle size, increasing HDL and lowering triglycerides:
“On a low-carb diet, HDL tends to go up and triglycerides down, while Total and LDL cholesterol tend to stay the same. LDL particle size tends to increase, and LDL particle number tends to go down. All good things.”Says Kris Gunnars.
In conclusion, we all need cholesterol to perform our daily tasks and to live a productive, healthy life. Avoiding sugar and processed carbs, following a Banting lifestyle and incorporating healthy fats into our diets, as well as enjoying the outdoors and looking after ourselves in a positive way will lead to good cholesterol production and happy lipoproteins.
Next week, we'll discuss more about fluctuating cholesterol levels, particularly in the context of Banting.
For more on the myths around cholesterol and how to get starting on a Banting lifestyle take the Banting Online Course.