Cholesterol is a pretty big topic, so we broke it into four parts.
Cholesterol is one of the most misunderstood substances out there. There are so many misconceptions that we thought it might be a good idea to write an article to help clear things up.
Every day we get asked, “How can I lower my cholesterol?” The problem with this is that it’s the wrong question and loses sight of the big picture. So what should you be asking? We will get to that in a bit.
So what is cholesterol? Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance found in all the cells in the body. Your body needs some cholesterol to make hormones, vitamin D, and substances that help you digest foods.
The two most well-known types of cholesterol are LDL and HDL, with each one having subtypes. Unfortunately, using the terms “good” and “bad“ referring to LDL and HDL was a mistake when it was done and is why you will often see good and bad in parentheses.
Here are the most well-known types of cholesterol and the ones you are most likely to see on your blood test:
HDL carries cholesterol from other parts of the body back to your liver, and then your liver removes cholesterol from the body.
LDL transports cholesterol throughout the body.
VLDL transports triglycerides and is produced in the liver.
Triglycerides (not a type of cholesterol, but they are usually tested at the same time) are a type of fat that your body makes when there are excess calories that it does not want to use right away". Triglycerides are stored in your fat cells. Hormones release them for energy between meals.
Cholesterol is essential, and without it, you would die. Your body produces the cholesterol you need. The cholesterol you eat in foods such as eggs and butter does not significantly impact your blood cholesterol levels. In the past, people thought that dietary cholesterol significantly raised levels in the body. Thankfully this myth is on the way out.
When getting blood tests for lipids, such as cholesterol and triglycerides, it is essential to fast for nine to twelve hours to ensure accurate results.
It helps to:
Produce bile acids, which help the body to digest fats and absorb nutrients.
Produce vitamin D, which is a hormone, not a vitamin.
Produce hormones such as testosterone, adrenal hormones, estrogen, and more.
Make cell membranes and structures.
Make the myelin sheath, which helps to protect our nerves.
And much more!
Despite all of these incredible benefits, so many people are scared of cholesterol and worry about how bad it is for them.
So how did such an essential substance for life become vilified?
Does cholesterol belong behind bars?
The answer is pretty simple. It was the sugar and processed food industries. The fat is terrible, and cholesterol will give you coronary artery disease trope came about because the sugar industry spent massive amounts of money to vilify them.
In the same way, big tobacco spent money to make people think that cigarettes were harmless, big sugar spent money trying to falsely blame fat and cholesterol while making people believe their products were harmless. At the same time, processed food manufacturers wanted to replace animal fats like lard and tallow with trans-fats and cheap vegetable oils. We all know how the trans-fat experiment went. It was as if they teamed up to make our foods as inflammatory as possible.
As early as the 1950s, the terrible effects of sugar on cardiovascular disease were well known.
The SRF (Sugar Research Foundation) sponsored its first CHD research project in 1965, a literature review published in the New England Journal of Medicine, which singled out fat and cholesterol as the dietary causes of CHD and downplayed evidence that sucrose consumption was also a risk factor. The SRF set the review’s objective, contributed articles for inclusion, and received drafts. The SRF’s funding and role were not disclosed.
Who knew that letting companies pay for and publish their results without strict oversight would lead to problems?
By the 1960s, two prominent physiologists were championing divergent causal hypotheses of CHD2,3: John Yudkin identified added sugars as the primary agent, while Ancel Keys identified total fat, saturated fat, and dietary cholesterol.
Care to guess which man recieved the most funding and went on to be supported by the medical community? If you thought Ancel Keys, you would be right.
Despite vast conflicts of interest, massive funding by the sugar industry, and flawed, poorly done research, Ancel Keys’s work is still widely accepted by mainstream medicine. It is the underlying work on which the flawed lipid hypothesis (also known as the cholesterol hypothesis) is built.
This type of information is not something that should be used for anything other than a cautionary tale of what we need to be on the lookout for in the future.
So if you have come to fear fat and cholesterol, you have the sugar industry to thank for that, not good science.
Yup, sugar is nothing but healthy energy, just like how tobacco is so soothing to the lungs.
So what is cardiovascular disease (also known as heart disease)?
Heart disease includes a wide range of conditions.
A buildup of fatty plaques in your arteries or atherosclerosis can damage your blood vessels and heart. Plaque buildup causes narrowed or blocked blood vessels that can lead to a heart attack, chest pain (angina), or stroke.
The heart has four valves — the aortic, mitral, pulmonary, and tricuspid — that open and close to direct blood flow through your heart. Many things can damage your heart valves, leading to narrowing (stenosis), leaking (regurgitation or insufficiency), or improper closing (prolapse).
The condition most associated with cholesterol is atherosclerosis, a buildup of fatty plaque in the arteries.
So what causes atherosclerosis?
According to the Mayo Clinic:
“Atherosclerosis is the buildup of fats, cholesterol, and other substances in and on your artery walls. This buildup is called plaque. The plaque can cause your arteries to narrow, blocking blood flow. The plaque can also burst, leading to a blood clot. Although atherosclerosis is often considered a heart problem, it can affect arteries anywhere in your body. ”
“Atherosclerosis is a slow, progressive disease that may begin as early as childhood. Although the exact cause is unknown, atherosclerosis may start with damage or injury to the inner layer of an artery. The damage may be caused by:
High blood pressure
High triglycerides, a type of fat (lipid) in your blood
Smoking and other sources of tobacco
Insulin resistance, obesity, or diabetes
Inflammation from an unknown cause or diseases such as arthritis, lupus, psoriasis, or inflammatory bowel disease
Once the inner wall of an artery is damaged, blood cells and other substances often clump at the injury site and build up in the inner lining of the artery.
Over time, fatty deposits (plaque) made of cholesterol and other cellular products also build up at the injury site and harden, narrowing your arteries. As a result, the organs and tissues connected to the blocked arteries do not receive enough blood to function correctly.
Eventually, pieces of the fatty deposits may break off and enter your bloodstream.
In addition, the smooth lining of the plaque may rupture, spilling cholesterol and other substances into your bloodstream. This may cause a blood clot, which can block the blood flow to a specific part of your body, such as occurs when blocked blood flow to your heart causes a heart attack. A blood clot can also travel to other parts of your body, blocking flow to another organ.
What is the plaque that builds up in the arteries made of?
Plaque contains various substances, including fatty deposits, oxidized cholesterol, oxidized phospholipids, cellular waste products, calcium, and fibrin.
So here are the questions you should be asking:
Are there blood tests that can be helpful to see if I am at risk for plaque buildup?
How do I know if I have plaque buildup in my arteries?
How can I prevent plaque from building up in my arteries?
What can I do if I have plaque buildup in my arteries?
It's time to head on over to part two as we start to delve into those questions.
Professor Dog says to get a snack and move on to part two.