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Having high cholesterol levels in midlife is what many women and men fear.
Peter’s last test results for his cholesterol levels revealed what every male his age fears.
- Total cholesterol was 9.2 mmol/L
- LDL cholesterol is 6.3 and HDL 2.58
- Triglycerides are low at 0.7 mmol/L
The doctor immediately wrote Peter a prescription for a Statin drug which is used to help lower LDL cholesterol.
It is rare for someone of Pete’s age to manage to lower their LDL without intervention.
It would be so easy to just take the drugs.
The doctors often don’t see the ‘big picture’,
Pete’s LDLs are high but so are his HDLs, the ‘good cholesterol’ and his triglycerides are low. Therefore the ratio between his HDL and triglycerides low which is good and suggests that his LDL particles are the large fluffy type which “may be protective”.
Is there good and bad cholesterol?
Like good cops and bad cops they only really exist in the movies or in this case the minds of the masses who have been listening to the previously ill-informed medical fraternity. There are good and bad levels of each but the body needs both to function properly. Essentially cholesterol is needed by our body’s cell walls to produce; hormones, vitamin D and bile which all help us digest fat.
HDL’s are like our blood police
They travel the bloodstream highways removing bad cholesterol from where it doesn’t belong.
LDL’s are our hard-working couriers
Carrying cholesterol to every cell in our body.
Triglycerides are lipids
Converted from calories you don’t need immediately by your body and released by hormones for energy when needed.
Our liver is a bit of a ‘clever-clogs’ in that it produces all the cholesterol we need but regulates how much it makes depending on our how much we eat.
When there is trauma or inflammation in any of the cells in our body LDL particles race to the scene to deliver cholesterol which then forms a shield over the distressed area.
In some cases, the inflammation ceases and the area heals however often it remains and eventually causes plaque which can build up or break off, forming a clot.
This build-up of plaque on the arterial wall can eventually cause a heart attack or stroke.
The falsehood that heart disease was caused by high cholesterol came about because deposits of cholesterol were found in this build-up of plaque.
To steal a line from Marks Daily Apple ‘that is like blaming the Band-Aid for the cut finger’. As our body struggles to make enough cholesterol for repairs other problems start to arise, lack of Vitamin D, bile and hormones to convert the fat we eat. The body is no longer functioning as it should.
Smaller dense particles of LDL are the ones that statistics suggest we should worry about when it comes to coronary heart disease. The reason for this is straightforward; the smaller particles can more easily absorb into the arterial wall where they in themselves set up inflammation. Even those with low LDL-C levels can be at risk if their LDL particles are the small dense kind.
More experts are now coming to the realisation that heart disease, diabetes and various other illnesses are not caused by high cholesterol but by inflammation.
It is well documented that:
inflammation in our bodies increases in proportion to our intake of sugar and processed carbohydrates.
As inflammation increases, LDL levels also increase. This is in response to the body’s need for couriers to deliver the means to heal these areas. Duh!
A full lipid profile would help determine if Peter has the larger LDL particles.
Generally, people on a Low Carb High Fat (LCHF) diet see their blood lipids improve.
However, there is a small group of people who may see their LDL-C levels increase, sometimes dramatically.
The reasons for this are many and varied:
- absorbing too much cholesterol from food,
- secreting too much from the liver,
- familial hyperlipidaemia (rare)
How high or low should your cholesterol count be?
The recommendations of the National Heart Foundation of Australia are:
- LDL cholesterol < 2.0 mmol/L – oh boy, that’s an absolute fail for Pete
- HDL > 1.00 mmol/L – WIN!
- Triglycerides < 1.5 mmol/L – Win again
Statins slow the body’s production of cholesterol
They do work.
If you need to lower your cholesterol there is a Statin that will do the job.
But, and it’s a big BUT.
At what cost. How does it affect our body’s way of dealing with cholesterol?
Muscle pain seems to be one of the most common side effects.
Others are an increased risk of some cancers, fatigue, liver damage, rashes, increased blood sugar, memory loss and confusion.
What else is going on when we take these drugs. If the body makes less cholesterol, what about vitamin D, bile, and hormone production?
Are they affected too?
Peter decided to try and lower his LDL levels without the use of Statins by:
- eating fewer eggs,
- removing fat from meat,
- reducing his intake of dairy,
- increasing the quantity of carbohydrate he eats by adding in more insoluble fibre such as leafy greens and antioxidant-laden fruits like raspberries,
- adding more soluble fibre and monounsaturated fats such as flaxseed, chia seeds, nuts, coconut oil and avocado into his diet,
- adding nutrients such as copper, magnesium and omega 3 by way of supplements.
This was not a decision that we took lightly. Pete’s LDL was high and there was the risk that there could be damage. Our instinct was that his levels had not been high for long enough for damage to have occurred.
A month down the track and it is working Pete’s bad cholesterol is going down and eventually, he has managed to get it to 6.3 which considering his very high HDLs is acceptable.
Cholesterol levels in midlife don’t have to be a major issue if you get them checked regularly and keep on top of any increase with a healthy wholefoods diet and lifestyle.
Do you have a problem with your cholesterol levels? What have you done to combat it?