Cholesterol is NOT BAD for You!
Cholesterol is NOT BAD for you. It took one giant study entitled the Seven Countries Study to strongly associate serum cholesterol levels with morbidity and mortality from cardiovascular disease. This was the first study to provide epidemiological data across seven countries regarding the relationships of diet and lifestyle with coronary heart disease.
During the 1950s, Italy was the country with the highest number of centenarians (People who lived beyond a hundred years!). It was this fact that made Ancel Keys (a University of Minnesota researcher) hypothesize that people living in Italy were able to live this long because of their healthy diet which he observed to be lower in saturated fat. He further hypothesized that those who consumed animal fat developed heart disease.
As a consequence of the study, the American Heart Association jumped on the hypothesis and turned it into a conclusion (even though the study only showed correlation not causation). In 1956, they went on the air and television informing America and the world that eating large amounts of lard, eggs, beef and butter will make you develop heart disease. To make matters worse, the American government at that time made it official and set guidelines that Americans should adopt a low-fat diet to avoid acquiring heart disease. Ancel Keys also applied his hypothesis to saturated fat.
Since then, health experts around the globe have propagated his Seven Countries Study and used it as the basis for several other studies. The story of Ancel Keys and his Seven Countries Study is how cholesterol (and saturated fat) came to have such a bad reputation. Through the years, different studies have erroneously based and referenced their conclusions on the Seven Countries Study, even though this study was later found to have many flaws.
It’s because of Keys’s study that our generation is now having tremendous difficulty establishing the real truth about cholesterol. And mind you, the truth may be hard for you to swallow. Cholesterol (and saturated fat) is NOT BAD for you.
The Different Types of Cholesterol and their Respective Functions in Your Body
Cholesterol is a fat-like, waxy substance found in ALL (it’s that important) cells of your body. It attaches itself to different proteins to be transported from your intestines to different organs and tissues of your body. When cholesterol attaches to a protein, it’s called a lipoprotein. There are three types of these lipoproteins found in your blood:
- 1. HDL (High Density Lipoprotein
- 2. LDL ( Low Density Lipoprotein)
- 3. VLDL (Very Low Density Lipoprotein)
They’re referred to as types of cholesterol, when in reality they’re lipoproteins which act as carriers to distribute lipids throughout the body and back to the liver. HDL’s are usually called ‘good cholesterol’ while LDL’s are known as the ‘bad cholesterol’. This is oversimplified as cholesterol itself is not bad and is vital for health. The reason they were named in this way is because LDL’s are a well-established risk factor of heart disease, while HDL’s have been found to have a protective effect.
The medical community agree that LDL particles are the driver behind arterial plaque buildup. But the problem is that the mainstream lipid blood test only measures LDL concentration, not LDL particle number. The good news is there is now a new test available that measures the LDL particle number through Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR).
Another marker used by some health professionals is triglyceride levels (TG’s) as high TG’s have also been associated with an increased risk of heart disease. In short, cholesterol in itself is not bad, but if you have a high count of LDL particles then your heart disease risk is increased.
Important Roles of Cholesterol in Your Body
You may be surprised to know that 75% of your cholesterol comes from your own body’s own production (de novo synthesis). Most of the cells in your body can produce their own cholesterol. The remaining 25% comes from your diet (dietary cholesterol).
Cholesterol is essential to your health. You need it for the construction of every cell membrane in your body. It’s also needed in the production of vitamins, sex hormones and bile acids. Aren’t those essential to life?
If you decrease your intake of dietary cholesterol, your body’s internal production increases to compensate. In addition, absorption from your intestines is also increased. This highlights just how important cholesterol is! Though cholesterol found within cell membranes and the cells themselves often have very little to do with the cholesterol in your blood.
To sum things up, dietary cholesterol has a very small impact on the cholesterol concentration in your body. The war between those in favour of cholesterol as bad for health and those in favour of its importance to health is still brewing. There will definitely be more in the news regarding this matter. But for now, think about this, a low fat-diet hasn’t solved obesity problems let alone alleviate some of its effects on a global scale. Did you ever stop to wonder that just maybe it’s not cholesterol or fat you should really be worried about?