FOOD, NUTRITION 5th September 2016

High cholesterol? So what? It isn’t the only bad guy

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*DISCLAIMER*: I am not a physician, nor does this constitute medical advice. I am relaying knowledge I have read and found insightful, which I want to share with people.

We are still told cholesterol is the leading cause of heart disease but it’s time to challenge the status quo and discover what else lies beneath the surface of heart health.

Cholesterol: a waxy, fat-like substance found in all cells of the body. Your body needs cholesterol to make hormones, vitamin D and substances that help you digest foods. Your body makes all the cholesterol it needs, but too much cholesterol can lead to problems. We all know at least one person who has been told to take cholesterol medication because ‘cholesterol causes heart disease and increases your risk of a heart attack’. Big pharmaceuticals continue to pump out Statins (cholesterol lowering drugs) and we continue to drink the kool-aid. In reality we are all built differently and so determining an individual’s risk of heart disease cannot boil down to a one size fits all approach. Waging a war against cholesterol cannot be the only solution. Taking a more holistic approach needs to be embedded into conventional medicine and the factors outlined below warrant a seat at the table if we are to offer realistic hope to patients.

Inflammation

High levels of inflammation in the body distort hormonal processes and trigger any number of chronic diseases, heart disease being just one. To get your inflammation checked your physician can run a C-RP blood test. C-Reactive Protein is produced in the liver and reacts to inflammation in the body, therefore a high C-RP reading indicates high levels of inflammation in the body. Optimal C-RP is below 1 mg/L which implies you’re at low risk of cardiovascular disease. A reading between 1 and 2.9 mg/L means you’re at intermediate risk. A reading greater than 3 mg/L means you’re at high risk. A reading above 10 mg/L indicates a need for further testing to determine the cause of severe inflammation in your body. Not all doctors agree on using C-RP as a marker to predict heart disease but there is a growing body of evidence supporting its case. For an even more accurate reading a high sensitivity C-RP test can be performed. I personally get my C-RP levels checked annually and most insurance policies do cover it.

Insulin:

Insulin is a hormone released by the pancreas to help transport glucose from our blood into our cells for energy. Without insulin blood glucose remains high (diabetes) and our cells would not receive the glucose necessary to keep us alive. In his New York Times bestseller: The Anti Inflammation Zone, Doctor Barry Sears asserts that high levels of insulin are also likely to increase the risk of developing heart disease by five times versus high cholesterol which by comparison increased the risk by a factor of two. The explanation being that higher levels of insulin cause inflammation and fat stores, which in turn trigger more inflammation.

Eicosanoids

At the risk of geeking out, we must acknowledge the role of eicosanoids in heart disease. Eicosanoids are hormone like compounds which can either trigger inflammation (pro-inflammatory) or combat it (anti-inflammatory). They are generated from fatty acids in the body and we need a balance to remain healthy. In reality, most of us produce too many pro-inflammatory eicosanoids which in excess not only increase inflammation but can cause blood clots and the risk of stroke. To reduce pro-inflammatory eicosanoid levels focus your diet on Omega 3 fats found in foods such as flaxseed oil, fish oil, chia seeds, walnuts, fatty fish, seafood and spinach, whilst reducing your intake of Omega 6 fats found in vegetable oils (corn, sunflower, canola, soybean and safflower), meat, dairy and bread.

It should be noted that there are several other risk factors in determining an individual’s risk of heart disease: Vitamin D, HDL to Triglyceride ratios, stress and lifestyle choices. The intention of this post is to introduce lesser known factors which most of us have never heard of but should be aware of. In ending I would like to point out that cholesterol is a useful lever in determining heart health but not when considered in isolation.

As always, pushing for health.