The Myth Behind the Truth Behind Six Cholesterol Myths

Apr 04, 2012

What do I mean when I say "the myth behind the truth behind six cholesterol myths"?  Sometimes I get fuming mad when I read garbagy information coming from authority sites (all I kept thinking that the myth debunking was just propagating more myths - like Athena here).  This morning one of those sites popped up a post on cholesterol myths and proceeded to rattle off a lot of seemingly factual information but it wasn't.  It was too watered down to be helpful and was also not entirely right.

Cholesterol only becomes a problem when too much of it circulates in the blood and builds up inside arteries

While true, too much of it isn't the problem. It's when there is associated inflammation that it becomes a problem. Too much cholesterol alone won't cause arteries to accumulate plaque.

The biggest factor in a person’s cholesterol levels is heredity, Willard says. The liver is supposed to remove excess cholesterol from the body, but genetics play a large part in its ability to keep cholesterol at a healthy level. “If your liver works perfectly, you’re one of the lucky people who can eat whatever you want and your cholesterol will be perfect,” Willard says. “Most of us have varying degrees to which it’s not quite as effective as it needs to be.” For those people whose livers are just slightly under par, a healthier diet can be the solution, reducing cholesterol levels by 10 to 15 percent.

Huh.  What about the smoking, diabetes, high blood pressure mentioned in the previous "myth"?  There's also lack of exercise, lack of sleep, drinking excessively, drug abuse, infrequent meals, obesity, lack of hydration, stress.  Genetics only plays a role in that you may not be able to be abusive to your body and still be healthy.  Doesn't everyone know a smoker that lived to his mid-eighties.  And all the smokers point him or her out as an example of why they don't think they need to quit.  In the meantime, they are all dropping like flies at much younger ages and unpleasantly, I might add.  So there's one genetic anomaly amongst all of us mortals.  Genetics also plays a role in allergies, which may be an irritating problem causing inflammation.  But genetics doesn't keep your cholesterol up (unless you happen to have a rare problem called  familial hypercholesterolemia).

I don't know a single person who can eat whatever they want and have health parameters in the healthy range.  Even if lean, they will have problems of some sort.  Even people that exercise heavily: you can't make up for a bad diet with a lot of exercise.  The very muscular Dave Tate was eating over 6000 calories a day, including a lot of junky food.  His health parameters were in the toilet even though he was lean and super muscular, able to squat 935 lbs, deadlift 740 lbs and bench 610 lbs.  He had to get onto a healthier diet to get healthier.  

Again, this tidbit about trying to lower cholesterol naturally:

“If they try to control it just through diet, they’re not going to reach their target,” Willard says. “Plus, these meds have additional healthy effects. They decrease inflammation and the risk of having a heart attack, independent of what their cholesterol levels are.” While there are potential side effects to statin drugs, like muscle damage, they are extremely rare. “If you look at the number of patients having adverse effects, those numbers are tiny compared to those that have heart attacks because their cholesterol wasn’t controlled,” Willard says.

ARG.  Again with "the rare statin side effects" and the nay saying about trying to get cholesterol levels down on your own.  The biggest myth propagated around is that statin side effects are rare!  Now that's a true cholesterol myth.

I haven't yet spoken to a person who hasn't had a side effect, and I've spoken to many.  Some people suffer them right away and others take a while.  In one study in Europe (quoted in one of my books), 90% of the people had their muscles affected adversely on statins, and these were healthy athletes.  What will it do to the rest of us?  Some people told me that they were on them long term.  I then asked, how is your memory? The response was invariably, "funny you should ask".  Do you want to risk losing your memory?  Isn't your memory what makes you you?

I could not believe my eyes when I read this one:

Margarine is better for cholesterol levels than butter. Margarine is made from vegetable oil, so it contains no cholesterol, unlike butter, which is made from dairy products. However, Willard says, margarine is also high in trans fatty acids — substances that raise your LDL cholesterol while lowering the levels of HDL cholesterol in your blood, putting you at risk for heart disease and stroke. A healthier option: monounsaturated fats like olive oil and canola oil, which can lower your “bad” cholesterol levels. Willard also recommends trans fat-free spreads with low cholesterol content; Smart Balance is an example of such a product.

Unbelievable.  What is so healthy about the unnatural chemical soup called margarine?  Nothing, nothing whatsoever.  Sarah Pope calls it "Stupid Balance" because it contains  a whole host of unhealthy ingredients: soy oil (genetically modified), canola oil (genetically modified), preservatives (chemicals), colorings (uncolored margerine starts as a gray goo that's bleached and then made yellow to look like butter, hmmmmmm), and artificial flavorings (to make it taste like butter).  So, even if the transfat content is low enough to register 0% (it only has to be under 0.5% to say that, so I'll bet it isn't transfat free because the oils are partially hydrogenated).  Why, oh, why is a doctor advising margarine?

Butter is one ingredient.  Get organic butter from grass fed cows and it contains high levels of rare vitamins and minerals, that stimulate co-enzymes and other healthy functions in our bodies.  Much healthier and doesn't cause inflammation from eating a bunch of chemicals that don't belong in our bodies.  Yuk.

With all the information floating around, remember that your doctor is the best source for advice on your cholesterol levels and how to manage them.

Of course, it's a site run with doctors advising. I think your doctor is your partner in health, not your dictator. I wouldn't work without a doctor but some doctors are very pushy about statins, and I think they are WAAAAY over prescribing it. Why would a doctor want to give statins to a physically compromised 80 year old woman with a total cholesterol value of 220? It is only slightly elevated and some simple dietary measures would work a lot better and ensure that a drug doesn't further erode her ability to move around on her own. She reduced it now but he keeps insisting it to her too.  Bah.

Another example of drug pushing: When I was going through menopause, I was strongly advised to take hormones (and this without asking for them) to relieve my "symptoms". I wasn't having any symptoms and my bones are as dense as a 25 year olds. Yes, I've had them tested. So, listen to your doctor, but get informed too. I'm still not taking hormones and my health is better than ever (and so are my bones), fyi.

So, I hope I have helped "unconfuse" the myth behind the truth behind six cholesterol myths. In that column, they got two out of six completely correct. They even contradicted themselves between myth two and three. So, don't take an authority site by its popularity. Consider what a doctor says but do as much research as possible and make an informed decision. You should even check out what I write here, although I do work very hard for accuracy and scientific validity.

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