Cholesterol - The Truth

Isn't is odd that most people know their cholesterol number on their blood work? Probably more than know their blood type! (O, A, B or AB) It is as odd as if people were walking around and knew the tire pressure in only their back right tire. The power of propaganda! Cholesterol is but one of many blood markers that can give us clues as to what is going on in the body. It certainly is not nearly as important as the makers of cholesterol lowering drugs would have us believe.

First off, who decided that healthy cholesterol levels should be below 200? Most blood tests are reported "normal" if the number comes within 2 standard deviations of the mean (average) of everyone who gets a blood test. (I'm not suggesting that this is the best way to read blood work but that is how it is currently done.) But not Cholesterol. 200 is an arbitrary number that keeps being pushed lower and lower. There is no hard scientific evidence that taking drugs to keep the number below 200 prevents anything for people who have not had a heart attack. In fact, there are some researchers who have studied blood chemistry for their whole careers looking for "optimal" blood values, (as opposed to "normal" blood values) who believe that optimal cholesterol is closer to 225 than to 200!

Did you know that over 50% of the people who die of a heart attack DO NOT have elevated cholesterol?
Cholesterol and saturated fats have become dirty words in our society. We have come to associate both with unhealthy life-styles and set-ups for heart attacks. But there is a lot of mis-information out there in information-land.

Think about it...what did your ancestors eat a century ago? If they were living on a farm chances are that they were eating a lot of whole milk, butter, eggs, pork and beef. Certainly that would have been true 2 centuries ago. Yet heart disease didn't begin to rise until the twentieth century. The fact is we evolved eating saturated fats. Our body knows what to do with them. Young women who are infertile are often lacking those good Omega 6 fats found in whole milk and eggs. They are needed to make brains and eyes! Cholesterol is the precursor to all of our hormones.

There are some researchers who believe that the real issue in heart disease is not cholesterol but rather inflammation in the body. When there is inflammation then the body starts to produce more cholesterol to do more repair work.

Sort of like: I have a crazy man running around my house with a hammer knocking holes in the walls (Low level infections, too many free radicals). So I hire a plasterer (Cholesterol) to run behind him fixing the holes. Then I blame the plasterer for making a mess (clogging my arteries). The blood marker for inflammation in the body is C-reactive protein. Probably a much more valuable marker of heart disease than Cholesterol.
My problem with statin drugs (drugs that lower Cholesterol) are that they are very hard on the liver. They also tend to wipe out your COEnzyme Q-10 (CoQ10). CoQ10 is necessary for the cell to utilize oxygen. Oxygen is necessary for the cell to manufacture ATP, the energy packet of the cell. Responsible doctors often check for the signs of liver damage when their patients are on statin drugs. From a Chinese Medicine point of view one of the contributing factors to too high cholesterol levels is a congested or stagnant liver.
So let me see if I have this straight..... your liver is congested so your cholesterol is too high, so you take a drug that further stresses the liver...Looks like you will have to be on this drug forever! Good news if you are selling the drug.

Forgive me for the sarcasm. Statins certainly have their place for people who have already had a heart attack. They are also appropriate for people who have very high cholesterol levels who cannot bring them down to modest ranges doing other things (that I will talk about in a minute). I do believe that they are way over-used in the current medical climate. There is even talk of putting 12-year-old children on Statins (for the rest of their lives!)in an effort to prevent heart disease.

Common Sense..... not so common. You must control your weight. Each person must take responsibility for their own health. Exercise is not optional. You must move. You must do some weight-bearing exercise to build muscle.You need fresh air and sunshine. You need good sleep and rest. You need water. You need to eat whole, fresh foods that are minimally processed. Vegetables and fruits, nut and seeds, clean proteins and beans are your friends. Fiber and anti-oxidants (Vitamin C & E & etc...) are essential. A few whole grains to round out a good diet. Fish Oil will raise the "good, slippery" (HDL) fats in your blood stream that are protective, along with exercise. Did I say exercise? Avoid trans-fats like the plague. (Fried foods as in donuts...) Avoid the "whites"; white sugar, white flour, white rice, alcohol.

If you do these things on a regular basis you will keep your weight in check. So what do you do if Cholesterol levels really start to rise? You might consider Red Yeast Rice which is a Chinese herb that will help to bring down the number. It is a natural statin with fewer side effects. You will still need to supplement with CoQ10.
You might consider fairly high doses of Vitamin B-3 (Niacin). Know that if you take high doses of niacin you are likely to get a "niacin flush". You get a bright red flushing of the skin that lasts for 10 to 15 minutes. It is not an allergic reaction. It is because niacin is a vasodialator. You can also get forms of niacin that are that are flush-free.

Increasing your fiber is one easy way to give the body a way to get rid of excess Cholesterol. One rule of thumb is to try to eat at least a half cup of beans every day to get enough fiber.
Vitamin C with bioflavinoids will help the body to get rid of excess Cholesterol.
You might want to consider a liver-cleanse that is really a liver tune-up. Alternative practitioners like Nutritionists, Naturopaths, Chiropractors and Acupuncturists have speciality supplements that are protein shakes that are designed to give the liver everything it needs to clean itself out and to make it more efficient.
A word about triglycerides. If that number is too high it simply means that you are eating too many carbohydrates (not fats) for what you need. The excess carbohydrates are being converted to triglycerides for storage. For most people that is the answer.

Be a responsible, educated consumer. Know the risks and benefits of any drug that you are prescribed. Ask for the evidence that the drug is necessary and effective. Look for not just a second opinion but an alternative opinion as well. Know what your options are. Live responsibly. Live well.

Dr. Anne Chew M.A., MSOM, L.Ac
Licensed acupuncturist in the State of Colorado. Diplomat in Acupuncture from the National Commission for Certification of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM). Certified in Advanced Acupuncture and Moxibustion and Chinese Herbal Medicine from the China Beijing International Acupuncture Training Center. Licensed Doctor of Oriental Medicine from the New Mexico State Board of Professional Regulation.
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