Cholesterol – It’s only a problem when it builds up to high levels and becomes oxidised – then it becomes damaging to the artery walls.
People generally eat more cholesterol rich food than the liver requires, as well as consuming the damaging cholesterol from products that oxidate during the cooking process. This oxidation not only happens with animal products like ham, bacon, sausages, and salami, but also with all fried and deep-fried food, all oils, processed food and baking products, margarine, sugar and salt.
So, it is not just about not eating foods which contain cholesterol, but more about not eating oxidised cholesterol which is the most damaging form.
Therefore, more important than the total cholesterol level is the amount of oxidised cholesterol.
Total Cholesterol and Lipid readings roughly correlate to what the risk of a heart attack might be, but they do not indicate how healthy those vital structures of the artery walls really are.
Just dramatically driving down the cholesterol with drugs like Statins does not do much to stop the inflammatory process that is destroying the artery walls and leading to plaque formation.
The artery walls are called endothelium cells and are like a lining/carpet in all of our blood vessels. If we eat certain foods (burgers, milk shakes, fries) our blood becomes sticky – then too the Endothelial cells get sticky. Sticky LDL cholesterol can get through the endothelial cells. The body calls in white blood cells that, like PAC men, gobble up all the sticky LDL cells. Once these white blood cells are full, they turn into a pocket of inflammation causing a build up of plaque (a).
Our normal blood flow can rupture this plaque pocket as the inflammation causes the lining of the pocket to thin(b). Ruptured plaque causes the body to then create a ‘cloth’ over the fracture. This ‘cloth’ then blocks the artery (c) – and what follows is a heart attack.
Once we stop injuring that layer (endothelium) of our blood vessels, the plaque should never rupture. Strengthening the layer over the plaque is the priority!
Therefore, elevated LDL numbers may just be a marker for people eating artery damaging food rather than being the actual cause of the plaque formation itself.
Statins do block the ability of the liver to make Cholesterol, and this is a concern as we have previously seen. Cholesterol is vital to so many essential functions in the body. Statins slow down the inflammatory effects but do not protect the health of the artery. Research shows that statins can only reduce the risk of heart attacks by a maximum of 25% so the focus should be more on looking at inflammatory markers!
Therefore, it can be assumed that a healthy person who does not consume excessive oxidated cholesterol, oils, sugar and salt, and whose arteries are not inflamed by virtue of checking the inflammatory markers, is at little or no at risk of plaque formation, despite those days their liver may sometimes need to keep a higher amount of cholesterol in their bloodstream for example, to make all the steroid hormones their body may require.
It is important to acknowledge that cholesterol levels vary from week to week and even sometimes from day to day, and that does not mean that the inflammatory plaque formation is happening in the artery walls.
This explains why many people have heart attacks despite low cholesterol levels. Their total cholesterol may not be elevated but they still could have dramatically damaged their arteries through their daily diet and lifestyle.
So, in today’s environment the higher LDL Cholesterol can be an issue but only when combined with the Standard Western Diet and other poor lifestyle choices.
One strategy is to reduce the ingested cholesterol from animal and dairy products as well as the artery damaging and plaque stimulating agents from fried foods and processed, sugary junk foods, by eliminating them from your diet, at the same time, increasing the daily amount of antioxidant rich components that are present in plants allows these components to soak into the walls of the arteries and neutralize the free radicals that may be present.
Consequently, these plaques get smaller and smaller and smaller, and the essential endothelium lining can re-establish itself and return to being healthy again, now able to restore the environment to repair itself.
Should you worry about your Cholesterol if you are eating a healthy diet?
If you are not eating anyone else’s Cholesterol and your Inflammation Markers are low, the sense is that you can relax and trust your liver to keep just as much cholesterol in the blood stream that it needs so your tissues can create the previously mentioned vital life maintaining molecules.
But no matter what your markers say, the suggested action is generally: Stop eating artery injuring, processed foods such as sugar, salt, heavy oils, deep-fried food, meat products, stop smoking; and eat more wholefoods, low sugar fruits, vegetables, legumes and seeds like flaxseed (always as meal) and chia seeds.
Supplementing with Vitamin B12 is important to ensure avoiding elevated levels of artery damaging homocysteine.
Remember your arteries are never NOT LOOKING as they need to deal with every piece of food you put into your mouth.
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1. The Lipid Study – University of Sydney published first in the New England Journal of Medicine in October 1998:
The LIPID study, with more than 9,014 participants from across Australia and New Zealand, involved a total of 87 major hospitals in Australia and New Zealand and set the benchmark for the conduct of similar trials in Australia and globally.
2. Cholesterol Treatment Trialists’ (CTT) Collaboration. Efficacy and safety of more intensive lowering of LDL cholesterol: a meta-analysis of data from 170 000 participants in 26 randomised trials. Lancet. 2010;376:1670–1681.
3. JAMA Intern Med. 2022;182(5):474-481. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2022.0134