**In this post I will review some current research on cholesterol and then quickly review the functions of cholesterol in the body. In a later post I will delve into explaining cholesterol, LDL, HDL and much of the confusion surrounding blood tests in much more detail.
Ahhhhh… cholesterol. The waxy, globular substance floating around in our blood, just waiting to clog an artery…
This is usually how we picture it- looks a little scary —–>>
But when I think of cholesterol, it’s structure, purpose and everything it contributes to allow the human body to function normally…
<<—– It doesn't look so scary…
For those who know my beliefs and have followed my work, it will come as no surprise that I believe cholesterol to be a wrongfully accused substance. One of the most vital components of the human body and normal functioning, it has gotten unnecessary blame for "causing" cardiovascular disease (CVD for short, this includes heart disease and stroke). Although it's a long story as to how we have gotten to this point, the public perception and fear of cholesterol is as unrational as blaming firefighters for fires. Just being around fires doesn't mean they cause them. In fact, as we well know, they show up there to help. There is a reason why they are there, and bigger fires usually correlate with more firefighters, but it's not their fault that fires exist. That being said, back to cholesterol…
Cholesterol Research Review
Although not well publicized there is ample evidence showing the error in claiming cholesterol causes CVD. More research is arriving almost monthly that shows there may even be an error in associating cholesterol levels with CVD (that’s with already knowing the potential inverse total mortality correlation). As more scientists and researchers delve deeper into the biochemistry and actual functions of cholesterol in the human body and gain a greater understanding of inflammation, the less heat (pun intended) cholesterol is subsequently receiving. This is welcome news to some of the researchers and a growing number of doctors who have been proclaiming cholesterol’s innocence for years (and even decades in some cases). As a result, there is a growing voice in the scientific and medical communities asking people to rethink the current stance on cholesterol and cardiovascular disease. The latest example comes in the form of a Norwegian study and review that was released a few weeks ago in the Journal of Evaluation of Clinical Practice.
Here is the link to the abstract with the basic info (this is from PubMed for those with access to the full study)…
Is the use of cholesterol in mortality risk algorithms in clinical guidelines valid? Ten years prospective data from the Norwegian HUNT 2 study
Here’s the basic review…
Population: 52, 087 Norwegians, ages 20-74, 10 year span. Four cholesterol groups: low/reference group (<195), medium (195-230), high (230-270) and very high (270+).
Topic of interest: Relationship between cholesterol levels and total mortality (from all causes), CVD and IHD (Ischemic Heart Disease).
Cholesterol had an inverse relationship with all-cause mortality and CVD.
Cholesterol had a U-shaped relationship with IHD (very low and very high cholesterol associating with IHD).
Cholesterol had a U-shaped relationship with total mortality and CVD.
What does that mean?
If you’re a women, higher cholesterol is associated with dying less.
If you’re a man, moderate levels of cholesterol is associated with dying less.
**Notice it doesn’t say lower is better on either of these…
The researchers conclude,
“Our study provides an updated epidemiological indication of possible errors in the CVD risk algorithms of many clinical guidelines. If our findings are generalizable, clinical and public health recommendations regarding the ‘dangers’ of cholesterol should be revised. This is especially true for women, for whom moderately elevated cholesterol (by current standards) may prove to be not only harmless but even beneficial.”
**The second two sentences are noteworthy, particularly the third for any women who might read this.
This is important information so let’s cover the results again.
To be more specific, women with cholesterol lower than 195 were at a greater risk of dying from all causes than women with levels over 195. The higher the cholesterol, the less risk of dying. And yes that includes the 270+ category.
Men with cholesterol under 195 and over 270 had a greater risk of dying from all causes than those with levels between 195-270. For men with heart disease the least risk was associated with cholesterol levels between 195-230.
These results confirm earlier research and biochemistry knowledge pointing toward cholesterol as a potential protective substance instead of the villain it has been painted as, particularly in women.
Just something to think about next time someone tells you to lower your cholesterol.
Interested in more data regarding cholesterol and mortality? Check out this chart taken from data from 164 countries (via the World Health Organization and BHF-HEARTSTATS) graphing cholesterol levels against all sorts of diseases and conditions…
Check out the blue line. That’s death from all causes. Where’s the sweet spot? Cholesterol from 200-240. A touch over 220 to be precise.
Also look how the blue line skyrockets up when cholesterol gets below 200. That means death from all causes skyrockets when cholesterol drops below 200.
Look at the solid green and dashed green lines (infectious and parasitic diseases). They disappear at cholesterol levels over 220.
And we’re still scared of cholesterol?
Functions of Cholesterol: A quick review
So, let’s think about this and dig a little deeper. Most of the general public is scared to “death” of cholesterol- perpetually striving to lower it so we can be healthy. Even taking drugs with well known side effects to lower it. However, as mentioned before, cholesterol is one of the most vital substances in the human body. So let’s take a look at all the functions that are being impacted as a result of lowering cholesterol.
Cholesterol functions as…
Antioxidant – protects against oxidation. So it is trying to put out fires in the body… and we want to limit that?
Precursor to hormones – stress and sex hormones. Isn’t there a lot of stress related, testosterone and estrogen problems out there these days?
Precursor to bile production. Anyone you know have digestion or gall bladder problems?
Needed for brain nerve insulation and impulse signaling. There’s more Alzheimer’s and dementia than ever before.
Precursor to neurotransmitters. Depression epidemic anyone?
Precursor to vitamin D. What’s the latest medical craze? That vitamin D is low in everyone. And it’s proving to be pretty important for health and cancer prevention. Whoops.
Comprises cell membranes in your cells. Every cell…
Assists immune function. This is pretty important too. Increases in autoimmune diseases being one major reason. Let’s not forget this either as we approach flu season…
This is the tip of the iceberg. Cholesterol is important. The human body makes it for a reason. That reason is not to kill us. It can be an indicator that there is some inflammation or metabolic disturbance in the body, therefore the diease correlation we have been brainwashed to be so fearful of, but it is not the cause. So for anyone with questions regarding their cholesterol and or blood tests, it would be smart to do some research on your own. Hopefully this review can be a starting point for those looking to learn more about their health, particularly those who are taking cholesterol lowering drugs or are being pressured to. It’s a shame that the medical model is slow in shifting the focus away from cholesterol but in the end we have to take responsibility for our own health. It won’t be long before the medical communities at large admit the misunderstanding but in the meantime keep yourself educated so you can make smart decisions and have some control in your health.
The Bare 5 Bottom Line on Cholesterol:
1. Cholesterol is a natural substance vital to normal function. It is not in your body to kill you.
2. Cholesterol elevates for a reason, typically to deal with inflammation in the body.
3. Cholesterol levels have been correlated with cardiovascular disease, but have never been shown to cause it.
4. The correlation previously shown may not be accurate and in fact may be backward.
5. Recent research is showing that cholesterol levels may indeed be protective, especially for women.
Thanks for reading, have a great cholesterol filled week!
For those looking to learn more, you can also check out my other cholesterol resources on Bare 5. Here is a link that will lead you to both of them…