By David Blyweiss, M.D.
Virtually all of the mainstream doctors I know are on an unrelenting mission to slash total and LDL (bad) cholesterol levels as far as they can. While this might (and I say “might” because there’s no solid evidence that moderate cholesterol levels contribute to heart attacks) reduce cardiovascular disease, there’s mounting evidence linking very low cholesterol levels to cancer.
In a recent study by researchers at The Chinese University of Hong Kong, an LDL (bad) cholesterol level of 107 was linked to a 33 percent increased risk of cancer and death. Of more concern, an LDL level of 87 doubled the risk of cancer. While this may fly in the face of everything you’ve heard, this study isn’t the first linking unnaturally low cholesterol levels to an increased risk of cancer.
Another study of the popular cholesterol-lowering drug, Vytorin, found that radically lowering cholesterol levels with the help of pharmaceutical drugs increases cancer risk by 64 percent! The study also paints the clear picture that lowering LDL levels too much actually increases the rate of death from any cause.
Despite this evidence, the American Hearth Association recommends an LDL level of 100 for the prevention of heart disease and 70 for high risk patients or for people diagnosed with heart disease. These arbitrary AHA levels for LDL cholesterol were established by “experts” with direct financial ties to the statin industry. These folks knew full well that reaching their artificially low target levels for LDL would require double and triple doses of statin drugs, thus dramatically increasing sales.
The truth is that people who maintain an LDL cholesterol level between 120 and 130 as they enter their 40s and 50s have much less heart disease as they grow older. There is no credible data to show that lowering LDL numbers with statins actually produces a similar level of health, especially to artificially low numbers. There is a huge difference between having good cholesterol numbers because you are healthy and artificially interfering with your body’s synthesis of cholesterol with statins.
Cholesterol is one of the most maligned substances in medical history. In reality, the vast majority of cholesterol in your body doesn’t come from the foods you eat. Cholesterol is manufactured in the liver in the amounts required by the body to perform its various functions. This fatty substance actually has a number of important roles in the body—without which, we couldn’t survive. Cholesterol is important for digestion, making hormones, synthesizing vitamin D, maintaining cell membranes, learning, memory and sleep. If our levels are too low, these critical functions cannot be maintained and this can increase our risk of cancer and other chronic disease.
When it comes to cholesterol, it’s all about balance. Levels that are too low can set you up for health problems. So can levels that are too high. The best way to keep your cholesterol levels in a healthy range are with an eating plan similar to the Mediterranean diet and plenty of exercise. I recommend at least 60 minutes of exercise five or more days per week.
What if your cholesterol levels are too high? If at all possible, avoid cholesterol-lowering drugs. As I told you in “Can Statins Really Unclog Your Arteries?”, supplemental niacin is a great way to increase your HDL (good) cholesterol levels while reducing triglycerides and lipoprotein(a). You can also lower your total and LDL cholesterol levels naturally with a daily dose of 2 grams of plant sterols. These naturally-occurring sterols attach to the spaces in the digestive tract usually reserved for cholesterol. This means that less cholesterol is absorbed into the bloodstream. As a bonus, plant sterols also help to prevent breast, colon and prostate cancer.
So the next time your doctor brings up statins as a way to tame your cholesterol levels, don’t automatically buy into it! Ask him about these two natural alternatives—both have plenty of peer-reviewed research to back them up. If he flatly refuses, perhaps it’s time to shop around for a health care provider more in tune with keeping you healthy instead of peddling drugs.
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