By David Blyweiss, M.D., Advanced Natural Wellness
April 14, 2014
- What’s REALLY going on with your cholesterol?
- Why LDL isn’t nearly as harmful as you’ve been told
- Easy ways to protect your heart without statins
These days it seems like everyone over the age of 40 is concerned about his or her cholesterol level.
It’s one of the first things many of my patients ask about. They want to know if their total cholesterol is high and how much “bad cholesterol” they have. Some of them even ask if I’ll prescribe them a statin drug.
Well, I’m going to cut right to the chase here. America’s obsession over cholesterol is downright unhealthy. It may even be contributing to the heart disease and dementia epidemics.
The truth is we’re all spending a great deal of time worrying about a natural substance that our bodies need to function properly.
I place the blame squarely on the shoulders of the statin drug industry. Their profitable marketing tactics have everyone in a panic over cholesterol levels. But none of their pharmaceuticals is targeted to protect you from the real danger that may be lurking in your in body.
It’s time to stop fixating on your cholesterol numbers and clear up a lot of the misinformation that may be truly affecting your heart health…
It might surprise you to learn there’s no such thing as “good” or “bad” cholesterol. In fact, the HDL and LDL numbers your doctor gives you aren’t even about cholesterol at all!
These numbers actually measure the amount of high- and low-density lipoproteins in your bloodstream. Neither of these lipoproteins is made of cholesterol. They merely transport it through your body.
Even more surprising, LDL isn’t really bad for you!!
LDL carries fats, proteins, antioxidants and, YES – even cholesterol – through your bloodstream and delivers them where they’re needed… including into your mitochondria to begin the production of your sex hormones through the steroidogenic pathway.
More importantly, the cholesterol in LDL has a very critical job when it comes to your heart health.
It patches up any damage that occurs on the walls of your arteries. Without the cholesterol in LDL particles, the rips and tears in your arteries wouldn’t be able to heal. It basically seals up the damage… sort of like applying spackle to a scratched or dented wall.
And, if you want a total shocker, it turns out LDL cholesterol isn’t even a very good predictor of heart disease. It turns out about half of the people who develop heart disease have normal – or even low – LDL cholesterol levels.
If LDL isn’t the evil-doer we’ve been led to believe, what’s clogging up our arteries and causing heart attacks?
Well, there’s something else going on here that functional physicians like me have known about for years…
You see, all LDL particles aren’t the same. Some of them are large and fluffy. Others are small and dense. It’s when you have small, dense LDL particles that the problems arise.
These small particles tend to slip through the lining of your blood vessels where they can do the most damage. They oxidize. Inflammation sets in. Plaque starts accumulating, and blockages begin to develop.
A standard cholesterol screening does nothing to test for particle size. And statin drugs won’t do anything to give you big and fluffy LDL particles. All statins do is lower total LDL levels.
It’s easy enough to find out how dense or fluffy your LDL particles are. Just ask your doctor for a special form of lipoprotein testing called Vertical Auto Profile (VAP). It tests for all sorts of things, including LDL particle size, which regular cholesterol screening misses.
Let me reiterate… the standard lipid profile still being ordered by many physicians is, for all intents and purposes, obsolete.
In the meantime, there are several things you can do to keep your LDL particles big and fluffy:
- Eat a Mediterranean-style diet: I recommend eating a healthy Mediterranean-style diet as regular practice. Just load your plate with plenty of seafood, antioxidant-rich vegetables, nuts and fresh fruits. This type of diet is high in polyunsaturated fatty acids, which significantly increase LDL particle size. This is true, even in people who are genetically predisposed to smaller particle size.
- Supplement with niacin: Niacin has long been known to protect your heart. Now we know that extended-release niacin has a specific effect on the smaller, more dangerous LDL particles. Plus, it enhances the role of large HDL particles, which also reduces cardio risk. One caveat here: start on a low dose and slowly build up to 1,000 mg. in divided doses over the course of the day. When you have reached this dose and are eating a better diet for at least eight weeks, recheck your VAP numbers.
- Avoid trans fatty acids: These fats are associated with a harmful increase in small, dense LDL particles. Fried foods, packaged products, cakes, cookies, chips and salad dressings are some of the worst offenders. (If you see the words “hydrogenated” or “partially hydrogenated” on the ingredient list, it contains trans fats.)
- Lower carbohydrate intake: Increased carbohydrate intake leads to an increase in triglycerides and a reduction in LDL particle size. Simple sugars and starches that are high on the glycemic index are the worst offenders. So, stay away from sweet, starchy foods and stick with foods having a low-glycemic value. And, remember, two slices of gluten/whole wheat bread have a higher glycemic index than six teaspoons of table sugar… and most candy bars.
Implementing these few changes can set you down the path toward big, buoyant LDL particles that will help keep your arteries healthy and your heart strong.
Apo B – A Better Marker for Heart Attack Risk Than LDL Cholesterol? Special Report. John Hopkins Health Alerts.
Moreno JA, et al. “The effect of dietary fat on LDL size is influenced by apolipoprotein E genotype in healthy subjects.” J Nutr. 2004 Oct;134(10):2517-22.
Mauger JF, et al. “Effect of different forms of dietary hydrogenated fats on LDL particle size.” Am J Clin Nutr 2003;78:370-5.
John M. Morgan, M.D. et al. “Effects of extended-release niacin on lipoprotein subclass distribution.” American Journal of Cardiology. June 2003; Volume 91, Issue 12, Pages 1432-1436, 15
Siri PW, Krauss RM. “Influence of dietary carbohydrate and fat on LDL and HDL particle distributions.” Curr Atheroscler Rep. 2005 Nov;7(6):455-9