cholesterol-particlesHow did we arrive at the conclusion that LDL cholesterol is the villain in heart disease?

Well…once again we see the mistakes made by researchers that lead us to think of LDL as the culprit.

A little history…

It had to do with a machine used in the laboratory, called an analytical centrifuge that created evidence that ultimately mislead researchers and clouded the issue of cholesterol sub-particles.

Invented in 1949 and used until 2004, this device was used to spin blood plasma samples at 40,000 rpm to separate out the cholesterol fractions such as HDL and LDL.

However this spinning process cannot separate the particles with the precision required to identify all of the sub-fractions of cholesterol that are present in the blood. It may have been state of the art when it was first used, but still fell far short in the accuracy required to actually identify all the sub-fractions of cholesterol.

This started the characterization of cholesterol particles as either good or bad cholesterol, depending on the particle density. This was a gross oversimplification that stuck in the minds of the public.

For many years this simplified version of a person’s risk of heart disease based on their ratio of good and bad cholesterol stood as the cutting edge of cholesterol testing and heart disease prevention.

This was accompanied by the now debunked view that saturated fats caused heart disease because of their association with cholesterol. People avoided saturated fats out of a fear that was not founded in good science.

They also consumed statins, the most prescribed class of drugs on Earth due to the same fear of cholesterol and it’s supposed relationship to heart attacks.

Americans have consumed some 14 billion dollars in cholesterol lowering drugs, which some health experts have advocated be given to people of all ages including children allegedly to prevent heart disease.

John Abramson argues in his book Overdosed America that lowering LDL cholesterol has inadvertently become the main focus of preventative medical care in the United States.

Cutting edge thinking about LDL cholesterol

Yet a more recent breakthrough utilizing a new technology called ion mobility analysis has shaken the traditional concept of cholesterol’s role in heart disease to the core, and called the entire LDL cholesterol theory into question.

Ronald M. Krauss, of the Children’s Hospital Oakland Research Institute, is using ion mobility analysis to count cholesterol particles such as LDL and HDL down to the smallest sub particle types using principles of physics.

Even though it’s extremely expensive and not widely available, this technology has helped to rewrite the rules on how we think about cholesterol and heart disease.

Rather than continuing to believe that LDL cholesterol is the bad cholesterol here, we now know that there are four types of LDL particles that factor into the risk of heart disease.

Some LDL particles are benign and others more dangerous. Thus it makes no sense to continue to base diet and drug recommendations on an outdated theory when the science regarding cholesterol particle types is far more precise now.

We could be using drugs that target the wrong particles, and making dietary recommendations that are doing more harm than good at this point, all while dramatically escalating health care costs and actually making treatment less effective!

Low Density Lipoproteins

LDL comes in four sizes:

  • Large (big fluffy particles)
  • Medium
  • Small
  • Very Small

As the LDL particle size decreases the particles become more dense, (and more dangerous). This is because the large fluffy particles can’t lodge in your artery walls as plaque, while smaller dense LDLs CAN!

High fat diets tend to increase the large fluffy LDL particles, while low-fat high carbohydrate diets increase the smaller more dense particles.

From this you can see why the standard medical advice about how we should eat to avoid heart disease is seriously flawed! It was all based on an oversimplified and outmoded concept of the nature of cholesterol particles.

Typical cholesterol tests can’t differentiate between large and small LDL particles. There are also genetic, environmental, and lifestyle factors that affect LDL particle size.

Enter “Ion Mobility Analysis”

Using ion mobility analysis, Dr. Krauss and his colleagues determined that there are some 11 different particles. This was done using a sample of 4,600 healthy men and women volunteers.

Eight percent of the test subjects went on to develop heart disease, and using statistical algorithms the researchers developed a series of three very accurate predictors for who would go on to develop heart disease.

Here are the correlations that Dr. Kraus’s team found:

    1. High levels of small and medium LDL particles with low HDL (called atherogenic lipoprotein phenotype) Also known as pattern B
    2. Low HDL levels
    3. High total LDL cholesterol

So as it turns out LDL cholesterol and the risk of heart disease is a complex relationship that standard cholesterol tests are almost useless to predict.

The PLAC Test

There is one test however that can give you a better idea of what your risk is. You can read about it in my article called “The PLAC Test.” This is the latest test that really utilizes our new knowledge of LDL to make more accurate predictions about what your real risk for heart disease is.

Using this test you can make better choices about lifestyle and diet, because they are based upon a more complete understanding of the science of cholesterol particles.

The great cholesterol myth is the topic of this video by Dr. Johnny Bowden. Dr. Bowden together with Dr. Stephen Sinatra have exposed the inaccurate picture of cholesterol and heart disease that medical science has thus far gotten wrong!

You can also learn more by reading their new book “The Great Cholesterol Myth.” Once you learn the truth about cholesterol and heart disease, you will be better able to lower your risk without the side effects of dangerous drugs!

High cholesterol symptoms are not something you are going to notice. In fact they are almost non existent! The real relationship between cholesterol and heart disease kind of forced me to write this article backwards.

high cholesterol symptomsThe truth is that high cholesterol (let’s call anything beyond about 280 mg/dl high) is itself a symptom of other medical problems. You see, cholesterol is made by the body and used in all sorts of important biochemical reactions, some having to do with healing and the immune system.

Cholesterol also serves as an antioxidant as well, and your body will make more of it when you are faced with any kind of a health crisis or trauma, because it’s part of the protective and healing systems of the body.

So when cholesterol is elevated, it can be an indicator that something is wrong in the body, and that the body is attempting to heal or correct the problem.

Are there any real high cholesterol symptoms?

The answer is yes, although it’s not something that you would feel or notice on a day to day basis. It can show up during an eye examination. Your eye doctor may notice a buildup of cholesterol deposits in your eyes.

This CAN be an indicator of high cholesterol (kind of a “silent symptom”) that is itself, a symptom of other medical problems.

Arcus Senilis

There is a condition that affects the eyes called Arcus Senilis where a white or gray ring develops around the cornea of the eye.  It CAN be caused by elevated cholesterol, but not always. The rings come from cholesterol deposits but may be due to a metabolic disorder, rather than very high levels of cholesterol.

If you notice these rings, of course you should have your eyes checked, but again, this does not mean that you necessarily have a high cholesterol level. You eye doctor may recommend that you see another specialist and have the necessary tests done to determine if indeed your lipid profile (fat levels) are really elevated.

In people over 40, this condition is not all that uncommon, but really isn’t a reason for concern. In younger people it can be due to something called familial hyperlipidemia, which is a genetic condition where the person tends to have high levels of fats in their blood. In any case, if you have this condition, the best strategy is to have an eye exam and a full blood lipid screening.

The bottom line is that Arcus Senilis is a normal occurrence after 40 years of age. It’s nothing to get stressed about, but just follow up and get your blood lipids tested by your doctor. If you are a young person, it may indicate a problem with cholesterol metabolism and again should be checked out and dealt with accordingly.

High Cholesterol Symptoms That Are Silent

Again, try not to think of “high cholesterol” in and of itself as THE problem. For the most part, it’s an indicator that your body is trying to deal with another problem and the elevation in cholesterol is just it’s way of doing so. This is known in medicine as “acquired hyperlipidemia,” which means high blood fats due to some medical condition that is causing elevations in your cholesterol levels.

Your body may increase it’s cholesterol levels in response to health issues like:

  • Vitamin-D deficiency
  • Hypothyroid (sluggish thyroid function)
  • Cushings Disease (which causes chronically elevated cortisol levels)
  • Anorexia
  • Problems with your hormones and metabolism
  • Kidney disease
  • Alcoholism and alcohol toxicity
  • Diabetes and pre-diabetes

Obviously these are serious medical conditions and if you have any of these issues, your doctor should be monitoring your blood lipid profile (cholesterol and triglycerides) on a constant basis.

Drugs that Affect Cholesterol Levels

  • Estrogen and Corticosteroids (can raise HDL and Triglycerides)
  • Oral Anabolic steroids ( lower HDL)
  • Birth Control (can raise cholesterol)
  • Beta Blockers (can raise triglycerides and lower HDL)
  • Thiazide Diuretics (can raise cholesterol and triglycerides)
  • Retinoids (can increase LDL and triglycerides)

Of course if you are on any of these medications, you will have to discuss the side effects and risk to benefit ratio with your doctor. Don’t just go off medications without consulting your doctor, because this can have serious consequences.

If you are searching for an healthier or less risky alternative to drugs, that’s great, but you have to do that under the guidance of a physician who knows your medical history and can help you do so safely.

High cholesterol symptoms are a sign that there are important health issues that you and your doctor need to be dealing with. Since most people get routine lipid screenings your doctor should be aware of your lipid profile and it’s implications, but always do your own research and work with your doctor to identify problem areas and find the healthiest solutions you can for them.