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.

cholesterol reducing drugsCholesterol reducing drugs are huge sellers for the drug industry, but are they safe? Cholesterol reducing drugs or cholesterol meds as they are referred to artificially lower cholesterol.

High cholesterol medication may not effectively prevent heart disease, and each new cholesterol drug seems to have it’s share of dangerous side effects.

Mainstream medicine’s reliance on medication for bringing down high cholesterol levels may very well be unfounded. Funding for research studies into the effectiveness of these drugs is often conducted by the very companies that stand to profit if the drug is approved. This is a huge conflict of interest, and it may even mean that the claims made for the effectiveness of cholesterol lowering medication are exaggerated or false.

The most popular class of cholesterol reducing drugs are called statins. They are taken by more than 25 million people around the world to lower cholesterol. In fact, the statin drug called Lipitor is the most widely prescribed drug in the world!

Some of the brand names of these statins are:

  • Lipitor
  • Pravachol
  • Vytorin
  • Zocor
  • Crestor

These drugs and many other cholesterol meds work by inhibiting an enzyme called HMG-CoA reductase, that is responsible for the production of cholesterol your liver. These drugs actually replace the HMG-CoA in your liver, which triggers the production of what are called LDL receptors, which attach to the cholesterol molecules and transport them to the liver where they are deactivated.

The problem with using these drugs to lower your cholesterol levels is twofold:

  • They are toxic and damage your liver
  • Your body actually needs cholesterol for many important biochemical reactions

Thus lowering your cholesterol by interfering with the production of this vital substance in your body is a dangerous practice that an increasing number of doctors feel is not worth the risk of side effects that these Cholesterol reducing drugs cause.

Statins contained in medicine to lower cholesterol, deplete a substance in your body called coenzyme q-10 which is used in many vital chemical processes in the body. One drug company was even working on a synthetic form of coenzyme q-10 that would be part of their cholesterol medicine, in order to prevent deficiencies of q-10 from causing side effects in the people taking their statin drugs.

However this product containing supplementary coenzyme q-10 never made it to commercial production. So when people take statins, they become deficient in this critical nutrient, and are not even aware they are at risk for some serious problems such as cancer, cardio myopathy, and Alzheimer’s disease, to name a few.

It goes without saying that anyone taking medicine to lower cholesterol should be taking supplementary coenzyme q-10 to protect themselves from deficiency cause by statin drugs.

Some health experts feel that the increases in cases of cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, rhabdomylosis (a medical condition that causes muscle breakdown), are due to the widespread use of cholesterol reducing drugs containing statins. Some doctors continue to aggressively promote and prescribe these drugs to their patients.

However other physicians, alarmed at the side effects of statins they are seeing, believe that the risks of these drugs are so great that their use in supposedly preventing heart disease is not justified.

Some of the warning signs of serious side effects are:

  • Persistent muscle pain
  • Numbness in fingers and toes
  • Loss of memory
  • Headache
  • Weakness or lack of energy
  • Rashes
  • Dark colored urine

These are just some of the signs that you are experiencing potentially serious side effects from a new cholesterol drug you are taking. These symptoms should be reported to your doctor right away. If the doctor you are seeing does not take them seriously or seem concerned, you should change doctors.

Cholesterol reducing drugs can have deadly side effects. It is best to pursue ways to lower cholesterol without dangerous drugs. Seek out a doctor that is knowledgeable about nutrition and natural ways to lower cholesterol. It just may save your life!

What are normal triglyceride levels and how do they relate to your cholesterol levels? What are the causes of high triglycerides, and how does lowering triglycerides help your cholesterol profile?  These are important questions, and the answers will put you on a path to better cardiovascular health.

What are triglycerides?

Most fats in your body are in the form of triglycerides. They are fat molecules that are created from the fats you eat and also from sugar you eat that is converted to fat and stored in your body. Their levels correspond directly with the risk of heart disease, and thus you can lower your risk by lowering triglycerides.

Although you can have your levels triglyceride levels tested separately, they are typically tested when you get your cholesterol levels profile checked. This is standard when having blood tests done in conjunction with say an annual physical.

What are Considered Normal Levels?

Normal levels of triglycerides are defined as:

Below 150 mg/dl, (Milligrams per Deciliter )

but some experts feel that optimal levels are closer to 50mg/dl, or below, because above 60mg/dl abnormal particles begin to appear in the blood.

This elevates heart disease risk as these particles help form the plaque that narrows arteries and causes heart attacks. Thus normal triglyceride levels are actually closer to the 60mg/dl mark.  The standard of of below 60mg/dl, will lower cholesterol naturally and drastically reduce your risk of heart disease.

Elevated Triglycerides Are Bad

These fatty molecules collect in your organs (and your arteries) and damage them. They have a negative effect on gene expression and promote heart disease. They also increase the tendency of your blood to clot, which increases your risk of strokes. This is even more of a problem in people with diabetes.

Belly fat is mostly made up of triglyceries, and fat in this area of your body is associated with sharply increased risk of heart disease.  Abdominal fat is big risk factor for heart disease, strokes, senile dementia, and other diseases that involve chronic inflammation.

They can also build up in artery walls and are involved in the development of athleroschlerosis. Thuys they are considered one of the primary causes of both elevated cholesterol levels, and the process of plaque development in your arteries.

Causes of High Triglyceries

The typical causes are:

  • Excess sugar  (in the form of starchy carbohydrates, alcohol, candy, pastries, ect.)
  • Diabetes
  • Obesity
  • Metabolic syndrome
  • Lack of exercise or physical activity

All of the above issues are related and making inprovements in one area will help with the others as well. For example, exercise will lower blood sugar which in turn will lower triglycerides. Metabolic syndrome is really a collection of symptoms related to obesity.

The remdy for these issues is a healtheir lifestyle which is outlined in the steps below.

Lowering  Triglycerides

Lowering triglycerides is just as important as optimizing cholesterol.  Several strategies are effective for reaching normal triglyceride levels, and they mirror the things you would do for optimizing cholesterol as well.

They are:

Lowering your sugar intake, including processed carbs and alcohol

  • Exercise – 3 times per week for at least 15 minutes per session
  •  Niacin (vitamin B3) at dosages of 250-500 mg with food
  • Fish oil 4000 mg/day of concentrated fish oil
  •  Eat high fiber foods such as oat bran and raw nuts

Fish oil alone can result in a reduction of triglycerides of 50%, and combined with a low sugar diet and regular exercise it is possible to reach normal triglyceride levels naturally, without using any medications.

There is also new evidence that a class of compounds called tocotrienols can help safely lower both low density lipoproteins and triglycerides. Using natural nutritional and lifestyle approaches should always be your goal, because medications carry dangerous and unwanted side effects which can cause serious health problems and even make some conditions worse!

It’s pretty safe to say that achieving normal triglyceride levels is one of THE most powerfully effective strategies for optimizing your cholesterol profile and protecting yourself from cardiovascular disease!

What is Cholesterol

What is cholesterol? Among other things it is a very much misunderstood substance that people have been unnecessarily frightened of. They have been told repeatedly by “experts and authorities” that it’s a dangerous substance, that must be lowered in your body before it kills you!

what is cholesterolIn this information website, we will try and demystify this perfectly natural substance and disprove once and for all that it causes heart disease! We will also provide good solid information and easy to implement strategies that will help you prevent heart disease instead of just “lowering cholesterol.”

Let’s start with a discussion of  what is cholesterol…

Cholesterol is a fat (also called a lipid) that is made in the liver. It’s part of a class of compounds called steroids which are made in the bodies of all animals. This substance is vital to your body, is transported through the blood, and is contained in the external layers of all cells.

The origin of the word cholesterol originally comes from the word chole which means bile in Greek. The other part of the word derives from the Greek word stereos meaning stiff or solid. This waxy fatty substance is necessary for your cells to maintain their structural integrity.

This is why it is absolutely vital for life, and in fact your body actually manufactures this substance for use in all of your cells. Statin drugs interfere with the production of cholesterol which is why they cause so many side effects.

What is cholesterol used for?

There are many functions for this amazing substance:

  • It is used in creating the myelin that coats and protects your nerves somewhat like the insulation on a wire.
  • It is used for synthesizing bile acids which your body needs for digestion.
  • Your body uses it to make sex hormones (androgens and estrogens) and also in the synthesis of the adrenal hormones such as cortisol and aldosterone.
  • It’s used in to metabolize vitamins A, D, E, and K (the fat soluble vitamins)
  • It is used in the reactions that synthesize vitamin D from sunlight.
  • It’s essential for maintaining the outer structural layer of your cells and also for keeping the cell membranes permeable so that certain molecules can pass through the membrane and enter the cell.

In order to travel through your bloodstream, it needs to have a protein coating and thus becomes something called a “lipoprotein.” They are called lipoprotiens because they contain both protein and fat.

The four main types of these lipoproteins are:

  1. LDL or low density lipoproteins often called bad and are associated with an increased risk of heart disease when they are high
  2. Chylomicrons (triglycerides) consisting of approximately 90%  fat
  3. HDL or high density lipoproteins (often referred to as the “good cholesterol”) HDL is thought to “protect” the arteries from damage by carrying away LDL particles so they can’t build up on your artery walls.
  4. VLDL or very low-density lipoproteins (often referred to as a very bad form of lipoproteins) These particles are considered to have the highest risk of contributing to heart disease because they are small dense highly inflammatory particles that can damage artery walls.

The role of triglycerides…

Triglycerides are fat molecules that come from the fat in the foods we eat, or can be synthesized from carbohydrates that are not burned for energy. These triglycerides are stored in your body and released to be burned for energy when your body does not get enough food to meet it’s energy needs. The truth is that it is triglycerides that really increase the risk of heart disease!
Hypertriglyceridemia is a term used to refer to high levels of triglyceries in the blood and researchers now know that this is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease. High glycemic carbohydrates can raise levels of triglycerides and greatly increase risk of heart disease.

While this area is still somewhat controversial, it’s clear that triglycerides have a major role in heart disease and they are increased by sugar consumption. It makes sense for this reason to keep your intake of sugar and high glycemic carbohydrates low to avoid setting yourself up for cardiovascular disease.

A Complex Question…

Doctors have been taught to calculate your risk of heart disease using ratios of these lipoprotein particles. They have also been given guidelines for what the “safe” and “dangerous” levels are.  Now these guidelines have been called into question, as new information has changed what the medical community “thought” they knew!

Even though the question of  what is cholesterol is a complex one, you will see that terms like good  and bad cholesterol are misleading and inaccurate. All of these forms of this vital substance have their necessary roles. Instead we should be looking at the effects of chronic inflammation and how we can neutralize it, because it is really inflammation that causes heart disease!

References:

Curr Cardiol Rep. 2011 Dec;13(6):544-52. doi: 10.1007/s11886-011-0220-3.
The role of triglycerides in atherosclerosis. Talayero BG, Sacks FM.
Source: Department of Nutrition, Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, MA 02115, USA. btalayer@hsph.harvard.edu