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 MTHFR gene is a hidden culprit in heart disease and explains much in the reasons why cholesterol numbers don’t tell you what your real risk for heart disease is. Understanding how this gene defect affects your good cholesterol levels and how to treat it is essential to protecting yourself from heart attacks.

MTHFR geneWhat is the MTHFR Gene?

This gene is responsible for operating what are called “methylation pathways” that involve your body’s ability to convert certain substances into their reduced or active form. If this gene is defective in your body, these vitally important methylation processes cannot be completed properly, and certain substances (vitamins and amino acids) can’t be absorbed by your body and you develop deficiencies.

Some of these substances are:

  • vitamin b-12
  • folic acid
  • cystiene

In the case of b-12 and folic acid, these substances are converted to their active forms of methylfolate and methylcobalamin. These active forms are what your body can actually use, and so if you can’t convert them properly, you end up with a deficiency.

Cystiene is converted to the toxic amino acid homocysteine and then to methionine. If your methylation pathways are not working properly due to the MTHFR gene defect, then you end up with an accumulation of homocystiene which is highly inflammatory and causes damage to your arteries.

How is Your Good Cholesterol Level Affected?

HDL-C also called the “good cholesterol,” can be effectively lowered by a certain type of MTHFR gene defect called: C677T polymorphism.  Since HDL is protective and lowers your risk of heart disease, this gene defect can raise your risk by lowering your good cholesterol level.

There are several variants of this gene defect, and they affect cardiovascular risk in different ways, but it’s important to be aware of their impact so that you can protect yourself. Remember that 50% of heart attacks occur in people who have what’s considered normal cholesterol levels.

The affect of the MTHFR gene is seen by many researchers as the missing piece of the puzzle in trying to determine why this is so. With this information you can go about protecting yourself by applying this new knowledge and lowering your risk not only for heart disease, but also for other chronic diseases that are caused by inflammation.

What Other Problems Can This Lead To?

A defect in the MTHFR gene can also result in increase risk for the following diseases:

  • Cancer
  • Stroke
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Polyneuropathy

How Do You Know if You Have it?

This is a very important question, because once you detect this, then you can guard against it’s effects. The most simple test you can do is to eat asparagus and note if your urine has a strong odor in the hours following your meal.

If this odor is present when you urinate, (you can’t miss it), then you can be sure that you do in fact have a defect (called a polymorphism) in the way your MTHFR gene operates. There are also lab tests that your doctor can do to detect this problem.
It may be necessary to have formal lab tests done so that this problem can be medically verified. It’s also important because your doctor has to order it for your insurance to cover it. The best and most responsible advice I can give you is to go through your doctor and get tested for this.

Fortunately there are ways to treat this problem, that will work and help to protect your health, but of course the first step is to determine whether you have it or not, and your doctor can order the tests to confirm it.

What Can I Do?

A defect in the MTHFR gene results in failure to operate certain methylation pathways and convert amino acids properly. However, forms of critical b-vitamins, vitamin B-12, and Folic acid, in their “active” forms, which means they do not have to be converted or methylated, CAN be absorbed by your body and help ensure these critical chemical reactions happen as they are supposed to.

Thus instead of taking folic acid, you would take “methyl-folate.” Instead of taking vitamin B-12 (cyanocobalamin) you would take “methylcobalamin.”

There are other substances that can help. They are called “methyl donors” because they donate or provide what’s called a “methyl group” to help the chemical reaction complete properly. There are foods that contain “methyl donors,” such as garlic, onions, avocadoes, ect.

There are also nutritional supplements such as trimethylglycine, and SAMe, as well as special formulations that contain combinations of these methyl donors to help provide what your body needs to do these conversions properly.

None of these substances are drugs, nor are they prohibitively expensive. However, most mainstream doctors do not know about them, nor about defects in the MTHFR gene, and so you may have to search for a physician that is up on the latest genetic research, that can help you safely manage this problem.

The website I recommend is:

http://mthfr.net/

which is a website run by Dr. Benjamin Lynch. There is a wealth of information on this website regarding methylation issues and the MTHFR gene. If you have this gene defect, I would highly recommend that you visit this website and educate yourself.

You can also click on this video:

to learn more about this topic, and start arming yourself with powerful information that will allow you to protect yourself against heart disease, cancer, strokes, Alzheimers, and other effects of methylation problems.

My reasons for delving into this topic is that it fills in the missing information that cholesterol numbers leave out. The effects of this gene defect on your good cholesterol level is probably one of the main reasons for the increased risk of heart disease.

Defects in the MTHFR gene are one of the most significant drivers of chronic disease, and by knowing if you carry this defect, you can takes very strong steps to protect your health and to live better and longer.

references:

Cardiovasc Diabetol. 2012 Oct 8;11:123. doi: 10.1186/1475-2840-11-123.
Several genetic polymorphisms interact with overweight/obesity to influence serum lipid levels.

J Atheroscler Thromb. 2009;16(6):815-20. Epub 2010 Jan 9.
Association of C677T polymorphism in MTHFR gene, high homocysteine and low HDL cholesterol plasma values in heterozygous familial hypercholesterolemia.

J Hum Genet. 2001;46(9):506-10.
An association of 5,10-methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase (MTHFR) gene polymorphism and common carotid atherosclerosis.

 

C-Reactive Protein  or CRP,  is what is called an inflammatory marker. It measures levels of a particular protein that indicate increased inflammation in your body. Along with homocysteine, it completes the picture of heart disease risk that begins with your cholesterol profile.

c-reactie proteinWhile optimizing your cholesterol profile is important, medical researchers noticed that half of all heart attack victims had normal cholesterol levels.

They realized that there were risk factors other than just cholesterol. This is where the c-reactive protein test comes in.

The test is a measure of inflammation and infection in your body, both of which are significant risk factors for heart disease that are largely ignored by mainstream medicine. Inflammatory markers like CRP are necessary in order to get an accurate idea of what your heart disease risk really is!

The test is part of that missing piece of the puzzle that explains heart disease risk, beyond just your cholesterol numbers. If your levels are high, then lowering them will definitely lessen your risk of heart disease. When you attempt to lower cholesterol naturally, you will have to pay attention to
CRP as well. The good news is that the same strategies will work for both!

What elevates CRP?

Your levels of c-reactive protein are elevated by increased inflammation in your body. Many things can cause this, so it is important to have the test done when you are feeling well and not suffering from illness or unusual stress, so that you can get an accurate reading of your levels, without
having the level elevated due to some injury, illness, or trauma.

For instance oral bacteria from dental cavities can elevate CRP levels, because those bacteria also cause inflammation. This is why dental health is correlated with heart disease risk. Bacterial infections of any kind will raise inflammation as your immune system attempts to fight off the bacteria.

What are healthy levels of c-reactive protein?

The CRP test measures results in milligrams per liter of blood.

The following guidelines for are recommended by the
American Heart Association (AHA) to determine heart disease risk:

  •     Low risk: CRP is 1 milligram/per liter or less
  •     Moderate risk: CRP is 1 to 3 milligrams/ per liter
  •     High risk: CRP is greater than 3 milligrams/ per liter

Lowering Inflammation

How do you lower inflammation and get the levels on the c-reactive protein test into the healthy range?  Since all these heart disease risk factors respond to the same lifestyle changes, you can address them all by doing a few simple things.

  •     Eating an “anti-inflammatory diet”
  •     Practice good oral hygiene
  •     Getting regular exercise
  •     Grounding
  •     Stress reduction
  •     Proper nutritional supplements

The Bottom Line

All of the various risk factors for heart disease may seem bewildering and overly technical. That is how medical science functions. Every factor must be measured and accounted for. The good part is that when you lower cholesterol naturally, you will be addressing these other factors as well.

However as I mentioned before, all of these factors are related, and they are just various manifestations of inflammation. Lowering inflammation will bring CRP and these other heart disease indicators to a better level. So that should be your goal, to use diet, exercise and nutritional supplementation in lowering inflammation.

C-reactive protein, homocysteine, and cholesterol profile are all necessary tests to precisely and accurately determine what your risk for heart disease really is. Work to lower your inflammatory markers, and you will be much healthier for it!

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

Eggs and Cholesterol – A Pervasive Nutritional Myth!

Many people have heard dire warnings about eggs and cholesterol, but is there any truth to this widely held belief at all? The answer is NO! Eggs have not been shown to significantly raise LDL (low density lipoproteins) levels when eaten in moderation. In fact eggs are actually be considered beneficial  when cooked and eaten properly and in moderate amounts.

eggs and cholesterol

Please note that the term LDL refers to the form considered by cardiologists to be “bad,”  however we will show in other posts that the idea of good and bad cholesterol is a misapplication of the science!.

Lipoproteins are another term for cholesterol. Thus HDL cholesterol is high density lipoproteins, and LDL is used  to refer to “low density lipoprotein.” The type that is believed by scientists to actually cause problems is called vldl cholesterol, (very low density lipoproteins). However even in this case the truth is more complicated than this and we will explain this as we go along.

The Facts about Eggs…

The fact is that egg yolks also contain lecithin which is a phosopholipid compound that actually lowers the amount your body absorbs. Thus the cholesterol in an egg does not have the same effect in your body, that it does when it comes from other sources.

Eggs contain about 185 milligrams of cholesterol (for a large egg), but they are also high in vitamin-d, choline (a b-vitamin) and lecithin. Interestingly, the saturated fat content in eggs is low. Research studies have shown that foods that you eat, does not have necessarily cause high cholesterol levels in your body, and in some cases may actually lower it!

It appears that the eggs and cholesterol myth began when the concern over lipoprotein levels being a factor in heart disease emerged. Researchers jumped to conclusions and people were warned that eggs greatly increased the risk of heart disease, based on this assumption, (based on poorly done research).

Eggs are Essential Sources of Choline

One negative result of this eggs and cholesterol hysteria was that people stopped eating eggs, or at least significantly cut down on egg consumption. The b-vitamin choline is essential to good health, especially of the brain.

The most abundant source of this vitamin in most people’s diets came from eggs. As a result the population as a whole became deficient in choline, leading to other serious health problems like Alzheimer’s Disease, and even increased rates of heart disease!

Choline is vital to the healthy function of the brain and nervous system, which in turn has a huge impact on heart health. Thus by limiting egg consumption and producing deficiency of choline in the diet, people were actually making the situation with regard to heart disease even worse!

What The Research Says…

Some people who have a genetic tendency toward higher levels called (familial hypercholesterolemia) may be affected by the amount they consume in their foods, but the mechanism is not totally clear. In fact the famous Framingham Study of heart disease shows that people with the highest hdl cholesterol levels actually lived the longest!

Recent research conducted on eggs and cholesterol at the University of Surrey by Dr. Bruce Griffin found that two eggs per day consumed by healthy people for a 12 week period actually lowered their LDL levels on average! It was concluded that eggs will not significantly raise cholesterol numbers in a healthy person. In this instance eggs actually lowered their levels!

In face the research subjects in the experimental group actually lost weight as well. This may seem surprising, but in light of the fact that egg yolks contains beneficial vitamins and high quality protein, it supplies your body with vital nutrients, without which you can’t achieve optimal health.

Recent research has also suggested that eggs may act in a way to reduce high blood pressure and that they contain antioxidants that help prevent heart disease. While this evidence is not yet conclusive, it suggests that eggs, far from being dangerous to our health are actually beneficial in preventing both cancer and heart disease!

Nutritional myths about eggs and cholesterol still persist in medicine and are accepted by the public at large, but gradually the word is getting out that eggs are not a bad food at all, in fact you need the beneficial nutrients in eggs for good health, including heart health!

References:

Chamila Nimalaratne, Daise Lopes-Lutz, Andreas Schieber, Jianping Wu. Free aromatic amino acids in egg yolk show antioxidant properties. Food Chemistry, 2011; 129 (1): 155 DOI:
Majumder et al. Angiotensin I Converting Enzyme Inhibitory Peptides from Simulated in Vitro Gastrointestinal Digestion of Cooked Eggs. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 2009; 57 (2): 471 DOI: