Cholesterol Scare Tactics. ~ Ryah Nabielski

Via elephant journal
on Aug 27, 2010
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Why one blood measurement at the doctor’s office doesn’t really tell the whole story.

“The greatest nourishment we can ever take in is that of love.  Love infuses every morsel of food we ingest.  Without it, we starve our hearts, and ultimately, our soul.”

-Deanna Minich

The fat and cholesterol conversation has been coming up a lot for me lately.  There is so much misinformation in the medical community about cholesterol and heart disease. The notion that high cholesterol levels (levels above 200 mg/dL) can lead to heart problems is based on poor and outdated science.  In fact, as many as 50% of people who suffer heart attacks have normal or low-normal cholesterol levels.  My intention here is to clear up a bit of the confusion.

First, let’s talk about cholesterol’s role in the body.  Cholesterol is found in every cell of our body and is imperative for cell structure, integrity and function.  Further, cholesterol is the starting material our body uses to synthesize vitamin D from sunlight.  Low vitamin D levels have been linked to just about every chronic disease including osteoporosis, cancer, multiple sclerosis and depression.  Our body makes all of our steroid hormones out of cholesterol.  These include the stress hormone, cortisol, and our sex hormones including estrogen, progesterone and testosterone.  Cholesterol is also the precursor to bile salts, which we need for digesting and absorbing dietary fat.

So as you can see, cholesterol is a very important molecule for the health and balance of our body. I’m more interested in the conversation about where our cholesterol is coming from, rather than the push to avoid this important nutrient.

Healthy sources of cholesterol include meat from 100% grass fed cows, meat and eggs from pastured chickens, wild game, wild fish, raw dairy products, and other sustainably raised animals such as goat and pig.  In the Boulder area, I’ve been quite happy with eggs and meat from Windsor Dairy.

Most of the cholesterol that circulates in our body is made by our liver with the help of the necessary enzymes and cofactors.  This means we need to be eating a diet that provides adequate protein, vitamins such as niacin, and minerals such as magnesium, for the system to work.  When we eat more cholesterol, our body makes a little less, and vice versa; but it is important to note individual variation along this continuum.

When speaking of diet, foods such as refined grains and sugars that create a high insulin response will signal our body to turn on HMG CoA reductase, the key enzyme in the liver’s cholesterol production.  This is the very enzyme that statin drugs (the cholesterol lowering drugs) work to block.

So, we’ve all heard the story of LDL as the “bad” cholesterol and HDL as the “good” cholesterol.  Actually, these lipoproteins are transport mechanisms for cholesterol.  LDL takes cholesterol from your liver and delivers it to the cells of your body that signal for the need.  HDL goes around and scoops up excess or unused cholesterol and brings it back to the liver.  But there is more to the story than this, even.  There are several types of LDL and HDL that doctors can now measure.  The small dense LDL particles, primarily of genetic origin, seem to be the ones that produce a higher risk of atherosclerosis (inflammation of the arteries.)

Our cholesterol levels fluctuate during the day, with the seasons, with trauma, or any time the body is under stress.  So one blood measurement at the doctor’s office doesn’t really tell the whole story.  And if cholesterol is high, the question to ask is, why is it high?  There is likely a natural way for the body to achieve balance without the use of statin drugs and their insane side effects.

And, let’s not even get started on the unfounded idea of the use of pharmaceutical drugs—in this case statins—for “prevention.” Or, even more enraging, in children, which is becoming an increasingly common protocol.

I’m not here to say that we can eat as much bacon as we want and that we don’t worry about heart disease.  I’m saying that we have been led to believe that cholesterol numbers are the number one factor when the story is much more complex.

To continue this article please visit

Ryah Nabielski

I love food. I love that how we eat is a reflection of how   we live and that we are so connected to the earth  through food. As a nutritionist, I’m interested in  cultivating nourishing relationships with what, and  how, we eat for personal health as well as on a  community scale to promote sustainability and vibrant  local food systems. Contact me for private nutrition  counseling via telephone or in person in the Boulder,  Colorado area. [email protected] or 206-898-8493


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3 Responses to “Cholesterol Scare Tactics. ~ Ryah Nabielski”

  1. Dan Godbout says:

    This article makes a valid point that cholesterol does not cover all heart disease related deaths. The stats I am most familiar with showed that high cholesterol predicted 65% of those fatalities. High sensitivity CRP levels appear to be far more accurate in predicting cardiac events. However, I do think that cholesterol is a risk factor (esp. LDL/ HDL ratio), and one should dig deeper such as LDL particle size, HS-CRP to get a better picture of what may or may not be going on should cholesterol numbers be high. Personally, I think HS-CRP should be part of the standard panel of lab tests, but its expensive and you need at least 3 tests to get a good idea of where someone levels are at. Also, should the patient be sick, that will throw the number off quite a bit because its an acute phase protein that is released in response infection.

    One thing this article lacks is references substantiating claims of what the best sources of cholesterol are from. Has this been studied? Why are those the best sources of cholesterol? Also referencing the information about LDL particle size and statistics that show weak correlation with cholesterol levels is needed. I think this is an important point, that if you make a claim as fact, it needs to be backed by a credible source.

  2. Kathy Skaggs says:

    Very interesting article, and great comments!

  3. […] For a more complete discussion of cholesterol click here. […]