As a certified Nutritional Therapist, I’ve read and studied with interest about cholesterol. The contradictions in the discussion fascinate me. I think we all know someone who’s been asked to lower cholesterol levels by diet or medication by his or her medical doctor. But is the need to lower cholesterol just outdated guidance and actually harming the brain health? Is the so-called “bad LDL” really bad or is there something more we need to know about the LDL, or should I say the variety of LDLs?
Based on the literature, statins are too often prescribed even among healthy people either to prevent high cholesterol or for slightly risen cholesterol. In some countries, like the US, cholesterol medicines may even be prescribed for children in chewable form. That raises the question why do children need cholesterol medicine?
Why the bad reputation?
Since 1955, when the president of the United States, Dwight Eisenhower, had a heart attack, physicians around the world started to recommend a low-fat diet and cut down cholesterol from the diet. Eisenhower was determined to make his illness public and together with his chief physician and a nutritionist Ancel Keys, change the increasing numbers of heart diseases in America. The guidelines were clear: stop smoking, and cut down on fat and cholesterol. The same recommendations quickly spread around the world, even though there were a lot of evidence in contrary what comes to cholesterol and saturated fats.
Already in the 1950’s, there was strong evidence against sugar being the actual cause for the increasing number of heart diseases, instead of saturated fat and cholesterol, but perhaps not enough influential and charismatic people to spread out the word. It’s been told that even Ancel Keys himself knew that cholesterol wasn’t the one to blame for heart diseases so he relentlessly concentrated on saturated fats instead. I warmly recommend reading “The sugar conspiracy” written in The Guardian by Ian Leslie to find out more about this topic.
Dr Berg explains cholesterol, LDL, HDL and the new answers about cholesterol and debunks all the older myths.
Cholesterol has been a hot potato ever since. But if the cholesterol would be so bad, why do our bodies create 3000mg of cholesterol every single day? Most of the cholesterol we need is made by our body, but some of it we get from our foods such as egg yolks, liver, kidneys, butter, full-fat dairy products, shellfish etc. Only about 50% of the total cholesterol is absorbed from the intestines.
Essential for our body and mind
We need cholesterol and actually, we seem to need it together with saturated fats for the construction and repair of our cell membranes. We also need cholesterol to assist with the synthesis of fat-soluble vitamins such as vitamin D. In addition, it helps with the hormone synthesis and activity of almost all steroid or lipid soluble hormones such as estrogen and testosterone as well as stress hormones. Libido, regular menstruation, pure skin, balanced digestion, and consciousness are all dependent on cholesterol. Cholesterol also supports the production of bile fluids responsible for cleavage and absorption of essential fats from food.
LDL and HDL are not actually cholesterols at all. Instead, they are kind of protein ‘envelopes’ that are needed to collect or transfer the cholesterol. High-density lipoprotein, or shortly just HDL, collects the old cholesterol to the liver to be recycled. Low-density lipoprotein or shortly just LDL (often called the bad cholesterol) is a special carrier protein that works as a vehicle for HDL to enter the brain’s neurons as a source of fuel from the bloodstream.
A Finnish physician Taija Somppi (general and vascular surgeon) writes in her book “Parantavat Rasvat, 2011” (Healing Fats), that cholesterol and all its subtypes (including LDLs) are low among young people because their cells are still in a good shape. Elderly people have a lot of cell damage, so cholesterol values deliberately raise in order to fix the damage.
Now comes something that in my eyes is the game changer: there’s not only one LDL but there are actually different types of LDLs and not all of them are bad. Unfortunately the cholesterol tests widely in use, only test all LDLs together in a group. Therefore lowering LDL might become a problem while LDL is the one that collects the important “old” cholesterol to the liver to be recycled.
Now that we know that cholesterol is indeed an important nutrient for brain health, should we go and lower all the LDLs? Have you ever heard about the risks of too low cholesterol? According to Kelly Brogan, a Manhattan-based psychiatrist, mood problems often occur when the fasting cholesterol is below 160.
Read the next blog post 2/3 about cholesterol.