Cholesterol has been carrying a negative impact for decades. I remember the saying “it’s not the bread but it’s the toppings”, but is it actually the bread to blame instead of the butter or eggs? To understand more about this, find my previous articles about this topic: Cholesterol 1/3 – Low Cholesterol Risk For Brain Health? and Cholesterol 2/3 – Low Cholesterol Causes Depression? I’ll be covering even more about cholesterol, statins and diet choices later in this article.
There’s actually very little evidence that cholesterol would be the culprit of atherosclerosis and instead more evidence that cholesterol actually protects us from having a heart disease, atherosclerosis or stroke. The cholesterol is there in the vessels, or in other words at the “crime scene”, because it’s there to heal.
There’s also an increasing evidence that too low cholesterol can cause problems. Like I explained in my previous article, there is indeed a “bad LDL” but not all of the LDLs are bad. There are actually many types of LDLs and unfortunately, the cholesterol tests widely in use, only test all LDLs together in a group.
The sick brain seems to have a severe lack of cholesterol. Evidence shows that elderly people actually benefit from high cholesterol and the high cholesterol are scientifically connected to a long lifespan and memory functioning while low cholesterol has been associated with poorer memory, lower scores on abstract reasoning, attention and concentration, verbal fluency and executive function.
Dr David Perlmutter is one of the doctors who’s trying to clear LDLs reputation. He also stresses that the LDL is not actually a bad “cholesterol” at all, but a very important carrier protein that carries vital cholesterol into the brain and states an important role for example in Alzheimer’s disease. Dr Perlmutter emphasises that LDLs can turn dangerous when under oxidative stress.
Statins – dangerous cholesterol drugs?
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.
Statins though, the most commonly prescribed cholesterol-lowering drugs in the world, are linked with a large amount of revere side effects.
Studies made on statins:
- Intolerable side effects occurred in 20 percent of those treated with statins. This was found out in an eight-year retrospective study: PubMed.
- The risk of new-onset diabetes in postmenopausal women having statins was increased by 48 percent. This was found in a Mayo Clinic study, published in the Archives of International Medicine. The study entailed more than 160 000 women. PubMed.
- The synthesis of coenzyme Q10, also known as ubiquinone (responsible for human vitality), is threatened by cholesterol medicines such as statins causing coenzyme Q10 deficiency. Additionally, statins increase the amount of harmful ox-LDL cholesterol which causes the tissues and arteries to become hardened and inflamed. The Ochsner Journal.
Statins side effects:
- Decreased cognitive function
- Sexual dysfunction
- Muscle pain
- Intestinal problems
- Impaired skin condition
Read more about statin myths by Dr Kelly Brogan.
A diet to keep cholesterol in check
Consult with your physician if you are worried about your cholesterol or in case you have a family history of cardiovascular disease. Try to find a doctor who can measure different types of LDLs or look at the cholesterol-triglyceride balance instead of the overall cholesterol levels.
Some genotypes, like APOE4 allele, have been previously linked to high cholesterol and other health problems such as dementia and Alzheimer’s. The consumption has been that consuming too many foods high in cholesterol such as eggs, can increase cholesterol levels in the body causing problems especially among people carrying this gene (APOE4).
A long-term study run by Jyrki Virtanen and his colleagues at the University of Eastern Finland followed 2,497 middle-aged and older men for 22 years and recorded the food intake of the participants. The study was recently published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
After 22 years, 337 men had been diagnosed with dementia and 266 with Alzheimer’s but still, Jyrki and his team found no correlation between neither cholesterol nor egg intake and an increased risk of dementia, Alzheimer’s disease or cognitive performance. Actually, the egg intake was associated with better cognitive performance. According to Alzheimer’s News Today, the prevalence of APOE4 in Finland is particularly high so even in this study, a third of the male participants were APOE4 carriers.
Like I wrote in my previous article, the so-called “type A” LDL (large buoyant) seems not to be harmful and it last only for 2 days in the body. Instead, the “type B” (small dense) stays longer in the body and can enter the damaged wall of the artery because being so small and be involved in the clotting and plaquing. As mentioned, oxidation can damage LDL making it harmful.
What to eat, or not to eat?
So how to prevent the LDL being oxidised? Our diet, food processing and lifestyle are the key players in this matter. For example, when vegetable oils are used for cooking, they rancid easily and produce oxidized cholesterol. The body treats oxidized cholesterol and other oxidized fat like invading bacteria.
Also, extra glucose (from sugar, carbohydrates or excess protein) that can’t access into the cells because of the insulin resistance, can oxidize the LDL making it a so-called “bad LDL” through LDL glycation.
Instead of avoiding cholesterol-rich whole foods like eggs or butter, there are more benefits on minimizing processed foods and refined oils along with other foods that can oxidise easily (such as meat prepared at high temperatures) can prevent the “type B” LDLs.
Also minimising the foods that cause inflammation in the body such as refined sugars, artificial sweeteners, simple carbs, wheat and other grains, hydrolysed vegetable oils, processed foods. This might be surprising but also milk and especially pasteurized dairy products can be a problem, against beliefs.
You might want to avoid dairy products and cereals for a few weeks and then slowly introduce them back to your diet and see how you feel.
Foods to avoid:
- Refined sugars
- Artificial sweeteners
- Hydrolysed vegetable oils
- Processed foods
- Processed meat like sausages
- Pasteurized milk and dairy products
- Refined grains
The key to a healthy diet is no more than going back to basics and eating unprocessed whole foods, having lots of fresh vegetables high in soluble fibre, fruits, berries, nuts and seeds, fish in variation 2-3 times a week and grass-fed beef and pasture raised chicken in moderation.
The vital brain vitamin B12 is only available (in absorbable form) in meat.
Last but not least, dark chocolate has been shown to increase the good HDL cholesterol and especially the one enriched with cocoa polyphenols was also able to make the LDL more resistant to oxidative damage.
But remember, it’s not only the diet to pay attention to. It’s also the exercise and lowering the stress level. You can find some of the stress relief techniques that I use here.
Foods to eat:
- Fruits, vegetables & berries
- Foods high in soluble fibre like navy beans, Brussels sprouts or flaxseeds
- Nuts and seeds
- Fermented foods like kefir or kimchi
- Eggs (if you tolerate)
- Wild caught fish in variation
- Grass-fed beef and pasture raised chicken
- Healthy fats like extra virgin olive oil, fish oil, grass-fed butter, coconut oil and mixed nuts
- Dark (raw) chocolate
Probiotics to keep cholesterol in balance:
Lactobacillus acidophilus (L. acidophilus), found in fermented dairy products or in supplements, aids the immune system by keeping the beneficial bacteria in check in the gut. It’s known for its ability to balance cholesterol levels along with its other health benefits such as reducing the growth of Candida albicans, a fungus that can cause yeast infections. B. Longum on the other hand, have been shown to enhance BDNF production (happy mind!), reduce anxiety and also helps to maintain healthy cholesterol levels.
Previous blog post 2/3 about cholesterol
Note! I’m a Nutritional Therapist, not a doctor or a nutritionist, and I have learned my way through the hard way: by studying, experimenting, reading and investigating. All material on this website is provided for your information only and may not be construed as medical advice or instruction. No action or inaction should be taken based solely on the contents of this information; instead, readers should consult appropriate health professionals on any matter relating to their health and well-being. The Healing Foodie is not responsible for errors or omissions.