The Truth About Cholesterol
The functional approach to understanding and testing cholesterol is different from your typical experience with your primary care physician. When your doctor screens you for cardiovascular disease risk, he or she will typically test for total cholesterol, LDL, HDL, and triglycerides. Unfortunately, this “standard of care” testing gives us an incomplete picture of your blood lipids and is a very poor predictor for a future cardiovascular event such as a heart attack, stroke, and death, as nearly half of people who suffer heart attacks have perfectly normal cholesterol numbers! Additionally, when you get your report back, your doctor will simply look at your lipid numbers to see if they are within the conventional standard reference range (less than 200 for total cholesterol and less than 100 for LDL). If your numbers are higher than the values mentioned, your doctor will likely recommend a pharmaceutical like a statin drug. Regardless of this being the standard American approach to diagnosing and treating heart disease risk factors, death and complications due to cardiovascular disease continue to soar to all time highs! These are simply the results of treating a lifestyle-induced condition with a drug only approach.
Another problematic aspect of our current western approach to cholesterol and heart disease is the over treatment of cholesterol because of the prevailing view of cholesterol as an “evil” that we must suppress. It’s no secret that much of popular culture and even most healthcare providers still believe the medical myth that cholesterol and fat in the diet is bad for us, it raises our blood cholesterol, and, therefore, raises our heart disease risk. However, recent analysis of the scientific literature just does not support this “Diet Heart Hypothesis”, which has since been debunked by numerous well-performed studies over the past several decades compelling even the founder of the “Diet Heart Hypothesis” to come out in opposition to the idea that dietary fat and cholesterol cause heart disease. We bring this up because the demonization of cholesterol since the 1960’s has resulted in where we are today with regards to cholesterol, particularly, a lack of understanding of what causes cholesterol in the body to elevate resulting in the over treatment of “high” cholesterol levels with dangerous statin drugs.
Cholesterol is essential for optimal human health. It is necessary for all hormone production in our bodies as well as numerous other functions that are vital to our health and longevity. Cholesterol is needed to produce bile acids, which are needed to digest fats. It is a major component of every one of our cells that make up our tissues, organs and organ systems. Therefore, low cholesterol equals unhealthy cells, which equals an unhealthy body. Our brains are made up of a huge amount of cholesterol, so it’s no surprise that those with the lowest blood cholesterol levels have the worst memory and cognition compared to their counterparts with higher cholesterol levels. Additionally, if our cholesterol is driven too low, often due to statin drug use, we will not have the basic building blocks needed to produce adequate hormone levels (ie estrogen, testosterone, progesterone, thyroid hormones, blood pressure hormones, stress hormones, vitamin D, etc). Lastly, cholesterol is a major component of breast milk. It makes no sense from a biological-evolutionary standpoint that mothers would produce a substance (cholesterol) that a baby can consume, almost exclusively, for up to the fist several years of life, which is inherently harmful to the baby. The fact is, cholesterol isn’t harmful, it is a major component of breast milk because it is necessary for optimal health and development of infants and young children.
For more information about cholesterol and heart health, Dr. Riggs has multiple podcasts available on our website here. Episode 2, 3, and the second half of episode 23 are a great place to begin. You can also check of the evidence-based scientific research articles to support what we discuss on the “Research Article” tab on our website.
At 5280 Functional Medicine, we go above and beyond the basic lipid panel, which focuses of the suppression of cholesterol and has completely failed us as a nation at reducing the incidence of cardiovascular events. We run advanced comprehensive cardiometabolic blood testing that gives us the information needed to gather a more comprehensive picture of what is happening internally. We then use that information to custom tailor a food and lifestyle plan specific to your body’s needs. This helps us provide our patients with natural, holistic, and conservative means of normalizing blood lipids, as well as many other biomarkers, which can effectively prevent and reverse the vast majority of patients with cardiovascular disease risk factors.
If you have been tested with a standard lipid profile and have concerns or have a family history of heart disease, heart attack, or stroke, we strongly recommend having a full cardiovascular risk assessment run so that we can catch signs of dysfunction early. Even if you have already been diagnosed with high cholesterol, dislipidemia, or hypercholesterolemia, digging deeper with the full cardiovascular risk assessment can provide you with more information and data to help you make decisions about lifestyle, including supplementation, movement, and tailored nutritional guidance.