Healthy Cholesterol Levels – They Probably Are Not What You Think

For many years, experts have been telling us that the single most important thing to do for our cardiovascular health is to lower our cholesterol. And for many years, other experts have been telling us that the link between high cholesterol and heart disease is just a myth, that there is nothing anyone needs to about high cholesterol. Both sets of experts are telling untruths – and if they read the science, they know it.

Every cell in the human body uses cholesterol, and the bloodstream carries cholesterol to every cell. Because cholesterol is a fat and the blood is mostly water, cholesterol has to be coated in a shell of protein that is water-soluble, fitting over the cholesterol like a balloon.

No one cell uses all the cholesterol in a “balloon,” so the piece of cholesterol gets smaller and smaller as it gets used to down to its hard, dense core. The biggest pieces of cholesterol are covered with very low-density lipoprotein or VLDL, a lipoprotein just being the kind of protein that covers and carries cholesterol. As the cholesterol gets passed from cell to cell, it shrinks. VLDL becomes LDL, or low-density lipoprotein, and LDL becomes HDL, or high-density protein.

It used to be thought that the bigger LDL particles were more likely to get stuck in the lining of arteries, but that theory didn’t explain why VLDL didn’t cause even more hardening of the arteries than LDL. Then scientists learned that it wasn’t the cholesterol on the inside of the particle that calcified and got stuck in the lining of a blood vessel, it was the protein on the outside.

Moreover, it turned out that not every particle of LDL causes arterial damage. VLDL and the larger particles of LDL, it turns out, stop bacteria from infecting human cells. They are an important part of our immune defense.

Smaller particles of LDL cholesterol, however, feed cells in the immune system. The white blood cells that destroy bacteria use the smaller pieces of LDL as fuel, not VLDL, not larger LDL, or HDL, just these specific kinds of LDL. When these immune system cells feed on cholesterol that sticks to the lining of blood vessels, they can get stuck, and it’s the white blood cell plus the cholesterol that actually causes the calcified clog.

So what does this tell us about hundreds of millions of cholesterol tests? Tests of total cholesterol, HDL, and “LDL” don’t predict anything about heart health. (LDL isn’t even actually measured.) The only cholesterol test that predicts your heart health is the ratio of little pieces of LDL, which are attached to a protein called apo-B, to bigger pieces of LDL, which are attached to a protein called apo-A. Your doctor should know this, and be able to explain to you why you should or should not get an apo-B/apo-A test rather than the standard tests for cholesterol levels. If your doctor can’t, go somewhere else!

After this revelation, some “health experts” tell you that since the standard tests for cholesterol don’t predict anything, there is nothing to be done to protect your heart. That is as wrong as the lies that total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol predict heart disease. There certainly are doctor-directed tests that count:

  1. Triglycerides. Your body uses excess sugars and fats to make triglycerides, and triglycerides to make LDL. You need to keep your triglycerides below 150 mg/dl, and a great way to do this is with fish oil or microalgae.
  2. Blood pressure. When your blood pressure goes over 140/85 and stays there, your arteries are stressed. Tiny cracks can develop and catch cholesterol, and then the immune system can calcify it. Keeping your blood pressure under good control is far more important than your total cholesterol number.
  3. Cardiac specific C-reactive protein, also known as C-RP. This protein is a measure of inflammation in your heart and major blood vessels. Inflamed blood vessels tighten and narrow, and narrow blood vessels are more likely to be blocked by clots of red blood cells, even if you don’t have “clogs.”
  4. Apo-B and apo-A, as described above.
  5. EKG, to determine if you have already had a silent heart attack.
  6. Medical experts don’t tell the general public which numbers really count because it would be so hard to explain away the mistakes of the past 50 years. You, however, don’t have to repeat those mistakes as you pursue cardiovascular health.