The One Thing You Need to Remember About Cholesterol in Your Diet

For 50 years doctors have ordered their patients to go on low-cholesterol or no-cholesterol diets, and for 50 years their patients by and large haven’t gotten any better from doing so. This very brief article will tell you the one thing you need to know about how many milligrams of cholesterol per day make a healthy diet:

Over 80 per cent of your body’s cholesterol is made by your liver,
not extracted from your food.

And the total amount of cholesterol in your bloodstream is very, very small.

Suppose you had an astronomically high total cholesterol reading of 1,000 mg/dl. (That’s 25.86 mmol/L.) In your entire bloodstream, you would have about 55 grams, or less than 2 ounces, of cholesterol. If you had a total cholesterol reading of 200 mg/dl, your would have about 5 grams, or about 1/5 of an ounce of cholesterol, in your entire body.

Now suppose you go to some strange foreign country where the health food products are labeled “New! Improved! Cholesterol Added!” and you ate a great big spoon of 25 grams of cholesterol. Would your body be overwhelmed? Would you keel over from a heart attack 5 minutes later?

The answer is no. When you eat lots of cholesterol, the enterocytes lining your intestine stop letting it into your body. The New England Journal of Medicine reported a case in which an 88-year-old man ate an average 25 soft-boiled eggs for 15 years and had normal cholesterol, because his body rejected over 80 per cent of the cholesterol in his food. The cholesterol never got into the bloodstream because there just are not enough receptor sites in the intestines to let it in.

And because cholesterol is used by absolutely every cell in the human body, our livers, intestines, adrenal glands, and gonads make large amounts of cholesterol from excess fat and carbohydrate stored in the form of triglycerides. Every cell in the body can make its own cholesterol from triglycerides, to a certain extent. Even if you eat no cholesterol at all, your body will make cholesterol.

Getting all the cholesterol out of your diet usually does not cause a dramatic change in your blood cholesterol, especially the kinds of cholesterol that are most important to predicting cardiovascular risk. There is one kind of cholesterol, however, that is definitely unhealthy in any amount, and that’s oxycholesterol.

Oxycholesterol is cholesterol found in food that has gone bad. This is the cholesterol in meat you left out too long after cooking it, or in cake mix (made with dried eggs) that you kept beyond its expiration date. It is the cholesterol that is found in the butter you use to sautee veggies.

Oxidized cholesterol is damaged cholesterol that is primed and waiting to be removed by the immune system if it gets inside your body. And, as discussed elsewhere on this site, it the combination of cholesterol and dead white blood cells that calcifies to form arterial plaques.

What about limiting cholesterol to lose weight? The simple fact is, you don’t eat enough cholesterol to make a major difference in your weight, anyway. Even 1,000 mg of cholesterol, which is about what you get if you dine on fast food every day, is just 10 calories – and cutting out half of 10 calories is not going to make your belly fat fade away.

If you want to lose weight, try getting just a little more of the healthy fats known as omega-3 fatty acids. As little as 3 grams of omega-3’s per day, about 5 capsules of fish oil or microalgae, relieves inflammation that makes up to 1/3 of the bulk of your belly. This extra water weight, trapped by inflamed fat and connective tissues, is a very easy target for shrinking your waistline and feeling better fast.

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.

Diet to Lower Cholesterol – Adding Protein May Be More Important than Avoiding Fat

Diets to lower cholesterol seldom get good results.

One of the most important problems in dieting to lower cholesterol is that the way most laboratories test blood for cholesterol, a low-calorie diet will appear (and only appear) to raise LDL cholesterol.

Medical laboratories measure total blood lipids, total cholesterol, HDL cholesterol, and triglycerides. They don’t measure the other two components of blood lipids, VLDL and LDL, separately. They simply estimate VLDL as one-fifth of triglycerides, and call what’s left LDL.

The problem with this approach is that diet and exercise lower triglycerides. If your triglyceride number goes down, then the way the formula works, your LDL number will go up. Tens of millions of people who care enough about their health to eat right and work out are told, wrongly, that their efforts aren’t working. If you have an doctor who will take the time to order the right tests (assuming your doctor is aware of the limitations of testing), then diet and exercise might work. But there is another approach that most doctors and most nutrition experts won’t tell you about.

The nutritional ingredient in a cholesterol-fighting diet most experts don’t know is the amino acid taurine. This amino acid is, along with caffeine, one of the active ingredients in a popular energy drink known as Red Bull. You should not drink Red Bull for your health, but taurine is extremely important for preventing heart disease.

The way cholesterol forms clogs has less to do with cholesterol and more to do with the immune system. A piece of cholesterol gets stuck to the lining of an artery. White blood cells known as macrophages use cholesterol as fuel, so they come to the cholesterol to feed on it.

The problem is, if the blood vessel is so small that it traps cholesterol, it is also so small that it can trap the macrophage. The macrophage can live out its life span and die on the artery wall, and then more macrophages can come along to remove it. They also get trapped, and eventually a small amount of cholesterol and a large amount of immune system debris calcifies and creates an artery-clogging plaque.

Taurine stops inflammation and stops the migration of macrophages to artery walls, especially in the blood vessels serving the brain. At the same time, taurine activates LDL receptors in the liver, taking LDL out of circulation and reducing the amount of cholesterol that otherwise might get trapped to form plaques. Also, taurine, along with magnesium, can help lower blood pressure.

How can you get your taurine? A taurine supplement every day takes care of any variation in the taurine content in the food you eat. And you can also get your taurine from seafood or meat. If you are a vegan, you probably need a vegetarian taurine supplement.

Selected Reference:

Yamori Y, Taguchi T, Hamada A, Kunimasa K, Mori H, Mori M. Taurine in health and diseases: consistent evidence from experimental and epidemiological studies. J Biomed Sci. 2010 Aug 24;17 Suppl 1:S6. Review.

The Three Steps to Achieving Healthy Cholesterol

Cholesterol treatment can be as easy as 1-2-3, but for effective cholesterol management, you need measurement, not guesswork. Here are the three most important considerations.

  1. Make sure your cholesterol needs treating.
  2. Medical science has known for many years that total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and HDL cholesterol are of limited use in predicting who will get heart disease and who will not. The really important ratio is the ratio of two different kinds of LDL-and the other numbers are all less useful.

    LDL cholesterol that is attached to a protein called apo-A does not cause heart disease. LDL cholesterol that is attached to a protein called apo-B does cause heart disease.

    You can high LDL, and if most of it is apo-A, you have no increased risk of heart disease. You can have low LDL, and if most of it is apo-B, you have a sharply increased risk of heart disease. Before you start any program of treatment that can cause side effects and cost you thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars, make sure you need treatment. And don’t rely on total cholesterol, HDL, and total LDL numbers to make your decision.

  3. Treat high cholesterol with diet first.
  4. Ironically, the way traditional cholesterol testing is done, the better your diet, the worse your cholesterol. Not only does the LDL number you get back from the lab not predict your risk of heart disease, it’s only an estimate. Most labs don’t measure LDL, they estimate it.

    If you go on a reduced-calorie or reduced-sugar diet, your triglycerides will go down, and when your triglycerides go down, the way the formula works, your estimated LDL will go up. Don’t let your doctor give you a cholesterol medication you don’t need. Insist on direct measurement of cholesterol.

    Once you are sure your cholesterol really is high, then avoid fasting and avoid low-fat diets. Why? Unless you get some monounsaturated fat in your diet, such as is in nuts and olive oil, your cholesterol levels will go up. If there is no other fat in your bloodstream, the fat released from your fat cells to be burned elsewhere in the body will tend to be processed as cholesterol, raising cholesterol levels, rather than lowering them. You need to reduce calories, but you also need to increase monounsaturated plant fats. And you need to make sure you are getting sophisticated cholesterol testing.

  5. If you take cholesterol medication, be sure to take fish oil and coenzyme Q10.
  6. If you really have elevated apo-B, then you probably actually do need statin medications. Statins work by stopping the creation of cholesterol in the liver. Interfering with these enzymes, however, also interferes with the production of heart-protective coenzyme Q10. As important as healthy cholesterol is stopping inflammation, with the help of products that are rich in omega-3 essential fatty acids such as fish oil and microalgae, and providing the heart with the coenzyme Q10 it needs to operate normally even when oxygen supply is poor.

The LDL Cholesterol/HDL Cholesterol Ratio is Obsolete

Doctors have been telling their patients for over 30 years that they need to bring their LDL (“bad“) cholesterol levels down and their HDL (“good“) cholesterol levels up. But it turns out that the LDL/HDL ratio isn’t really the best predictor of cardiovascular health.

Cholesterol is a fatty substance that doesn’t dissolve in water. Since the blood is mostly water, the only way the body can transport cholesterol from one tissue to another is by enclosing the cholesterol in a “balloon” made of water-soluble protein.

LDL or low-density lipoprotein is a bigger balloon. HDL or high-density cholesterol is a smaller balloon. Scientists used to think that because a bigger piece of cholesterol was more likely to get stuck in corner or turn of a blood vessel, LDL was more dangerous than HDL. That’s why lowering the LDL/HDL ratio was thought to be a good health objective.

Scientists now know that the size of the cholesterol particle does determine whether it is likely to be involved in making a “clog” in a blood vessel, but not in the way they previously thought. It turns out that bigger, fluffier pieces of LDL cholesterol don’t form plaques, but smaller, denser pieces of LDL cholesterol do. The bigger pieces of LDL cholesterol are attached to a protein known as apo-A, and the smaller pieces of LDL are attached to a protein known as apo-B.

You can have high LDL and low apo-B, and you don’t have an increased risk of heart disease. You can have low LDL and high apo-B, and you do have an increased risk of heart disease. The old tests never predicted heart disease very well.

So why do doctors continue to use tests that don’t really tell whether you are at increased risk for heart disease? In the words of two doctors who help run the National Cholesterol Education Program, “Because it will take time before apolipoprotein terminology is recognized by the general public and recommended by the NCEP Adult Treatment panel toevaluate risk, it may be more efficacious to continue adhering to the already familiar” LDL/HDL ratio.

Doctors who prescribe cholesterol-lowering medicines on the basis of LDL/HDL ratio won’t miss any patients who need the drug, but they will give the drug to some patients who don’t need it. Doctors who prescribe cholesterol-lowering medicines on the basis of the apo-B/apo-A ratio won’t miss any patients who need the drug, but they won’t expose other patients to side effects needlessly.

Should you insist on apo-B/apo-A testing before taking a statin drug. Absolutely! Don’t expose youself to unnecessary side effects. However, once you have started treatment, the more readily available and much less expensive LDL and HDL tests are a good “guestimate” of your progress.

The Truth About Cholesterol Lies Between the Extremes

Even if you think you know everything there is to know about cholesterol, there may still be a few more surprises in store. Check out these seven common cholesterol myths and the truth they conceal.

  1. Everybody needs treatment for high cholesterol.
  2. There really are doctors who would like to have statin medications added to drinking water. And almost anyone over 50 is going to be told he or she needs to start taking a statin to keep cholesterol under control. The simple fact is, however, that no study has ever found that lowering total cholesterol lowers the risk of cardiovascular disease, or that lowering cholesterol levels always results in better health.

  3. Nobody needs treatment for high cholesterol.
  4. The earliest studies of cholesterol were fraught with logical errors. Even after medicine discovered that the best indicator of cardiovascular risk, a measurement of the ratio of two of the proteins attached to LDL cholesterol, apoA1 and ApoB100, is the best predictor of heart disease, many doctors refuse to order the tests that could actually lead to treatments that save lives. Many health commentators and a few doctors with a holistic health orientation insist that since much of the science is bad and many medical educators are dishonest, then nobody actually needs treatment for high cholesterol. That isn’t true, although no one should get treatment without first having the correct cholesterol test.

  5. Eggs are evil, causing high cholesterol.
  6. In 1991, the New England Journal of Medicine famously reported the case of a then-88 year-old man who had eaten 20 to 30 soft-boiled eggs a day without developing high cholesterol. Eggs are high in cholesterol, but they also are high in lecithin, which causes much the cholesterol to stay in the intestines, never entering the body. Studies have found that eating 3 eggs for breakfast is healthier than eating cured pork and/or cheese.

  7. The standard American diet gives Americans the highest cholesterol in the world.
  8. The average total cholesterol level in the USA is 197 mg/dl. The average cholesterol level in Colombia is 244. Cholesterol levels in Norway, where people enjoy exceptionally high longevity, are only slightly lower than Colombia’s. Overall, Americans rank 83rd in total cholesterol and 13th in deaths from heart disease. The rate of heart disease in the USA is less than half of the rate in Slovakia, the country with most deaths related to heart disease, and 200% higher than the rate in Japan. Japan, however, has a much higher rate of deaths caused by stroke.

  9. Fasting lowers cholesterol.
  10. Actually, fasting raises cholesterol. When you fast, your body turns to your fat cells for energy, and cholesterol is one of the forms the body uses to transport fat from fat cells to other tissues that need it for fuel.

  11. Low-fat diets lower cholesterol.
  12. Low-fat diets can raise cholesterol for the same reasons that fasting raises cholesterol. Replacing animal fats with olive oil, peanut oil, and nuts, however, can actually lower cholesterol levels.

  13. High-cholesterol foods cause high cholesterol.
  14. The human body makes about 85 per cent of its cholesterol from excess fat and excess sugar in the diet. Eating low-calorie is more important than eating low-cholesterol foods.

Cholesterol Monitoring Devices – Checking Up on the Numbers You Get at the Doctor’s Office May Yield Surprising Results

Insurance companies usually hassle policy holders about getting reimbursement for home cholesterol monitoring devices. They correctly maintain that daily use of cholesterol meters and cholesterol monitors does not yield any information that improves outcomes in the fight against cardiovascular disease.

Having a cholesterol monitoring device for home use, however, can yield insights into testing problems that going to the doctor’s office usually can’t. Here are three things you can learn from home testing that you can’t learn from tests at the doctor’s office.

  1. Home testing can tell you what your cholesterol levels likely are when you aren’t fasting for a blood test.
  2. Fasting for a blood test doesn’t make your cholesterol levels go down. Fasting for a blood test makes your cholesterol levels go up. If you were to eat before you had a blood test for cholesterol, your LDL numbers would be 2 to 4 per cent lower and your HDL numbers would be 1 to 4 per cent lower. (Your blood glucose and triglyceride levels, however, would soar.) If your non-fasting cholesterol numbers were, for example, 10 to 20 per cent lower than they are at the doctor’s office, then you might have a good signal that there is something unusual about the way your body processes sugar, and you need testing for diabetes.

  3. Home testing can detect patterns of cholesterol levels that are related to the weather.
  4. The temperature inside and outside has a strong effect on your cholesterol levels. Scientists at the Harvard School of Public Health have found that for every 5°C (9° F) the temperature goes up outside, HDL goes down about 2 mg/dl and LDL goes up about 2 mg/dl. If you live in a climate that has hot summers, part of your “high cholesterol” may be due to the weather. While you may not want to move to Alaska just to avoid having to take Lipitor, you may want to be sure your doctor’s visits aren’t all during hot weather. A home monitor can tell you how important the weather is to your cardiovascular health.

  5. Home testing can tell you the relationships between cholesterol and other aspects of your health.
  6. People who have high cholesterol usually have been diagnosed with other health conditions. Testing your cholesterol at home can act as an early warning system for unhealthy changes in cholesterol brought on by medications for other conditions. For example, excessive use of colloidal silver can raise cholesterol levels. Hormone replacement therapy for both men and women can change cholesterol levels, as can treatment for arthritis and cancer.

What is the best home cholesterol monitoring device? Perhaps the most universally popular is the Lifestream cholesterol monitor. It offers easy testing for total cholesterol, HDL cholesterol, and triglycerides. You can use your fingers or your toes as testing sites, and testing is painless if you always use a fresh lancet before you draw blood, you always prick the sides of your fingers not the fleshy part of your finger at the end (where the nerves are), and you set your lancet for the lightest prick possible. Lifestream cholesterol monitors only require a tiny amount of blood.

Cholesterol Medication – Careful Attention to Blood Testing Can Tell for Sure

One of the ironies of the way doctors decide to put their patients on cholesterol medication is that the harder a patient works to control cholesterol by diet, the more likely they are to be told they have failed-even though the problem usually is the blood test, not the diet. Here is what every potential high cholesterol patient needs to know about blood tests.

Ordinary blood testing does not actually measure LDL cholesterol. LDL cholesterol is estimated as a percentage of the “left-overs” once total cholesterol, HDL, and triglycerides are estimated. The way the math works, your LDL number goes up when your triglycerides number goes down, because:

Estimated LDL = 1/5 of (Total Blood Lipids – Triglycerides – HDL Cholesterol)

Your triglycerides go down when you eat less sugar, when you exercise more, or when you get diabetes under better control. Doing these things for your health will make your LDL number-which is just a “guess”-go up.

Something else that can cause your LDL number to go up is going on a low-fat, low-calorie diet. If you eat less than your body needs every day, fat will be released from your fat cells for the rest of your body to use. This fat coming out of your fat cells raises your total blood lipids, and your estimated LDL number.

Go on a crash diet, start working out, and your doctor will tell you that your efforts aren’t working and you need to take a pill. This common method of measuring LDL cholesterol discourages taking control of your health, and causes some people to take potentially dangerous statin drugs they don’t really need.

There is a test that measures LDL cholesterol directly. It costs about $500. But if you are going to have an expensive test, you really shouldn’t be getting just an accurate LDL measurement.

There are actually two kinds of LDL cholesterol. One of them is attached to a protein called apo-A, and the other is attached to a protein called apo-B. The kind of cholesterol attached to apo-A does not clog your arteries. The kind of cholesterol attached to apo-B does.

At least when you start taking cholesterol medication, your doctor should know that your LDL cholesterol is mostly apo-B, or you don’t actually need the medication. Then once treatment is underway, the cheaper lab test may be a way to “estimate” your progress. The $500 or so you may have to pay out of pocket to get the right blood test may save you far more by keeping you from taking years of medication you don’t really need.

Even better, go to the doctor for apo-A and apo-B numbers, and then if you don’t need medication, start tracking your progress at home with a home cholesterol monitor. You will be able to see if your diet, exercise, and supplements are increasing your cancer-protective HDL cholesterol, something doctors can’t give you a pill to increase.

The Foods to Avoid High Cholesterol Probably Aren’t What You Think

It seems counterintuitive that eating fat might help remove the fat from your bloodstream, but that’s actually true. The diet gurus who told us that we could eat butter, bacon, and rib eye steaks and lower our cholesterol, however, probably were fibbing.

Over 100 clinical studies have found two surprising things:

  1. Going on a low-fat diet, if you are overweight, lowers HDL cholesterol and raises bloodstream fat levels (as fat is let out of your fat cells to make up for your consuming fewer fats and fewer calories).
  2. Eating foods that are high in monounsaturated fatty acids raises HDL cholesterol and keeps bloodstream fats at lower levels.

Studies conducted under the auspices of the American Heart Association have found that following a low-fat diet lowers risk of cardiovascular disease by about 12%. Following a lower-calorie but higher-fat diet with the addition of peanut oil lowers risk of cardiovascular disease about 16%. When peanuts, rather than peanut oil, are the source of added unsaturated fat, the reduction in the risk of cardiovascular disease is about 21%. And when olive oil is the source of added fat in an otherwise low-calorie diet, the reduction of risk of cardiovascular disease is about 25%.

How can you add fat to your diet while lowering calories? You don’t eat as much of other foods. Usually this just means cutting out fried foods, and getting your fats in the form of salad dressings or sauces you pour over vegetables. If you eat bread, olive oil can be used instead of butter.

It is not especially important to avoid high-cholesterol foods such as eggs. That is because only about 15 per cent of cholesterol comes from food, and 85 per cent of cholesterol is made from excess fats and sugars. The kind of fat in peanuts, peanut oil, and olive oil, however, is harder for the liver to turn into cholesterol, and also harder for fat cells to store.

So, if you eat healthy fats, can you just eat as much as you want? No! One of the uses of cholesterol in the human body is as an energy source. If you eat more total fats and carbs than your body needs, your cholesterol is likely to go up. You may not have to avoid all fat, but do have to avoid overeating.

Other studies have found similar benefits from macadamia nut oil, macadamias, almonds, and walnuts, up to 300 calories a day of any of these foods (not 300 calories a day of each). Think of these nuts as “good cholesterol food.” Use high-quality plant oils for flavor and texture, avoid fat from meats, and see if your LDL goes down and your HDL goes up. The foods in your low-cholesterol diet to avoid high cholesterol are not necessarily all fat-free.

There is one other benefit to eating nuts. They help with weight control. Research studies, most of them done in Australia, have found that adding a “handful” (up to 3-1/2 oz/100 g) of almonds or macadamias to the diet every day, without eliminating any other food, helps control cholesterol and lower weight. The effects are not spectacular, only about 1 pound (500 g) per month. But nuts are one way to eat more and weigh less, even while lowering cholesterol.

Selected References:

Montalto MB, Bensadoun A. Lipoprotein lipase synthesis and secretion: effects of concentration and type of fatty acids in adipocyte cell culture. J Lipid Res 1993;34:397-407.

Reaven PD, Parthasarathy S, Grasse BJ, Miller E, Steingerg D, Witztum JL. Effects of oleate-enriched and linoleate-enriched diets on the susceptibility of low-density lipoprotein to oxidative modification and hypercholesterolemic subjects. J Clin Invest 1993;91:668-76.

Does Cholesterol Really Count in Women’s Health?

For nearly 50 years women have been told (1) they are not as likely to have heart attacks as men and (2) they need to prevent heart attacks by keeping cholesterol levels low. The result has been that women don’t usually get treatment as quickly, even if they go to the emergency room, but women still have to take elaborate combinations of medications to keep cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood sugars under control. But what if the real culprit in women’s heart disease were something entirely different?

That’s what some of the latest research is finding, at least for women who are overweight. Before overweight women ever have high cholesterol and long before they develop heart or vascular disease, scientists have found that they experience elevations in a substance called serum neutrophil elastase.

The fundamental heart disease risk factor you probably have never heard of (and your doctor hasn’t, either). Chances are you, and your doctor, have never heard of serum neutrophil elastase. What this substance does is (1) to make arteries and air passages inflexible to stop germs from coming inside the body and (2) to increase production of the other chemicals generated by the immune system to cause inflammation, especially inflammatory chemicals produced by the white blood cells known as neutrophils.

Why elasticity is as important as being “clog” free. When your blood vessels are less flexible, your blood pressure goes up. When your immune system churns out more inflammatory chemicals, more white blood cells go to your arteries and find cholesterol, but because your blood vessels are less flexible, they tend to get stuck. It’s a combination of cholesterol and migrating white blood cells that form the plaques that cause atherosclerosis, and in turn, heart attack and certain kinds of stroke.

The research tells us that if you could stop the process before cholesterol becomes important, then you might be able to prevent heart disease and other diseases of circulation, as well as diseases caused by stiffness in the bronchial passages, such as COPD. But how do you do that?

Helping blood vessels stay elastic with hawthorn. Medical science has been so fixated on treating cholesterol that it hasn’t developed treatments that control serum neutrophil elastase. Fortunately, Mother Nature provides some herbal treatments that stop the action of this substance, such as hawthorn.

Hawthorn extracts have been studied in over 500 laboratory and clinical trials. They do lower cholesterol and blood pressure, but their effect on serum neutrophil elastase is probably more important. Researchers have also found that even if heart attack and stroke occur, hawthorn helps minimize damage, by keeping the production of inflammatory chemicals in check as cells “wake up” when blood flow is restored.

Special value in women’s health. Especially if you are a woman, and especially if you have an issue with weight, hawthorn extracts may be very useful to you. They won’t interfere with any other treatments you choose to take for high cholesterol or heart health, but they may take care of the underlying health problems that lead to heart disease.

Selected References:

Cuenca-Lopez MD, Brea D, Galindo MF, Anton-Martinez D, Sanz MJ, Agulla J, Castillo J, Jordan J. Inflammatory response during ischaemic processes: adhesion molecules and immunomodulation. Rev Neurol. 2010;51:30-40.

Pittler MH, Guo R, Ernst E. Hawthorn extract for treating chronic heart failure. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2008;1:CD005312