Father Andrew's Hot Body Gym

August 29, 2009

Cholesterol: a Big, Fat Red Herring

Filed under: diet — Tags: , , , , — Mara @ 5:01 pm

My mother is among those who have fallen victim to the cholesterol myth: the notion that high LDL cholesterol levels will cause an untimely and preventable death via heart disease. Eliciting less fear than perhaps only the four horsemen of the apocalypse, unfortunate owners of such high levels of this evil substance will go to great lengths to lower their levels, including eliminating nearly all fat and therefore often a lot of protein from their diets and taking statins.

However, Big Bad Cholesterol has not actually been shown to have any negative effects on the body at all. In fact, cholesterol is essential to the functioning of a healthy body including building and maintaining cellular walls, metabolizing fat soluble vitamins, and kick-starting the body’s synthesis of many hormones, including the sex hormones. This is a classic case of confusing correlation with causation, and the result is one of the biggest misdirections of health related concern in recent history.

Here’s how the story goes, according to Mark’s Daily Apple:

Heart disease took off in the early part of the twentieth century, and doctors frantically searched for the cause throughout the next several decades. Tests in the fifties initially showed an association between early death by heart disease and fat deposits and lesions along artery walls. Because cholesterol was found to be present in those deposits (of course it would!) and because researchers had previously associated familial hypercholesterolaemia (hereditary high blood cholesterol) with heart disease, they concluded that cholesterol must be the culprit. In fact, what happens is that in response to an inflammatory situation, the body uses cholesterol as a “band-aid” to temporarily cover any lesions in the arterial wall. In the event the inflammation is resolved, the band-aid goes away and repair takes place. No harm, no foul. Unfortunately, in most cases, the inflammation proceeds, the cholesterol plaque is eventually acted on by macrophages and is oxidized to a point at which it takes up more space in the artery, slows arterial flow and eventually can break loose to form a clot. And all this time the cholesterol was just trying to be the good guy! Blaming cholesterol for all this is like blaming a cut finger on all the band-aids you have lying around your house.

So yes, higher cholesterol levels might be a sign that you have some heart disease precursors flaring up, but the solution is not to attack the messenger.

Not only is causation out, the correlation is even questionable. The World Health Organization recently conducted a study in which they attempted to find any correlation between elevated cholesterol levels and the incidence of heart disease. You can watch a 2 minute clip about it on youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i8SSCNaaDcE&feature=player_embedded. No correlation could be found.

So what actually causes heart disease? Check out this video on youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UkhFe7Sb7r4&feature=related. Sugar and trans fats are the real villans here, and lowering our cholesterol may actually have adverse effects such as messing up hormone production and brain function! It seems clear that to focus on cholesterol levels while ignoring things like insulin response and inflammatory foods is a severe, and costly, misuse of our energies.

But how do we fly in the face of the medical consensus? If I were in my mother’s place, would I feel comfortable telling my doctor I’m not concerned about my cholesterol levels and so to back off? It would be hard. But before we scoop the yolk out of all our eggs, switch to skim milk, and conflate red meat with Satan himself, let’s examine the facts for ourselves. Let’s look closely at the darkened visage of cholesterol, but let’s also take a good long look at the Great White Savior governmental and food industry nutrition “experts” point us to: carbohydrates, particularly grains.

Ultimately, only time and careful research can tell for sure. So maybe all we can do in the meantime is try it out for ourselves, listening to our bodies, and trying to make decisions informed by more than the hype.

I’ll leave you with a quote from the wall on Mark’s Daily Apple:

Funny how cholesterol helps to keep the brain active in older people…and then come statins (cholesterol lowering meds) and lower cholesterol initiatives… and then a huge rise in alzheimers…hmm…

Check out http://www.marksdailyapple.com/cholesterol/ for more info.


  1. Here is a truly amazing story from MDA about someone who went Primal to beat diabetes and high cholesterol.



    Comment by Maravilla — August 29, 2009 @ 7:08 pm

  2. […] recent research has stolen some of cholesterol’s thunder, and even saturated fat is now perhaps only a red […]

    Pingback by Big Pharma Finally Catches the Fish « Father Andrew's Hot Body Gym — April 2, 2010 @ 7:50 pm

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