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Cholesterol: The Most Misunderstood Blood Marker

Today’s area of focus is arguably the most misunderstood aspect of blood tests – cholesterol.

According to the American Heart Association, cholesterol is a soft, fat-like, waxy substance found in the bloodstream and in all your body’s cells. It’s an important part of a healthy body because it’s used for producing cell membranes and some hormones, and serves other needed bodily functions. But too high a level of cholesterol in the blood is said to be a major risk for coronary heart disease, which leads to heart attack. It’s also a risk factor for stroke. You get cholesterol in two ways. Your body makes some of it, and the rest comes from cholesterol in animal products that you eat, such as meats, poultry, fish, eggs, butter, cheese and whole milk. Some foods that don’t contain animal products may contain trans-fats, which cause your body to make more cholesterol.

Foods with saturated fats also cause the body to make more cholesterol. Cholesterol and other fats can’t dissolve in the blood. They have to be transported to and from the cells by special carriers called lipoproteins. There are two kinds that you need to know about. Low-density lipoprotein, or LDL, is known as the “bad” cholesterol. Too much LDL cholesterol can clog your arteries, increasing your risk of heart attack and stroke. High-density lipoprotein, or HDL, is known as the “good” cholesterol. Your body makes HDL cholesterol for your protection. It carries cholesterol away from your arteries. Studies suggest that high levels of HDL cholesterol reduce your risk of heart attack.

A closer look at some of the recent, cutting edge data suggests a much different picture. Here are some of the examples:

Cholesterol is not a deadly poison, but a substance vital to the cells of all mammals. There are no such things as “good” or “bad” cholesterol, but mental stress, physical activity and change of body weight may influence the level of blood cholesterol. A high cholesterol is not dangerous by itself, but may reflect an unhealthy condition, or it may be totally innocent. Look for a pattern, not an individual marker alone.

– A high blood cholesterol is said to promote atherosclerosis and thus also coronary heart disease. But many studies have shown that people whose blood cholesterol is low become just as atherosclerotic as people whose cholesterol is high. It has been my experience that low levels are MORE dangerous than high levels.

– Your body produces three to four times more cholesterol than you eat. The production of cholesterol increases when you eat little cholesterol and decreases when you eat much. This explains why the “prudent” diet cannot lower cholesterol more than on average a few per cent. – There is no evidence that too much animal fat and cholesterol in the diet promotes atherosclerosis or heart attacks. For instance, more than twenty studies have shown that people who have had a heart attack haven’t eaten more fat of any kind than other people, and degree of atherosclerosis at autopsy is unrelated with the diet.

– One effective way to lower cholesterol is with drugs, but neither heart mortality or total mortality have been improved with drugs the effect of which is cholesterol-lowering only. On the contrary, these drugs are dangerous to your health and may shorten your life. – The new cholesterol-lowering drugs, the statins, do prevent cardio-vascular disease, but this is due to other mechanisms than cholesterol-lowering. Unfortunately, they also stimulate cancer in rodents.

– Many of these facts have been presented in scientific journals and books for decades but are rarely told to the public by the proponents of the diet-heart idea.

When analyzing blood tests, here is the important guideline I use:

— a level above 240 correlates with cardiovascular disease only in men between the ages of 35 and 55. The risk of stroke and potentially cancer increases below 150. If you want a blood test that will accurately predict the risk of heart disease, consider Homocysteine testing.

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