According to the National Center for Health Statistics at the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, some of the most prevalent health issues facing the world today are heart disease, cancer, stroke, AIDS, diabetes, pneumonia/influenza, chronic pulmonary diseases (asthma, bronchitis), and infant mortality. Neurological diseases such as the autism spectrum, ADD and ADHD, bipolar syndrome, and schizophrenia are just the latest in a long run of potentially life-threatening ailments that humans (and their pets) have been facing since the modernization of agriculture and food processing techniques “advanced” us into the 20th century.
Most modern diseases are brought about by chronic inflammation, not the kind that occurs when you’re injured and the injury sight begins to swell, but the kind that is wreaking havoc at the cellular level in the bodies of most people every day. Low immune response due to lack of nutritional support does not allow the body to protect and heal itself.
What is cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a fatty substance produced by the liver that performs or assists in thousands of bodily functions such as building cell membranes, nerve sheaths, and much of your brain. It’s vital to hormone production and metabolizes all the fat soluble vitamins like vitamin A, D, E and K, among other things. Without it you would die.
- LDL, low-density lipoprotein, is known as the bad cholesterol. LDLs pick up cholesterol from the liver and deliver it to cells.
- HDL, high-density lipoprotein, is known as the good cholesterol. HDLs remove excess cholesterol from the blood and take it to the liver.
- Your body makes its own cholesterol but has the ability to down-regulate if it senses too much cholesterol in the blood. When you reduce your consumption or take drugs to reduce cholesterol, your body up-regulates the production. It tries to make more to compensate for what’s missing.
- Dietary cholesterol (cholesterol from food) can only be obtained from animal products.
Despite previous medical and pharmaceutical consensus, however, new studies are showing that dietary cholesterol may actually stop inflammation, prevent blood clots from forming, support the immune system, and prevent disease causing mutations in cells.
- Countries with higher average cholesterol have less heart disease
- Popular statin drugs do not lower cholesterol, they lower inflammation (typically caused by blood sugar spikes)
- The 2004 National Cholesterol Education Program guidelines have been expanded to recommend that people who don’t have heart disease should take statins to prevent heart disease (8 of the 9 panel experts had pharmaceutical industry ties).
- People with the lowest cholesterol as they age are at highest risk for cognitive impairments, dementia and brain degeneration, heart disease, and death.
Aim for high HDL and low triglycerides
Triglyceride is the name we give to the fatty acids once they are circulating in the bloodstreams. High levels are a bad thing and are caused mainly by chronically high carbohydrate intake from grains and legumes.
- To reach a higher level of HDL, be sure to reduce your sources of omega-6 fats, mainly from industrially processed vegetable seed oils, but also from an excess of nuts.
- Taking a good quality fish oil daily is a good way to increase omega-3 fatty acids.
- Saturated fats will also raise the good HDL. Think coconut oil, lard, butter, and beef tallow.
- Cut sugars, grains, and refined carbohydrates and eat the fat, the meat and the egg yolks.
Cholesterol and the Heart
With heart disease being at the top of the list of modern diseases, the heart-diet theory is a good place to begin looking at the connection between cholesterol and heart disease.
The modern hypothesis about heart disease - the heart-diet theory - assumes that a diet rich in saturated fat and cholesterol contributes greatly to heart disease. Statistics vary by source and are affected by age, race and gender, but the existing suggestions about the heart and diet assume cholesterol as the causation for clogged arteries leading to heart disease.
Coronary Heart Disease (CHD) is a term which encompasses a variety of conditions including the buildup of plaque within the walls of the arteries that supply the heart, inflammation and a breakdown of the operation of the heart muscle, and high blood pressure.
In the early part of the 20th century, most heart disease was caused by infection and immune system compromise. Heart disease was rare and contributed to only 8% of all deaths. With the discovery of antibiotics, this cause of heart disease had virtually been eliminated.
- Today, heart disease accounts for greater than 45% of all deaths
- 75% of people who have heart attacks have normal cholesterol levels
Cholesterol and the Brain
Cholesterol has received a bad reputation in the past 50-60 years. Could it be that the studies done on cholesterol are misleading, even to the scientists who performed them? The latest studies and some of the leading experts in brain plasticity and health show us that cholesterol is not bad; it’s actually something the human brain needs.
25% of the cholesterol in our body is found in the brain. It works to facilitate membrane function and is the raw material for making progesterone, estrogen, cortisol, testosterone and vitamin D. When we think of antioxidants, we think of colorful berries and green leafy vegetables, but cholesterol also acts as an antioxidant.
- One study (1) showed that memory function was best in test subjects with the highest overall levels of cholesterol, and LDL cholesterol in particular.
- Some studies found a correlation between dementia and low levels of cholesterol.
Inflammation is the root of the problem
Elevated serum levels of cholesterol are a symptom of the underlying problem in your body, not the cause of the problem, which is inflammation. Cholesterol is sent to the artery to heal the inflammation. If it is successful, everything returns to normal. If the inflammation doesn’t subside, more cholesterol is sent and starts to accumulate around the artery as a band aid. This is how plaque starts to form.
The real cause of inflammation is high levels of insulin, a reaction to excess carbohydrate/refined sugar consumption that creates blood sugar spikes. Trans-fats and industrially processed vegetable seed oils also cause inflammation. We only really see any negative effects of LDL when it becomes oxidized by free radicals. A diet high in antioxidants (vegetables and fruits) and low in carbohydrates will reduce factors of oxidation in the body.
Natural Health: Understanding Food
Some scientists are trending toward a belief that lifestyle, including food, influences and controls a whopping 95% of our overall condition.
According to the Weston A. Price Foundation, the following are the politically correct dietary guidelines currently in vogue:
- Avoid saturated fats
- Limit cholesterol in food
- Use more polyunsaturated oils
- Cut back on eggs or eat only egg whites
- Eat lean meat and limit red meat
- Drink low fat milk and lots of it to get necessary calcium
- Limit consumption of fat to 30% of calories
- Eat 6-11 servings of grains per day
- Restrict salt
- Eat at least 5 servings of fruits and vegetables per day
- Choose more “protein rich” soy foods over animal proteins
The danger of these modern guidelines is that the recommended limitations have been established based on foods that are prepackaged, adulterated and modified, contain artificial chemicals, and high fructose corn syrup and artificial sweeteners, all of which may cause inflammation. This led to the assumption that it’s the type of food that causes problems, with no thought given to industrial processing.
Let's take a look at these same foods from a different perspective.
- Saturated fats - provide cell membrane integrity and enhance the body's ability to use essential fatty acids. They protect the liver and are the preferred food for the heart and brain. They do not cause heart disease. Studies that indicate otherwise did not take into consideration the processed carbohydrates ingested by the study subjects.
- Dietary cholesterol - contributes to the strength of the intestinal wall and helps babies and children develop a healthy brain and nervous system. Foods that contain cholesterol also contain other nutrients. Only oxidized cholesterol contributes to heart disease. Powdered milk and powdered eggs contain oxidized cholesterol and powdered milk is added to 1% and 2% milk.
- Polyunsaturates - are new to the human diet due to modernization and mechanization. They contribute to learning disabilities, intestinal problems, heart disease, cancer, and autoimmune diseases, among other things.
- Grassfed red meat - is a rich source of nutrients, including vitamins B12, B6, zinc, phosphorus, carnitine, and coenzyme Q10 that protect the heart and nervous system.
- Eggs - provide excellent protein and many important fatty acids which contribute to the health of the brain and nervous system. Egg substitutes have been shown to cause rapid death in test animals.
- Lowfat and nonfat milk - lacks fat soluble vitamins needed to assimilate the protein and minerals in the milk itself. Consumption of low fat foods (foods which have had the fat removed, not foods which are naturally low in fat) can lead to depletion of vitamins A and D.
- 30% of calories as fat - is too low for most people and can lead to low blood sugar and fatigue. Traditional diets - diets before the mechanization of foods - contained 40% to 80% of calories from fat, mostly from animal origins. The difference was that the animals were not pumped with steroids, hormones, antibiotics, and pesticide laden processed feed. Toxins are stored in the fatty tissue of animals (including humans) so a clean animal will contain clean fat.
- Most grain products - are made from wheat flour which has been processed and refined, bleached and stripped, leaving it devoid of nutrients. Modern wheat is a hybrid, containing newer proteins which are now believed to trigger inflammatory responses, nutrient deficiencies and intestinal problems including Celiac disease.
- Salt or sodium - is crucial to digestion and assimilation. The cells need both potassium on the inside and sodium on the outside to maintain proper balance and function. Many foods contain naturally occurring sodium and should not be avoided. Rock or mineral salt (table salt) contains a higher percentage of sodium to potassium. Table salt has had all the minerals removed except sodium and potassium. Sea salt contains a higher percentage of potassium to sodium.
- Fruits and vegetables (plants) - receive an average of 10 applications of pesticides during their growing and storage lifetime. Wash produce thoroughly or eat organically grown food.
- Modern soy products (another hybrid) - block mineral absorption, inhibit protein digestion, depress thyroid function, and contain potent carcinogens.
So how do we make sense of the foods available to us? Eat food in its most natural state and enjoy every part of it including cholesterol and fat from healthy animals. Stay away from the processed, prepackaged, prepared stuff. Go organic and grass fed if you can and don’t worry about counting calories. Eat to live!