A woman visited me of late who told me that her doctor discovered that she had very high cholesterol- over 300. He was quite alarmed, and he immediately ordered tests, including a carotid artery ultrasound. This is actually a very good test because it’s safe, non-intrusive, not terribly expensive, and it tells you whether you have blockages in your carotid arteries. And she doesn’t have them.
So, here she has high cholesterol, and who knows how long she’s had it, and yet, her carotid arteries are clear. And she is 72 years old.
But undaunted, her doctor kept testing, and he ordered a coronary calcium CT test. This is I do NOT recommend because it involves a colossal amount of ionizing radiation. However, she did it, and the result showed that she does not have plaquing in her coronary arteries.
Let me qualify that by saying I didn’t see her test results. She just said that he said her coronary arteries are clear. Chances are great that she has some coronary plaquing because nearly everybody does. But, she doesn’t have clinical heart disease, and he told her so. And remember, he was looking for it.
So, there you have it: this woman with sky-high cholesterol does not have heart disease. And I think it tells us something, that there is no direct correlation between the level of cholesterol in the blood and the degree of heart disease.
And as one variable- the level of blood cholesterol- it doesn’t make sense that, by itself, it should lead to heart disease. Heart disease is a process that involves many things- not just cholesterol. We know it involves arterial inflammation. We know it involves specific irritants, such as tobacco smoke, which is highly atherogenic. And there is no cholesterol in tobacco. We know it involves certain biochemical abnormalities, such as high homocysteine. We know that excess iron leads to heart disease. And so on, and so on. We are talking about a very complex pathological process, and it is not a simple matter of having too much cholesterol in your blood, and therefore, it sticks to your arteries. That’s not the way it works.
The level of cholesterol in the blood is probably a very minor factor in most cases. Think about it: If your cholesterol is above 200, today, you are considered to have high cholesterol, and thousands upon thousands of doctors will put you on a statin drug automatically. But, if your cholesterol is say 150, that considered to be fine.
But, why should a 25% difference in the cholesterol level have any bearing on whether plaquing occurs? If there is a tendency for plaquing to occur, there is plenty enough cholesterol at 150 to support the process. And just because you have more than 150, why should it matter? We are not talking about a passive process in which cholesterol is just sticking. An arterial plaque is a complicated thing that contains not just cholesterol but inflammatory cells, macrophages, fibrin, calcium, and more. The idea that the level of cholesterol in the blood drives the process, the result of a gradient, is ridiculous. It can’t possibly be as simple as that.
And I believe that’s why pharmaceutical treatments that force the blood level of cholesterol down have been so disappointing. The benefit, the protective effect, the actual mathematical reduction in risk, say from taking stains, is miniscule.
And what little reduction of risk there is may be do to effects that have nothing to do with cholesterol. It’s known, for instance, that statins have anti-inflammatory effects, and that may account for the very slight benefit- if there is any.
But, even if there is a slight benefit, we know that statins increase the risk of diabetes and the risk of cancer. Heart disease, cancer, and diabetes are the three big killers. So, if statins increase the risk of 2 out of the 3, what good are they?
There is some irony here because even though I am opposed to the villainizing of cholesterol, I still think that the healthiest way to eat is a plant-based diet that emphasizes fresh fruits and vegetables, green salads, raw nuts, and includes some beans and legumes. And I am not opposed to eating whole grains either, although I put them on a lower tier. But, the point is that none of these foods contain cholesterol. So, if you eat that way exclusively, you won’t be getting any cholesterol in your diet. Plus, all the fiber in these foods, tends to prevent the cholesterol excreted by your liver from being reabsorbed. And the result is, that you are probably going to wind up with a pretty low cholesterol.
So, the irony is that I accept that lower blood cholesterol, when it results from this kind of eating, is fine; it’s healthy. But, it is NOT necessarily healthier because the cholesterol is lower. It’s healthier because the diet is healthier. It does a lot of good things for your body, and more important things than lowering your cholesterol.
But, what if you eat that way, and your cholesterol is still high? Say, because you are one of those people whose body makes a lot of cholesterol. Should you take a statin drug then? I wouldn’t. I really truly wouldn’t.
And I’ll admit that it’s not an issue for me because my cholesterol has never been high. It typically runs around 150 or 160. And I do eat a mostly plant-based diet and only rarely make exceptions. But, I would NEVER, under any circumstances, take a statin drug- even if my cholesterol were to rise.
I have a lot of experience with therapeutic fasting, and we know that fasting reverses heart disease, that plaques will undergo some reversal as a result of the fasting process. However, while fasting, the blood cholesterol level goes up, and I’ve seen it go way up- well over 300. I’ve seen it close to 400. And, we know why it goes up during fasting. It goes up because the body is breaking down fat from fat cells, which contain a lot of cholesterol, which has to be moved out. And, as the body dissolves plaques, that cholesterol has to be moved out as well.
So, paradoxically, during fasting, even though your body is actively reversing arterial plaque, your blood cholesterol is high. If high blood cholesterol automatically pushes the heart disease gradient, then fasting should worsen heart disease, yet, we know, it doesn’t. We know, beyond a doubt, that it helps heart disease, and it’s one of the best things you can do for heart disease.
So, the idea the high cholesterol means more heart disease is just one of those truisms that isn’t true. Yet today, many doctors, solely on the basis of a high blood cholesterol alone, will put a patient on a statin drug- for the rest of his life.
I tell you, it’s crazy. It’s an example of “group think” of the worst kind.
I guarantee you that no matter what my cholesterol does in the future, and I test it every year, I will never, under any circumstances, take a statin drug or any other medical drug to lower it. I consider that a racket, the cholesterol racket, and I would never want to be involved in it on the dispensing side or the consumption side.