Last week Pete was given the news that no male at his age wants to hear. His total cholesterol has rocketed to 9.2 mmol/L. His LDL cholesterol is 6.3 and HDL, 2.58. His Triglycerides are low at 0.7 mmol/L. Yes, I can sense the shaking heads and tutting tongues accompanied by whispers of “What does he expect, eating all that fat” or “I knew ketosis was just one more of those fad diets!”
As always when I am presented with something I don’t understand, I hit the internet. What I found is that there is more to this than just having high LDL levels.
I am going to attempt to discuss what I found in the most down-to-earth way I can, and then I’ll let you know what we have decided to do.
Before I delve into my research I will let you know that the doctor wrote Peter a prescription for a statin drug which is used to help lower LDL cholesterol. His rationale was that it is rare for someone of Pete’s age to manage to lower their LDL without intervention. He also mentioned that it is fairly normal to have high LDL at his age (see graph below) and to need drugs to regulate it. I wonder how many of these prescriptions he writes out and how many people accept it without any real knowledge of how the drug will affect them.
Our initial reaction was “Well he doesn’t see the whole picture.” Pete’s LDLs are high but so are his HDLs, the ‘good cholesterol’ and his triglycerides are low at .7 mmol/L. That makes the ratio between his HDL and triglycerides low which is good and suggests that his LDL particles are the large fluffy type which “may be protective”.
So to the research.
Is there good cholesterol and bad cholesterol?
Like good cops and bad cops they only really exist in the movies or in this case the minds of the masses who have been listening to the previously ill-informed medical fraternity. There are good and bad levels of each but the body needs both to function properly. Essentially cholesterol is needed by our body’s cell walls to produce; hormones, vitamin D and bile which all help us digest fat.
They travel the bloodstream highways removing bad cholesterol from where it doesn’t belong.
Carrying cholesterol to every cell in our body. Triglycerides are lipids converted from calories you don’t need immediately by your body and released by hormones for energy when needed. Our liver is a bit of a ‘clever-clogs’ in that it produces all the cholesterol we need but regulates how much it makes depending on our how much we eat.
When there is trauma or inflammation in any of the cells in our body LDL particles race to the scene to deliver cholesterol which then forms a shield over the distressed area.
In some cases the inflammation ceases and the area heals however often it remains and eventually causes plaque which can build up or break off, forming a clot. We all know what this build-up of plaque can do when it is attached to the arterial wall.
It is because in early research, cholesterol was found in these deposits on the arterial wall that the association between heart disease and cholesterol was made. To steal a line from Marks Daily Apple ‘that is like blaming the Band-Aid for the cut finger’. As our body struggles to make enough cholesterol for repairs other problems start to arise, lack of Vitamin D, bile and hormones to convert the fat we eat. The body is no longer functioning as it should.
Smaller dense particles of LDL are the ones that statistics suggest we should worry about when it comes to coronary heart disease. The reason for this is straightforward; the smaller particles can more easily absorb into the arterial wall where they in themselves set up inflammation. Even those with low LDL-C levels can be at risk if the LDL particles are the small dense kind.
I’ve mentioned inflammation many times here.
More and more experts are coming to the realisation that heart disease, diabetes and various other illnesses are not caused by high cholesterol but by inflammation.
It is well documented that:
inflammation in our bodies increases in proportion to our intake of sugar, processed carbohydrate, starch etc.
So as inflammation increases, LDL levels also increase in response to the body’s need for couriers to deliver the means to heal these areas. Duh!
A full lipid profile would help determine if Peter has the larger LDL particles but his doctor knew nothing about the testing and I haven’t been able to find anything online that might suggest where we could have one done.
Generally people on a Low Carb High Fat (LCHF) diet see their blood lipids improve.
However there is a small group of people who may see their LDL-C levels increase, sometimes dramatically. The reasons for this are many and varied: absorbing too much cholesterol from food, secreting too much from the liver, familial hyperlipidaemia are to name but a few. We would be at best guessing as to which these groups Peter belongs to. However he has always tended towards the high end of the cholesterol scale even when we were eating low fat whole foods so perhaps that would point more to the hyper-secretor. I am going to, for now, discount hereditary high cholesterol as it is quite rare.
How high or low should your cholesterol count be?
The recommendations of the National Heart Foundation of Australia are:
- LDL cholesterol < 2.0 mmol/L – oh boy, that’s an absolute fail for Pete
- HDL > 1.00 mmol/L – WIN!
- Triglycerides < 1.5 mmol/L – Win again
Before I fill you in on what we have decided to do, I want to talk to you about statins.
Statins slow the body’s production of cholesterol.
Here’s what I know, they work. If you need to get your cholesterol down a there is a statin that will do the job. Here is what I don’t know, at what cost to the finely tuned system that our bodies have set up to deal with cholesterol?
Muscle pain seems to be one of the most common side effects which of course will have an effect on being able to keep fit and can lead to injury.
Others I have read about are: increased risk of some cancers, fatigue, liver damage, rashes, increased blood sugar, memory loss and confusion.
So the risk of some of these things may be small but what else is going on when we take these drugs. If the body makes less cholesterol, what of the vitamin D, bile, and hormone production? Surely they will be affected? Some would say, “Yes, but at least I won’t die from a heart attack.” That may or may not be true. To me the statistics are not conclusive.
Okay, to the big question;
what are we or more precisely what is Peter going to do about it?
Peter filled his prescription for statins and started taking them. BUT, after talking and a lot of reading we decided to try and lower his LDL level through natural means before the drastic step of taking statins. Bear in mind that I am not fully convinced that his LDL levels are dire but I will concede that it won’t hurt to lower them a little. So how do we go about doing this?
I admit that perhaps Peter was eating way too much saturated animal fat so that’s the first thing we have cut down on. He still has a few eggs and eats his chicken with the skin on but he has reduced his intake of dairy. We have increased the amount of carbohydrates Peter is having by adding in more insoluble fibre such as leafy greens and antioxidant laden fruits like raspberries. We have also included more soluble fibre and monounsaturated fats such as flax seed, chia seeds, nuts, coconut oil and avocado. The nutrients he needs to maintain good health, such as copper, magnesium and omega 3 he has by way of supplements.
There you have it. It has been two weeks now. He is having another blood test in a few weeks which will show his total cholesterol only. Stand by for the news; let’s hope it is trending in the right direction.
Some sites I found helpful when researching for this post: