The Great Cholesterol Myth

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The Cholesterol Myth

There are many common & accepted understandings within modern culture that have no true scientific basis, but have just merely been accepted as fact. One of the major issues has to do with the pathogenesis of various common diseases including heart disease and cancer.  This article will go into the cholesterol myth and how exactly it came to be.

Cholesterol has been vilified as the major cause of heart disease.  The claim that it clogs our arteries is known world-wide, despite no scientific evidence to validate the idea.  As a society, we need to retrain our doctors and clinicians to look at this “cholesterol theory” with a skeptical eye.

cholesterol myth

The Birth of Heart Disease and The Cholesterol Myth

Heart disease was considered a very rare disease in the early 20th century.  However, as food processing began to take off so did the occurrence of heart disease.  By the 1950’s, it was considered a major health threat.  Over the last 50 years, a whole arsenal of drugs and surgeries has been developed to address this increasingly growing disorder (1).

Today, despite trillions of dollars of research and the best medical equipment available, the American Heart Association said in 2012 that Americans have a 48% chance of getting this deadly disease (2).

cholesterol myth

The Lipid Hypothesis and The Cholesterol Myth:

Developed by Ancel Keys in the 1950’s, this theory states that there is a direct relationship between the amount of saturated fat and cholesterol in the diet and the incidence of coronary heart disease.  With questionable evidence, Keys’ went about writing articles and promoting this hypothesis throughout the medical world (3).

Meanwhile, hundreds of subsequent studies testing this hypothesis have found differing conclusions. Despite the lack of evidence, this notion took off throughout the healthcare world and was fueled by the vegetable oil and food processing industries that sought to benefit from this finding.  This is the foundation for the cholesterol myth that many believe today.

The New Science of Heart Disease:

Close to 90% of all well-planned, properly documented studies investigating the lipid hypothesis do not support the claim that “artery-clogging” saturated fats and dietary cholesterol cause heart disease (4, 5, 6).

In a 1994 study in the British medical journal Lancet, London researchers analyzed the fat they found in clogged arteries. It turns out only 26% of it was saturated animal fat. The other 74% was unsaturated. That’s the same type of fat you find in “heart healthy” canola oil (7).

So the majority of the fat within a clogged artery is not saturated fat and cholesterol.  Additionally, calcium is a major player in arterial plaque and yet very rarely is this discussed.

The Benefits of Saturated Fat & Cholesterol

Most doctors are uneducated on this topic and continue to teach the cholesterol myth.  But according to Dr. Mary Enig, PhD, an expert in lipid biochemistry, her extensive research on the roles of saturated fat and cholesterol in our bodies and the intake of these compounds in our diet(8):

1.  Cell Membrane Health:  Saturated fatty acids and cholesterol constitute at least 50% of the cell membranes. They are what gives our cells necessary stiffness and integrity.

2.  Bone Health:  They play a vital role in the health of our bones. For calcium to be effectively incorporated into the skeletal structure, at least 50% of the dietary fats should be saturated.   Cholesterol is the precursor to vitamin D & major hormones that regulate stress, energy & sex hormone (estrogen, progesterone, DHEA, testosterone, etc) function.

3.  Lower Lp (a):  They lower Lp(a), a substance in the blood that indicates proneness to heart disease. They protect the liver from alcohol and other toxins, such as Tylenol.

4.  Enhance Immunity:  They enhance the immune system and act as an anti-depressant by enhancing serotonin receptor function.  Low cholesterol is highly associated with violent & aggressive behavior, depression, & suicidal tendencies

5.  Proper Use of Essential Fats:  They are needed for the proper utilization of essential fatty acids. Elongated omega 3 fatty acids are better retained in the tissues when the diet is rich in saturated fats.

6.  Fuel For the Heart:  Saturated 18-carbon stearic acid and 16-carbon palmitic acid are the preferred foods for the heart, which is why the fat around the heart muscle is highly saturated.  The heart draws on this reserve of fat in times of stress.

7.  Anti-Microbial Properties:  Short- and medium-chain saturated fatty acids have important antimicrobial properties. They protect us against harmful microorganisms in the digestive tract.   Cholesterol plays a vital role in the repair and maintenance of the intestinal wall, preventing leaky gut syndrome, ulcerative colitis, and a host of other intestinal disorders.

8.  Antioxidant Protection:  Cholesterol is now understood to be a vital antioxidant that protects us from free radical damage and helps to heal any arterial damage that may have occurred.  Higher levels of free radical damage from oxidative stress = higher levels of circulating cholesterol.

9.  Bile Production:  Cholesterol produces bile salts that help us metabolize fats in our diet.

10.  Brain and Nervous System Development:  Cholesterol is extraordinarily important for babies & children as they develop their brain and nervous system.  Over half of the brain is composed of saturated fats and cholesterol.  Interestingly, one of the richest sources of cholesterol is mother’s milk, which also contains a special enzyme that helps the baby metabolize and use this nutrient.

cholesterol myth

Get the Real Story:

The cholesterol myth continues to confuse and mislead both doctors and the lay public today.  But the truth is that cholesterol is one of the most powerful healing foods and molecules your body can ingest and produce.  The problem lies in the oxidation of cholesterol from high levels of free radicals and high firing inflammatory pathways. The key to preventing and reversing heart disease is to put out the inflammatory fires.

If you want to know more about what to look for, such as LDL Pattern A and pattern B and what form of LDL is a problem than read this article here   What have you learned over the years in relationship to cholesterol and heart disease?  Would love to hear your comments.

cholesterol myth

Inflammation Crushing Ebundle

The Inflammation Crushing Ebundle is designed to help you improve your brain, liver, immune system and discover the healing strategies, foods and recipes to burn fat, reduce inflammation and Thrive in Life!

As a doctor of natural medicine, I have spent the past 20 years studying the best healing strategies and worked with hundreds of coaching clients, helping them overcome chronic health conditions and optimize their overall health.

In our Inflammation Crushing Ebundle, I have put together my very best strategies to reduce inflammation and optimize your healing potential.  Take a look at what you will get inside these valuable guides below!

gut lining, Top 12 Nutrients and Herbs to Heal a Leaky Gut Lining 

Sources For This Article Include:

1. Uemura K, Pisa Z. Trends in cardiovascular disease mortality in industrialized countries since 1950. World Health Stat Q. 1988;41(3-4):155-78. PMID: 3232406
2. CDC – Chronic Disease Overview Link Here
3. Ancel Keys and the lipid hypothesis: From early breakthroughs to current management of dyslipidemia Link Here
4. Ravnskov U. The fallacies of the lipid hypothesis. Scand Cardiovasc J. 2008 Aug;42(4):236-9. PMID: 18615352
5. Rosch PJ. Cholesterol does not cause coronary heart disease in contrast to stress. Scand Cardiovasc J. 2008 Aug;42(4):244-9. PMID: 18609060
6. Ravnskov U. A hypothesis out-of-date. the diet-heart idea. J Clin Epidemiol. 2002 Nov;55(11):1057-63. PMID: 12507667
7. “Healthy” Unsaturated Fats Link Here
8. The Skinny on Fats Link Here

Inflammation, 5 Ways To Reduce Inflammation Quickly

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  1. Good article, insightful in helpful to responding to the misinformation regarding Cholesterol concerns. What is the suggested healthful range as the numbers seem to change?

  2. You want your LDL:HDL ratio to be less than 3:1 and you want your triglyceride levels to be under your HDL levels.

    There are many other tests such as the VAP test and NMR that measure all the subsets of cholesterol and give us so much more information than a regular lipid panel.

    1. I’d love to see an article from you on your supply houses. Where you buy your pastured eggs and other grass fed items.

      Thanks so very much!
      God Bless you Dr. Jockers
      Maureen O

  3. Hello Dr David
    Profoundly valuable information on cholesterol. Unfortunately, cholesterol myth is widely prevalent amongst conventionally trained doctors due erroneous teaching at medical schools then and now. They impart very bad image of word cholesterol as “Bad – cholesterol” and this word it-self purported as something dangerous?
    In context of recent researches and enormous work done by functional medicine and (conventionally trained pioneer like Dr William Davis and Dr David Perlmutter), lot of myths have broken down. Sincere thanks to all.
    I have gone through this article, being a conventionally trained doctor, I want to know any good book or websites to go in more simplified way for this topic, which can be shared with patients and their caregivers. Kindly suggest.
    Still a large section of population is tremendously scared of eating good fats even and they frequently query and are astonished about eating fats. This is on account of two perpetuating factors:
    1. Bad reputation about eating fat
    2. And contradictory opinion given by conventionally trained doctors and media.
    Dr Prakash Chhajed

    1. Hey Dr Prakash,

      I would recommend the Big Fat Lies video (youtube clip in this article) for lay people as it makes a really good impression and is easy to follow and entertaining. Blessings!

    1. Dr J Bowden Dr S Sinatra
      The great Cholesterol Myth

      This is a great book to read for everyone. I am a NP work at a primary care office- I always try to check advanced cardiac IQ panel for my patients.

      1. Dr Jockers. I am from Malaysia. Recently i went for a medical Total Cholesterol is 7.7 mmol/l, HDL cholesterol is 1.17 mmol/l, LDL cholesterol is 5.5 mmol/l, Triglycerides is 2.2 mmol/l and the Total/HDL Ratio is 6.6. I need your help to understand this I really need to be concerned. I am confused..pls help..

    1. The mistake was noticed the next year of 1962, in fact. I remember the press denial of that mistake in the soviet magazine Zdorovye. When I had met an American of the Peace Corps, who was afraid to eat butter I was shocked. Finally, more Americans are learning the truth.

  4. Gluten may cause the thyroid to go down and cholesterol to go up. Amour thyroid may lower the cholesterol. Many people don’t get thyroid medicine when it would help. No statin drug is needed it seems when the root causes are fixed.

  5. This is the first article I’ve read on the benefits of cholesterol. I was searching for “lowering cholesterol” in my inbox and this article popped up from several years ago! I just found out my total cholesterol is 255. Triglycerides 141, HDL 41, VLDL, 26, LDL Chol Calc (NIH) 188, LDL/HDL ratio 4.6. I’m trying to figure the ratio for healthy cholesterol. I also just discovered I’ve got a big gallstone (that’s inactive/no inflammation in the area). And on the positive my pancreas and liver look healthy and normal. Could the gallstone be a result of the high cholesterol? I’ve had high cholesterol since my 20s (I’m now 44). My diet has been off and on plant-based for decades now. I’m probably a good 10-15lbs overweight w/ digestion issues after taking antibiotics twice in the last 5 years. My diet is 80 percent anti-inflammatory (w/occasional sweet binges). My vitamin D levels are 11! With the encouragement of my holistic psychologist, I got lab work done. Now I understand the reason for the extreme fatigue, bone aches and random muscle cramps in toes and stomach I’ve had off and on for 2 years now! Not to mention anxiety and bouts of depression. Could the high cholesterol be the result of the severely low vitamin D ? From what I understand, we need cholesterol to make vitamin D. Since my diet is mostly healthy, how can I lower cholesterol? I do not exercise regularly – could daily exercise help improve numbers?

  6. Thank you for this excellent article. Big Pharma has been trying to promote every living creature on the planet taking their statin drug & the heart attack statistics have NOT been reduced at all. THAT is pretty blatant proof that their drug is USELESS in preventing heart attacks. They are even trying to give it to children when they know that it blocks more processes than just cholesterol production & that it is more harmful than helpful.
    Our doctor tried (for an hour!) to convince us to take a statin but would not accept, or even read,a book by a renowned CARDIOLOGIST on statin drugs. We now have an older physician who was educated a long time ago. But what happens when these older physicians ate gone? So few of the young ones escape the thorough brain washing in medical school & dare think on their own.

  7. 13 years ago, I had lymphoma-b, a very fast spreading cancer of the liver. Drs. said it was caused by medication I took for epilepsy most of my life. Drs. said I might live 3-5 years at most then it would kill me. Shortly afterward I came across a book called Coconut Oil Miracles by Bruce Fife. I stated taking Virgin Coconut Oil soon after reading the book. It kills many types of viruses. Well, I know it goes to the liver and it must kill cancer cells too! Another great benefit is it removes the bad gut bacteria from the body and gives you good gut bacteria. I use it every day, a little more when signs of sickness show up and if used early enough most disappear. It contains MCT’s, the same stuff in breast milk that keeps babies healthy!

  8. I am a 77 year old woman who has had 5 heart operations with the first at 18 years of age. I have always had an excellent Mediterranean style diet inclusive of fats. I look younger than my age, still work and have incredible energy levels despite having constant A F. My diet is generally super fresh veggies and fruit, some nuts and a glass of red wine in the evening. Oh and I love Vietnamese white bread. I have not incorporated beef into the diet for 45 years. I pay attention to my weight which is 55 kilos.
    Communicating with nature and the garden are important as is music and Latin dancing.
    Simplicity is the key and having a beautiful home are a must. A positive mental and caring attitude are essential ingredients for a good life and that sense of fun and romance and never giving up. My mother lived to the wonderful age of 106 years and always said small meals were the essence of her longevity journey. The greatest riches are of the heart.

  9. Very intersting. I have now during 14 year been fighting doctors telling that Cholesterol shall be under 200, and then put pations on Statin. But of course they donøt trust me, except one doctor who after 7 years admited that I am right. 20 years ago I read Keys old book, and books opposit to that book and poiting out what Key had “forgotten”, the countries with other statistial results.

    1. I’ve known about my high cholesterol since I was 32 yo. I’m now 68 almost 69. Have been learning and paying attention to my body since my mother died of cancer at 63 yo. She practically lived at the doctor’s office even before her cancer diagnosis at 57 yo. Before the age of 57, she’d had a heart attack, angina, osteoporosis, severe joint pain and was taking more than a dozen prescription meds. Between mom and my step-dad, who was 14 years older than she, it looked like a pharmacy in their kitchen. I was 40 when mom passed and still has some faith in my doctor, but I decided that I was not going down that road and did my own research on natural health. Back then there was a lot of information to be found on the internet. Now almost impossible. So I did my own thing and the health issues I had prior to that resolved themselves. I was rarely sick so my doctor and I rarely saw one another. When he tried to push the statins on me, I was in my mid-50’s by then, I just said, “No thanks” I take natural Vitamin E to keep the cholesterol in my body from oxidizing. He chased me out of the office trying to convince me I needed Lipator. Fast forward many years. Just had my carotid arteries checked. Clean as a whistle. But no one will listen to me including my own husband. Follow the science. HA!

  10. I forgot to tell that I printed out a copy to give to a doctor who last year wanted to put my wife on Statin, as she have 270 by bloodmeasure.
    Actually a Schottish doctor 20+ ears ago, found that if having 220 then statistically higher IQ if only 200, and if 240 the statistically higher IQ than if only 220.

    1. Makes sense. The brain is made of fat and after years of pushing statins on people, dementia and Alzheimer’s is PANDEMIC!

  11. Doctor, Although my ldl(205) and total chol(265) was high, my tri(112),hdl(40)vldl(20) was all in normal range. I have no other health issues and my coronary calcium test was even very low(2.08 minimal risk)-my question is a statin really necessary as they have side effects and one in particular caused chest pains to me?

    1. Try taking some Nordic Naturals Omega 3 fish oils (label will say 500mg DHA, 750 EPA for 1 tsp). I take one tsp in the morning and one in the evening. That will bring those triglycerides down to 60-70 range. Exercise, good quality fats will bring that HDL up. Ignore total cholesterol number – meaningless. HDL should be above 50, no matter what the lab reference range shows. 60+ would be even better. My coronary calcium score was 420 two years ago and heck, I’m not on a statin. I didn’t want the risk of making my diabetes worse, of causing muscle issues (I already have RA, so no thanks), so I’m working out every day, doing a Keto diet with intermittent fasting eat at 10am and 4pm and then don’t eat till 10am again – no snacking. Not easy as I was always a snacker. Do you know your hba1c? And how is your BP?

  12. You menton cholesterol all over the article, but which type are you referring to? Can you use the terms HDL or LDL-A or LDL-B before the term cholesterol to make things clear?

  13. It’s always interesting to read an article about cholesterol without any mention of choline. My own primitive take on it is that the deficiency of choline in the diet in North America is not only the reason for the cholesterol-lowering fakery drug companies have indulged in (Lipitor and heart-meds as a major money-makers for years) but may have something to do with the dementia so common in the elderly these days. Choline being the main ingredient of phosphatidylcholine and acetylcholine. Given enough choline, the liver is able to make the correct amounts of downstream saturated fats, cholesterols. Demonizing eggs and butter, two main sources, was a bold move determined to make people unhealthy. The body seems designed to keep the fires of life going, and by that we mean neurotransmitters. If a shortage of acetylcholine in the brain, nerve sheaths are stripped of phosphatidylcholine to supply enough to make more acetylcholine. Brain shrinkage, anyone? Or is this too simple a leap? Choline is needed in every cell wall and mitochondrial membrane. Why is there so much in eggs?…because that’s what you need to build a body. This main neurotransmitter happens to be involved in memory, muscle movement, and the autonomic nervous system – which determines a lot of the life-regulating balances we call health…digestion, heart-beat, temperature-regulation – that sort of thing. Looking at a slow-moving, slow-thinking, shuffling old person through this lens, we may be seeing the results of a life-long shortage of sufficient choline to function properly. Is this a possibility?

  14. Dr Jockers, I am 55, male, mainly animal based diet. My recent total cholesterol was 318, HDL 55, Triglycerides 55 and LDL 240. My most recent CAC test showed “O” plaque. Should I still be concerned? No hypertension, no diabetes, Fasting insulin at around 5.6 uIU/mL – Thank you!!

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