For decades, cholesterol has suffered a bad rap because of its connection to heart attacks and coronary disease. The story started with studies conducted on rabbits in the early 1900s. Russian scientists induced clogging of rabbits’ arteries by replacing their normal vegetarian diet with a diet of pure cholesterol.
Putting aside for a moment that rabbits (obviously) aren’t people, and that their diets are very different than the average American (i.e. they don’t eat meat), the cultural and medical effects of the study were profound. Doctors accepted the resulting “lipid hypothesis” (i.e. that cholesterol led to heart disease) and began to recommend low-cholesterol diets. Gone were the days of eating animal fat and chicken with the skin on; egg whites replaced whole eggs, and high cholesterol seafood like shrimp and lobster were thrown back into the proverbial ocean. The general public started to drastically change their eating habits, thinking they were reducing the risk of heart disease.
In the meantime, heart disease rates continued to rise.
What people didn’t realize, and still don’t realize, is that the cholesterol in food is not the same as cholesterol in the blood. There’s a link, but it’s not as direct as many think. In fact, the amount of cholesterol used in rabbits to cause a build up of plaque on the walls of the arteries (also know as atherosclerosis) in the early Russian studies was about 5% by body weight. To put that in perspective, in order to achieve that level, you’d have to consume around one hundred eggs per day!
So, Is Cholesterol Bad For You Or Not?
Cholesterol by itself is actually a crucial substance: it’s the building block of hormones, we need it for Vitamin D synthesis, and it’s a component of cell membranes. Without it, we’d be dead.
This is not to say that there’s no connection between cholesterol and heart disease. Elevated “bad cholesterol,” or low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and low “good cholesterol,” or high-density lipoprotein (HDL) are certainly risk factors. But up to 60% of people who have heart attacks have normal cholesterol.
And although we say “good” cholesterol (HDL) and “bad” cholesterol (LDL), there’s really only one cholesterol.
The Bad “Bad” Cholesterol
We’ve since learned since the rabbit study days that a better marker of risk is the size of lipoprotein particles, specifically LDL particles. A typical cholesterol panel measures total cholesterol (which is broken down into LDL and HDL). A sub-particle lipoprotein test measures the differing particle sizes of LDL: small, medium, and large. The small, dense particles of LDL are the troublesome ones, because they can cause changes in the artery walls that initiate plaque formation. So “bad cholesterol” isn’t necessarily bad, it’s just that a certain levels of a certain particle size of LDL aren’t healthy.
There’s more to the story – lots more, in fact, but these are the basics.
So What Can You Do?
At The Body Well, we can run in-depth cholesterol panels, which give total and sub-particle data.
We also educate our patients on what causes your body to produce more (or less) LDL and HDL cholesterol (HINT: optimal hormone levels have a lot to do with this).
To make sure you are treated to have the highest amount of HDL, the lowest amount of small particle LDLs, and that your heart is healthy and will stay that way, call The Body Well to make an appointment today!
Call The Body Well today at (323) 874-9355 and schedule a hormonal evaluation. Or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.