Cholesterol Culture Comeback
Even though it’s true that high cholesterol can be an indicator of sub-optimal thyroid function and metabolism, the relationship between saturated fat consumption, increasing cholesterol levels in the blood and heart disease, is not as black and white as it is often made out to be.
“The traditional diet-heart hypothesis predicts that the serum cholesterol lowering effects of replacing saturated fat with vegetable oil rich in linoleic acid will diminish deposition of cholesterol in the arterial wall, slow progression of atherosclerosis, reduce coronary heart disease events, and improve survival.”
This theory has stuck around partly due to confusion regarding the biological significance of cholesterol, and because of the promotion of a great amount of poor quality information encouraging the belief that lowering cholesterol with increased consumption of polyunsaturated fats is a good idea.
Unfortunately however, for a number of physiologically justifiable reasons, the results of the ‘lipid hypothesis’ experiment – in relation to how it can be shown to have impacted upon cardiovascular health, as well as overall degenerative disease outcomes – have not been positive.
“…collective findings from randomized controlled trials do not provide support for the central diet-heart tenet that the serum cholesterol lowering effects of replacing saturated fat with linoleic acid translate to lower risk of coronary heart disease or death.”
Paradigm Shift Required
Context is very important here, and so although there are things that are legitimately far more harmful than others, even the best foods can be problematic in the right circumstances, and some people have the potential to withstand large amounts of stress.
“Previously it was deduced that food rich in cholesterol and saturated fatty acids is atherogenic, while food rich in n-3 PUFAs was recognized to be protective against vascular diseases. These deductions are in contradiction to the fact that saturated fatty acids withstand oxidation while n-3 PUFAs are subjected to LPO [lipid peroxidation] like all other PUFAs.”
However, because there are so many dietary and environmental factors which simultaneously promote inflammation and impact upon metabolic health, it’s never really as simple as being a case of ‘just follow these guidelines and you’ll be fine.’
“Coronary artery disease pathogenesis and treatment urgently requires a paradigm shift. Despite popular belief among doctors and the public, the conceptual model of dietary saturated fat clogging a pipe is just plain wrong.”
An holistic approach which considers the way many different kinds of stress can impact upon metabolic function in a cumulative fashion causing degeneration and disease, is likely to be far more effective.
Cholesterol, Stress & Inflammation
Without a deeper understanding of some very well demonstrated biological concepts – like the protective nature of cholesterol and the genuinely anti-inflammatory effect of the saturated fats – the thyroid suppressing anti-metabolic polyunsaturated fats are likely to continue to get a free pass.
“There is also a growing understanding that an inflammatory response…is a crucial step in the genesis of atherosclerosis…many observations…conflict with the LDL [low-density lipoprotein]…hypothesis…high serum cholesterol and/or high LDL is protective against…atherosclerosis.”
Under many varying conditions of stress – or wherever there is inflammation or simply injury of any kind – cholesterol levels increase as part of a basic physiologically defensive response.
Cholesterol is a fundamental ingredient for the most protective substances – including pregnenolone, testosterone, progesterone and dhea – and proper thyroid function is crucial to the process which enables their production.
As you age – and when thyroid metabolism slows – cholesterol remains as a last line of defense against stress, as less of the more specialised biochemical materials are able to be produced.
All PUFAs Are Unstable
The breakdown products of the polyunsaturated fats interfere with the ability of the body to produce cholesterol and are one of the most powerful suppressors of thyroid function and energy metabolism.
On top of this, they have been clearly demonstrated to be a central factor in the promotion of inflammation. The saturated fats on the other hand, are stable and have many anti-inflammatory protective effects.
“Our understanding of cardiolipotoxicity is undergoing a paradigm shift. Instead of saturated fats, recent analyses point toward a possible detrimental effect of n-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) on cardiovascular health…n-6 PUFA overload induces oxidative stress, inflammation, and mitochondrial damage in endothelial cells and cardiomyocytes…”
Sugar Feeds Thyroid
Sufficient consumption of sugar assists in the production of cholesterol as well as thyroid hormone, supporting metabolic energy systems and helping to produce enough of the defensive substances – like for instance pregnenolone – as required, generally limiting stress and inflammation.
“…observed…a mechanistic foundation for considering pregnenolone…as a naturally-occurring substance for use therapeutically to suppress unwanted vascular inflammation without the adverse effects of glucocorticoids.”
Maintaining blood sugar stability helps to lower stress and reduce the amount of polyunsaturated fats released as free fatty acids out of storage, thereby protecting against cardiovascular damage.
Bacteria & Stress Are Related
Stress interferes with digestion, eventually allowing greater amounts of bacterial endotoxin to enter the main system where they interact with circulating polyunsaturated fats and iron, creating the inflammatory conditions which damage the arteries.
“LPS [endotoxin] molecules are potent inflammagens…known to induce the production of a variety of pro-inflammatory cytokines…central to the development of inflammation…A further characteristic of systemic inflammation is a hypercoagulatory state…a common pathology underlying all thrombotic conditions, including ischaemic heart disease…”
Cholesterol plays a fundamental role in the attempt to heal any arterial damage which arises and can itself be damaged in the process as a result of coming into contact with the toxic things in circulation, often being unfairly left to take the blame.
The saturated fats also assist in protecting against the things which promote inflammation and disease.
“Far reaching metabolic effects occur as a consequence of exposure to bacterial endotoxins…it would appear that the majority of the effects of endotoxin…are mediated by prostaglandins…Coconut oil completely abolished the responses to endotoxin.”
Not All Fat Is Made Equal
This does not mean however, that a high fat diet is optimal for the protection against inflammation and heart disease, but rather that some fats are (even in small quantities) extremely unstable and dangerous, whereas others – the more highly saturated fats like butter and coconut oil – can when used appropriately, play an important role in protection against disease.
“…we demonstrate that n-6 PUFA-rich corn oil diets…can have a functional consequence in the heart within 5 weeks…these findings represent a novel pathway of cardiolipotoxicity associated with LA [linoleic acid], a fatty acid increasingly present in Western diets…”
Excessive intake of fat – even the best kinds of fat – can interfere with proper metabolic function, and can promote many of the conditions which over the longer term are likely to cause the onset and advancement of cardiovascular and other degenerative diseases.
Cholesterol Isn’t ‘Bad’
The idea that LDL [low-density lipoprotein] must be lowered because it is ‘bad’, and HDL [high-density lipoprotein] is “good’ and should therefore be increased, is very misleading especially when you consider their physiological function.
It’s true that cholesterol levels will naturally come down as metabolism improves and more is converted into the steroid hormones, however there is plenty of good evidence to show that lowered LDL is a predictor of disease and death, particularly from cancer.
“We recently reported, in a meta-analysis of statin trials, a strong association between low concentrations of low-density lipoprotein (LDL-C) and incident cancer risk…extending over 18 years prior to diagnosis.”
HDL on the other hand is known to increase in response to stress and inflammation, helping to protect against toxic substances – like endotoxin – which make their way into the main system due to metabolic issues (impacting upon thyroid and digestion), and an increase in levels has been correlated with rising susceptibility to heart disease.
Cholesterol itself is not the problem, and although high cholesterol reflects issues with metabolic performance, when the production of cholesterol is interfered with susceptibility to disease and death increases.
Are You Pro-Metabolism?
It is important to realise that cholesterol plays such an important role in the maintenance of health that the only really safe way to bring levels down (closer to an ‘ideal’ range) would be by removing the stressors causing the original disturbance, enabling improvements in metabolism.
Alternatively, as you age or when you are exposed to stress or disease, rising cholesterol levels are protective and will help to keep you alive whenever your system is under pressure.
“The cholesterol hypothesis predicts that LDL-C will be associated with increased all-cause and CV mortality. Our review has shown either a lack of an association or an inverse association between LDL-C and both all-cause and CV mortality.”
Apart from the removal of the polyunsaturated fats and the inclusion of a pro-metabolic thyroid enhancing diet – with lots of dairy protein and some saturated fats and plenty of sugar from easily digestible sources – there are a number of genuinely anti-inflammatory things which can help to improve overall function in relation to cholesterol and heart disease.
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Image: DoctorSecrets by Dr. Sal