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Let me introduce myself. My name is Mark Sisson. I’m 63 years young. I live and work in Malibu, California. In a past life I was a professional marathoner and triathlete. Now my life goal is to help 100 million people get healthy. I started this blog in 2006 to empower people to take full responsibility for their own health and enjoyment of life by investigating, discussing, and critically rethinking everything we’ve assumed to be true about health and wellness...

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January 30, 2008

The Definitive Guide to Cholesterol

By Mark Sisson
105 Comments

That makes it easy.

With all the talk of fighting, battling, combating and beating cholesterol into submission, you’d think it had a black plastic body suit and James Earl Jones’ voice. Big Pharma has, dutifully created quite an arsenal for our supposed defense, and the medical community has been a willing faction, delivering the rhetoric that would incite us all to pick up arms. Now if only we could put down the Big Macs. And the Ding Dongs, HoHos, Twinkies and…you get the point.

Preposterous.

But the insidious rogue, that menacing villain isn’t to be found at the helm of the Death Star. Turns out, there is an enemy within and it’s not even cholesterol. Before you fall to your knees, rip your shirt and gnash your teeth, you might want to consider news you don’t hear often enough: the much aligned compound in question is absolutely essential to your physical, psychological and cognitive functioning.

Yes, the message these days seems to be that no number is too low when it comes to cholesterol (except HDL but we’ll get to that later). I’d like to offer a deeper look into the issue, user-friendly enough but more complex and contentious than you’ll get from the commercial sound bytes telling you to talk to your doctor about blah, blah, blah. Consider it one of MDA’s definitive guides that we’re happy to serve up for our gregarious and always thoughtful community.

Excuse me, have you met cholesterol?

(10R,13R)-10,13-dimethyl-17-(6-methylheptan-2-yl)-2,3,4,7,8,9,11,12,14,15,16,17-dodecahydro-1H-cyclopenta[a]phenanthren-3-ol

Cholesterol is a waxy, charming lipid gracing every cell’s membrane and our blood plasma. Its jobs, which are many, include insulating neurons, building and maintaining cellular membranes, metabolizing fat soluble vitamins, producing bile, and kick-starting the body’s synthesis of many hormones, including the sex hormones. Cool stuff actually.

Given all the work cholesterol has to do, the liver is careful to ensure the body always has enough, producing some 1000-1400 milligrams of it each day. In comparison, the 300 milligram recommended limit for dietary cholesterol (your tax dollars at work in the USDA) is a drop in the bucket. And get this: our livers come with feedback mechanisms (at no additional cost) that regulate cholesterol production in response to our dietary intake. When we eat more, it makes less, and vice-versa. Imagine that!

(Interesting note: While animal products like meat, eggs and dairy, are far and away the primary source of dietary cholesterol, plants contain trace amounts of cholesterol and cholesterol-like substances called phytosterols, which may help lower blood or “serum” cholesterol. Not that that matters, as we shall soon see.

So, what’s with all the acronyms on my cholesterol profile, you ask. Let’s take a look. First, there are high density lipoproteins (HDL). (Lipoproteins are spherical fat particles with water-soluble proteins around their exterior. They transport cholesterol). HDL: everybody loves this guy. He has the popular job of transferring cholesterol from the body’s tissues back to the liver. It’s basically the end of the line with this route, and the liver then excretes it through bile. HDL is the one to naturally help get rid of excess cholesterol when the body’s done with it, hence his universal popularity. Some cholesterologists (just made that up) even refer to him as Nature’s garbage truck.

Next, there are low density lipoproteins, LDL. LDL is a lipoprotein and delivery man as well. He has the disgraced job of transporting cholesterol after production from the liver to the body’s tissues. Remember, this is an important job! That cholesterol has a honey-do list a mile long.

Ironically, it turns out that it’s not the cholesterol part of the LDL or HDL moiety that is dangerous, but the actual lipoprotein part. Unfortunately, once medicine had found a way to differentiate between the amount of HDL and LDL in a cost-effective blood test, it was the cholesterol part that got the short end of the deal.

The latest research into LDL shows that there are actually sub-categories of this cholesterol transporter and that some are more dangerous than others. The larger, more billowy LDL particles are now thought to have little or no significant role in heart disease. On the other hand, the smaller, dense LDL particles are the ones believed to be most involved in the process of inflammation that begins the atherosclerosis cascade. And wouldn’t you know it, but it’s a diet high in simple carbs that most readily promotes the formation of these small LDL particles! Unfortunately, this important distinction is probably something your doctor knows very little about, yet it’s the number of small particle LDL that might be the most important reading in any cholesterol test. So a total cholesterol of, say, 230 or even 250 might not be dangerous at all if your HDL is high and your small particle LDL is low.

Before we move on, let’s give brief mention to triglycerides. Triglycerides are essentially the form that fat takes as it travels to the body’s tissues through the bloodstream. The relationship between triglycerides and cholesterol is more of an association. A high triglyceride level, which is unequivocally fueled by a high carb diet, is very often a marker for other problems in the body, particularly insulin resistance (and accompanying risk of diabetes) as well as inflammation (with its risk of heart disease). High levels are often seen with low HDL cholesterol. Once again, the high carb diet wreaks havoc.

The Rise of Cholesterol Panic

Cholesterol free zone looks to have a mascot.

Heart disease took off in the early part of the twentieth century, and doctors frantically searched for the cause throughout the next several decades. Tests in the fifties initially showed an association between early death by heart disease and fat deposits and lesions along artery walls. Because cholesterol was found to be present in those deposits (of course it would!) and because researchers had previously associated familial hypercholesterolaemia (hereditary high blood cholesterol) with heart disease, they concluded that cholesterol must be the culprit. In fact, what happens is that in response to an inflammatory situation, the body uses cholesterol as a “band-aid” to temporarily cover any lesions in the arterial wall. In the event the inflammation is resolved, the band-aid goes away and repair takes place. No harm, no foul. Unfortunately, in most cases, the inflammation proceeds, the cholesterol plaque is eventually acted on by macrophages and is oxidized to a point at which it takes up more space in the artery, slows arterial flow and eventually can break loose to form a clot. And all this time the cholesterol was just trying to be the good guy! Blaming cholesterol for all this is like blaming a cut finger on all the band-aids you have lying around your house.

Death from heart disease, according to the CDC, has declined over 50% since its peak in the 1950s. The success is attributed to a number of factors, including a decrease in smoking and better diagnosis and treatment of high blood pressure. Included in the list of factors was the opportunity for public education regarding the scientific findings/theories related to cholesterol; however, measures (including CDC estimates) of dietary saturated fat intake show that intake has generally stayed the same or risen.

But the dietary cholesterol message stuck.

Big Pharma To The Rescue!
Early drugs that “battled” high cholesterol prevented its absorption in the digestive tract. The side effects on the digestive system were unpleasant enough and the results modest enough that the drugs never garnered much support from either side of the prescription pad. Enter statins. Statins inhibited the natural production of cholesterol. Side effects were not as immediately noticeable or uncomfortable, and the results were quite good (at least at lowering cholesterol). (The recently beleaguered Vytorin and Zetia combined statin actions with a substance that reduces absorption of dietary cholesterol, preventing your body from trying to compensate for the lower natural cholesterol production.)

But what about the body’s natural impetus to produce a given and necessary amount of cholesterol? What happens to the parts of the body that need the cholesterol? What about the liver’s regulating mechanism? What happens when you mess with evolution? Exactly. Those are the sorts of questions that get thrown aside when you’re riding Big Pharma’s cholesterol hobby horse.

What Are the Problems With This (“Lipid”) Model?

Million Dollar Question

Oh, boy. There’s the million dollar question.

First off, let’s go back to the evolutionary question. As a naturally self-regulating system, the body will react if it doesn’t have enough cholesterol (yes, the body’s definition of enough and not Merck’s). If there’s not enough cholesterol, the alarm goes off, strobe lights flash and the body goes into crisis mode. Corticoid hormones coordinate a redistribution of cholesterol, a triage of sorts in which cholesterol is rationed among the many areas of the body that need it. Nonetheless, the body is now working under hardship conditions.

Adequate cholesterol isn’t available for the body’s repair system, for the uptake of serotonin, for the full initiation of Vitamin D and hormone production and their regulation of blood sugar and inflammation, etc., etc. What does your logic tell you here? Yup, nothing is running the way it should.

Let me also add that everyone’s cholesterol profile is going to be different, no matter what. And I acknowledge that a very small percentage of people out there genuinely have *true* hereditary high blood cholesterol, familial hypercholesterolemia, a metabolic condition with impaired or even lack of ability to metabolize cholesterol. This condition can have serious health consequences. By the way, this condition, in its heterozygous form affects at most 1 in 500 people. Total serum cholesterol in these folks is in the 400 mg/dl range (as opposed to the 200 recommended). The homozygous form affects about 1 in 250,000. You likely don’t know anyone in this category because their disorder almost always ends their lives at a very young age.

I mention familial hypercholesterolemia because I want to distinguish it from the claim made by Big Pharma ads that you may have higher cholesterol because people in your family did, and – can you believe it – their company is here to help. Duh! Everyone’s family influences cholesterol profiles. It’s, in small part, genetic. No big worry there. Just because you come from a family with “elevated” cholesterol doesn’t mean you have the familial hypercholesterolemia metabolic disorder. You can pretty much bet a whole lot o’ money on the likelihood that your cholesterol profile – good or bad – has more to do with learned behaviors like diet and exercise. “Elevated” cholesterol doesn’t equate with metabolic disorder.

Officer, You Got the Wrong Guy!
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. Sound and reliable medical research hasn’t proven that lowering (or low) cholesterol in and of itself reduces risk of death from heart disease across a population. Yes, there is always that single isolated guy who throws off the curve, but he (or she) is a statistical anomaly and doesn’t negate the legitimacy of the model. For instance, the Japanese people of Okinawa are among the healthiest in the world. Their heart disease rate is extremely low, but they tend to have “elevated” cholesterol levels.

The fact is, half of all first time heart attack sufferers have a perfectly “normal” cholesterol profile. What does this tell you? There must be some other piece here behind the “other half” and, I would solidly argue, behind the first half. Cholesterol is a red herring.

It all boils down to inflammation. Inflammation is the number one factor in heart disease. This is an accepted fact now, but it still gets little attention and no real prevention or treatment. Think about it: you have your cholesterol levels checked every five years or more if your profile is “problematic.” When do you have biomarkers for inflammation checked? Unless you’ve had a heart attack or been diagnosed with a serious medical condition, probably never.

Fighting inflammation near and far...

Inflammation. What is it caused by? Not fat, but carbohydrates. Yes, sugars and processed carbs are highest on the list of perpetrators here, but grains and starches as a whole contribute to the problem. LDL rises directly not with the amount of saturated fat you eat but with rising levels of inflammation caused by carbs and trans fats.

Oxidation. Furthermore, nearly every study suggests that LDL is only a true threat when it’s oxidized. What oxidizes it? Free radicals. We’re talking trans fats primarily, that beast of an additive found in countless food products (as opposed to foods). What counteracts free radicals (because we all naturally have some in us)? Anti-oxidants: veggies and fruits, of course, as well as nuts, olive oil, etc. Consider also a broad-based multi-antioxidant supplement containing those nutrients shown to decrease oxidation.

Back to the red herring issue. Substantially “elevated” cholesterol, low HDL or high LDL might be reason to give you pause, but not for the reason you might think. The number can tell you that something is amiss, but they’re a symptom of the larger concern rather than the main issue itself. Cholesterol profile can be impacted by other conditions such as hypothyroidism, untreated diabetes or pre-diabetes, pregnancy (surprise!), lactation, stress, liver conditions, heart disease (symptom, not cause of), etc. Talk to your doctor about what your numbers mean in the grand scheme of your health. And see if you can get a read on other markers, like C-reactive protein (an inflammatory indicator) and those small particle LDL numbers.

How to Maintain True Heart Health

Better use two hands...

Now that we’ve conquered the cholesterol frenzy (because the frenzy itself is the real threat), let’s get to the genuine issue of maintaining heart health. Maintaining heart health is about keeping inflammation at bay. As we say here at MDA, that means an anti-inflammatory diet (with exercise), and primal nutrition fits the bill: copious amounts and variety of veggies, fruits, good quality meats, healthy fats and proteins.

Also, plenty of omega-3 fatty acids, particularly fish oil, will thin the blood and help prevent clotting, which along with atherosclerosis (inflammation related), is a serious set up for heart disease and stroke. Fish oil also happens to generally lower triglycerides and increase “good” HDL.

Read up in our MDA archives for additional info on inflammation and healthy living. Thanks for tuning in.

sugar freak, mac vegetarian, Sean Munson, maxgiani, mammabrarian, aussiegall Flickr Photos (CC)

Further Reading:

The Definitive Guide to Insulin, Blood Sugar and Type 2 Diabetes

Vytorin: Big Blow for Big Pharma

PharmaLot: Who Needs Those Cholesterol Pills Anyway?

Sponsor note:
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Prefer listening to reading? Get an audio recording of this blog post, and subscribe to the Primal Blueprint Podcast on iTunes for instant access to all past, present and future episodes here.

[tags]cholesterol, HDL, LDL, inflammation, free radicals, oxidation, co Q10, fish oil, triglycerides, fat[/tags]

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105 Comments on "The Definitive Guide to Cholesterol"

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John O
John O
8 years 10 months ago

Very interesting article, and fun to read.

As you pointed out heterozygous Familial hypercholesterolemia affects about 0.2% of the US population. For these people it is important to known it is genetic. It will affect treatment and it also means the issue is with you for life (or as long as you have your genome). And then there is sex, if you have FH confirmed by a genetic test then any children you have will have a least a 50% chance of having it. And don’t forget your siblings and parents, same gene pool.

John

McFly
McFly
8 years 10 months ago

Pretty comprehensive. It surprised me to find out heart disease has decreased by 50% since the 1950’s.

Lurker
Lurker
4 years 7 months ago
I would argue that that statistic is misleading. I’m a fan of MDA and doing Primal myself, but the actual stat was “Death from heart disease, according to the CDC, has declined over 50% since its peak in the 1950s.” Part of the reason death from heart disease has dropped is that bypass surgeries and other post-heart-attack procedures have become commonplace. The statistic alone doesn’t tell the whole story (though this also does not negate anything in the article). In fact, I would suggest that it’s rather upsetting that we’ve gotten so good at fixing heart disease that CW is… Read more »
Sasquatch
8 years 10 months ago

John O,

There’s a distinction to be made here: heart disease hasn’t decreased, only deaths from heart disease. We’re getting better at keeping sick people alive through advanced (and extremely expensive) medical technology.

Charles
Charles
8 years 10 months ago
Well not only is lowering cholesterol not necessarily going to decrease heart disease, lowering it too much increase vulnerability to colorectal cancer: http://high-fat-nutrition.blogspot.com/2008/01/colorectal-cancer-and-cholesterol.html “Surprisingly, a strong association between increased LDL levels and decreased risk of colorectal cancer was identified. The explanation for this finding is unclear.” That’s it. That’s the total discussion of their most statistically significant finding. Possibly their most biologically significant finding. The lowest quartile for men had LDL-C below 100mg/dl, women below 110mg/dl. Those were the ones most likely to get bowel cancer. I think it’s worth pointing out that the average cardiologist would consider an LDL-C… Read more »
Jerry
Jerry
8 years 10 months ago

Mark, this is why we all love your blog so much. This was a terrific read that is absolutely correct. Great job.

Cindy Moore
8 years 10 months ago

Excellent post!

Unfortunately, too heterozygous Familial hypercholesterolemia isn’t the only “hereditary” form of hypercholesterolemia today according to the medical establishment. There are something like 5 types now….if you’re HDL is low it’s one type, if it’s high LDL it’s another…and of course all are treated with statins!!

There’s been a lot of discussion in the medical world about the “disappointing” results of the recent study indicating lower LDL may not always be good. This is good!!

Jay
Jay
5 years 10 months ago

The funny thing about familial hypercholesterolemia is that in a Dutch study, they found that vascular problems were independent of cholesterol. Yet no one would ever publish an article about that little detail. There’s tons of stuff out there against the cholesterol myth, like lower cholesterol is actually more dangerous than high by far, and that low cholesterol can cause serious depression and heighten the risk of hemorrhagic stroke.

Mike OD
8 years 10 months ago

Funny how cholesterol helps to keep the brain active in older people…and then come statins and lower cholesterol… and then a huge rise in alzheimers…anyone? anyone?

mm
mm
6 years 4 months ago

The low-fat craze probably has a lot to blame for that one too…

Patrícia
4 years 3 months ago

and we wouldn’t be surprised at all, sadly!

Jay
Jay
5 years 10 months ago

After people ask doctors about why they should stay on statins, they say “oh, they also have anti-inflammatory effets” go figure. All studies done usually use arginine (a friggen amino acid? Sure it creates nitric oxide and all but come on) as a reference point to test statins’ anti-inflammatory process.

charlotte
8 years 10 months ago

Wow, very comprehensive you guys! Thank you for parsing all that for me. I feel like I really learned something today. But now my brain hurts and I’m going to bed:)

mm
mm
6 years 4 months ago

“But now my brain hurts and I’m going to bed”

Uh-oh, sounds like you need more cholesterol and Omega-3s… 😉

Wayne
Wayne
8 years 10 months ago

Nice summary. With high cholesterol and extremely high triglycerides, I’ve been on Lopid for years mainly to protect my pancreas. No health issues other than these symptoms. And then muscle soreness at the gym finally got my GP’s attention that statin side-effects may be something to watch. Finally we get to fish and flax seed oil, reducing carbs, etc. Family history confirms it’s genetic, with lifespans into the 80’s with stroke over heart failure. Dispensing nutrition and exercise prescriptions need at the least same emphasis in western medicine as big pharma.

John O
John O
8 years 10 months ago

Hi Wayne,

Lifespans into the 80s? that’s pretty darn good. In the US average lifespan for a male is a shade over 72 years. Maybe you have Japanes ancestry, Japanese men are the longest lived at 76 and a bit. Why? Probably a combination of many things, public health access, genetics, diet, environment, treatment of elderly, etc. Before I get off topic I will say that family history is one piece of the puzzle and is not necessarily your predetermined destiny.

John

Raj
Raj
8 years 10 months ago

Hmm, I have a question. when they talk about inflammation, what are they talking about exactly? So, let’s say I am somewhat active, but keep getting little inflammatory problems (like twisted ankle, sore muscles and joints after working out etc). Will that sort of thing ultimately end up affecting my heart health?

Sasquatch
8 years 10 months ago

Hi Raj,

That’s an excellent question. Inflammation is often mentioned and not often explained. Getting bruises and twisting your ankle isn’t what he’s talking about here. He’s talking about systemic inflammation.

My limited understanding is that the word, in this context, refers to the presence of certain harmful biological markers. Things like C-reactive protein and interleukin-18. These are cell stress molecules that are a sign of damage.

So it’s not inflammation in the sense of “tissue swelling” necessarily; the term has expanded.

saram
saram
8 years 10 months ago

Very great article – thank you. When I tried to talk with my doctor about statins and asked about the inflamation thing he said “statins reduce inflammation”. I hadn’t heard that – have you a comment about this? thanks!

Peter Beck
8 years 8 months ago

Mark, excellent, readable overview on an important topic.

I’m an MD, and have been concerned about the possibilities you noted: decreasing the serum cholesterol levels impairing the other beneficial cholesterol functions (neural, regenerative, sex hormones, etc). Especially when cholesterols are driven way down, in folks considered at high cardiovascular risk.

Are you aware of any studies that actually show impairment or negative outcomes, however?

Tim Lazaro
7 years 10 months ago

Really enjoyed the read! We’re starting to get a better understanding of cholesterol and its role in heart disease. I’ll bookmark your blog and I’ll be back.

Thanks

Karin
Karin
7 years 7 months ago

John O.:
That’s life expectancy at birth. It takes into account people dying very young of accidents and homicides and wars and suicides and goodness knows what else. Your life expectancy as a man at this moment is probably not 72. For example, according to the Centers for Disease Control, in 2005 a 65 year old woman could expect to live another 20 years.

Mari
3 years 11 months ago

The theory is sound and spotprued. The goal was to put out the information in an easy to read and understand way without all the medical and scientific jargon. It has worked for me and others.Thanks for checking it out

J.
J.
7 years 5 months ago

Completely agree about the drugs. Our healthcare system is going down the wrong road by encouraging people to treat everything with drugs and by using drugs as the first line of defense rather than as a last resort.

james
james
7 years 5 months ago
over 10,000 people a year die from prescribed medications, i was diagnoed high choleterol, have kept it better by exercise and whole grain bread, not much red meat, turkey chicken instead, just had bout with intestinal blockage cleared with distilled water, fruits, chicken noodle soup. cons also causes high blood pressure. now i am back to 116 over 67 with a 55 heartbeat. i found the article very good thank you. i am going to start a website on natural health, be 70 in five months, don’t like that 72 age for death reference lol. i weigh 142 and i… Read more »
alex
alex
7 years 4 months ago

I’m still a little confused.

as someone who wants to both gain weight and eat low carb, i eat 4 eggs a day.

is it logical to say that as the liver produces 1400mg of cholesterol, and each egg contains 200mg, that you can safely eat 7 eggs a day?

In your recent weight gain post you recommend a dozen eggs a day…how come that is safe and healthy?

Is there a limit to how much dietary cholesteral should be consumed, and is there a direct link between dietary cholesteral and indicators of bad health?

Ed
Ed
6 years 8 days ago

Cholesterol absorption is non-linear at as dietary cholesterol increases. The absorption pathway becomes saturated and a lower relative amount actually gets absorbed as the amount eaten increases. What’s not absorbed passes through in the end (pun intended).

Jay
Jay
5 years 10 months ago

Low intake of dietary cholesterol causes more cholesterol to be produced.

High intake of dietary cholesterol causes less cholesterol to be produced.

(If you want, you can ask Uffe Ravnskov or get his book, it’s truth)

alex
alex
7 years 4 months ago

Google searches show numerous references that dietary cholesterol increases blood cholesterol, and increased blood cholesterol has been proven to increase the risk of heart disease.

You seem to be saying (correct me if I’m wrong) that cholesterol is not the cause of heart disease, but inflammation is? Is that to say that there is no limit on cholesterol s long as you keep inflammation at bay?

very confusing and feels like I am gambling with my health by eating contrary to ‘common knowledge’

Marija
Marija
5 years 6 months ago

I recommend in addition to reason more of Mark’s blog to take a look at “Good Calories, Bad Calories” by Gary Taubes which gives further details as well as an explanation of how the lipid hypothesis became “common knowledge” despite being erroneous.

FDgreen
FDgreen
7 years 4 months ago

I echo Alex’s concerns above…

Lulabelle
7 years 4 months ago

I also echo Alex’s concerns. Anyone???

Ryan Denner
7 years 4 months ago

Mark,

Can you clarify the following:

“Triglycerides are essentially the form that fat takes as it travels to the body’s tissues through the bloodstream … A high triglyceride level, which is unequivocally fueled by a high carb diet…”.

Wouldn’t a high fat diet contribute to a high triglyceride be attributed to a high fat diet as well? I am a little confused.

Curtis
5 years 8 months ago
Mark, That’s false. Case in point is myself. I changed the way I ate years ago after patching things together through my own research. At the time my TG fairly high. My other blood markers were approaching the medical establishments marks of ‘high cholesterol’. I also have a family history of heart disease and high cholesterol. Fast forward 6 or 7 years. My last lab test showed extremely low cholesterol levels. In fact my TG’s were 33. Nobody would have believed me had I not had the lab papers in my hand. One of the surest ways to lower TG… Read more »
Alcinda Moore
7 years 4 months ago
Alex, there actually IS no evidence that cholesterol causes heart disease! Here is the first in a series of videos that explains it all: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XPPYaVcXo1I The whole cholesterol = heart disease theory is based on unsound evidence! As for dietary cholesterol, it has little or no effect on blood levels of the average person. There are some that are sensitive, but most of us, at most, will see a very slight change (2-5 points maybe) with a higher level of dietary cholesterol! Also, read these articles about the original Framingham Heart study: http://www.proteinpower.com/drmike/cardiovascular-disease/framingham-follies/ and http://www.proteinpower.com/drmike/cardiovascular-disease/framingham-flip-flop/ Often cited, but no real… Read more »
Daniel Merk
6 years 11 months ago

Someone please help me on this typical argument I get caught in:

“If you eat a big juicy steak (even grass fed), it has so much cholesterol it will kill your arteries.”

I try to respond “But blood cholesterol and dietary cholesterol are not the same.”

Am I correct?

Todd Lloyd, DC
3 years 10 months ago

Yes. That is a very simplistic argument. It’s even joked about: “Call your cardiologist before you eat KFC’s Double-Down sandwich! They took out the bread!”

But, the body first processes all the food you take in. It’s not like the fat and cholesterol that you eat immediately goes directly to the blood stream.

rob
rob
6 years 8 months ago

Hey Mark,

I’ve been on the primal diet for about 4 months and I’ve lost30 pounds.

Ive been super happy with the results.
However at my last physical I had got my bloodwork taken and found out that my cholesterol levels were worse than my last test about a year ago 30 pounds heavier!
My ldl’s were significantly higher.(94 to 166)
My HDL’s were significantly lower.(73 to 51)
The only thing that improve was my tryglicerides (160 down to 78).

I feel I have been following the plan.
Do you have any ideas on what could have possibly gone wrong?

PaleoJames
PaleoJames
4 years 9 months ago
Not to worry – most of your lipid markers will read high (and often VERY high) while losing weight quickly. When you keep your serum insulin levels low and are in ketosis for an extended period of time your fat stores are releasing tons of FFAs, as they should. When your weight levels off you should see levels normalize quickly. I went through the same situation recently – lost 80 lbs (from 272 to 182 at 6′, 2″) in about 9 months. Doc was super concerned about cholesterol and trig levels and wanted to statinize me after about 30 lbs… Read more »
Brad
Brad
4 years 5 months ago

Thank you so much for sharing this story. This happened to me EXACTLY today (same age and after 30lbs of loss) and at first I allowed myself to be ashamed or felt like I had made some kind of mistake.

Jacqui
4 years 4 months ago

SO SO GLAD to see this cuz I just had a blood work screening thing after about 30-35# loss and was lectured how paleo is not healthy, I need this drug and that and whatnot and it really put me thru hell because even though I was losing, it really tripped me up into doubting what I was doing. But the reasoning here makes sense, especially seeing others who lost about the same amount of weight and had the same issues with these tests. Phrew.

M.S.
M.S.
6 years 8 months ago
Mark, I have the EXACT same question as Rob… I have been eating primal for 3 months(lost 22 lbs so far and am doing Crossfit). my data are as follows: 2007 2010 Total 234 274 LDL 135 202 Trig 225 97 I have asked for a blood test to directly test LDL particle size, but doesn’t sound like that is possible though the system I am in. Thoughts on how to bring down the LDL primally(I have read Dr. Eades’ take –don’t get me wrong- i am not looking for crazy low, but getting it down to the 130 range?)?… Read more »
Martin
3 years 11 months ago

I understand that the research linking cholesterol to heart disease is flawe, however numbers like this still represent significant deviation from average.
Ibelieve there is some optimal range and if going significantly above that we are getting to the unknown zone. I had LDL of 200 after 1 year on primal eating (gaining weight not loosing) si I adjusted my butter and coconut oil intake got to 100 6 months later.

Liz
Liz
1 year 1 month ago

If you are still following this, my LDL went way up and the doc was panicked of course. I got the VLDL breakdown (very low density lipoprotein) and my VLDL was very low so little risk. Triglycerides super low. HLD healthy. Of course he recommended statins. For the record if this is my family level that is good as there is no history of heart disease at all in my family.

alex
alex
6 years 8 months ago

apparently saturated fat raises BOTH HDL and LDL, polyunsaturated fat LOWERS both (but may have links to inflammation and cancer), and monunsaturated lowers HDL and increases HDL – the perfect solution.

perhaps the ratio between hdl and ldl is more important than the absolute numbers – if they have both

In rob’s example:the ratio did get worse, which seems worrying. Maybe sub out some saturated fat and polyunsaturated fats for monounsaturated fats?

rob
rob
6 years 8 months ago

Fish oil is part of the PUFA family..I’ve been supplementing with it for a little over a year.
Is this something that should possibly be changed?

Todd
6 years 8 months ago

Excellent read. Love these definite guides as it truly tells the true tale among topics that people just simply do not understand.

Thanks Mark!

Roy
Roy
6 years 7 months ago
Peer-Reviewed Science Mark. As a strength trainer, I think this is the best site I’ve seen that focuses on proper exercise and a dietary practice that makes sense. Since inflammation appears the culprit in cholesterol problems (and many other problems) I would like to suggest a single link where only peer-reviewed studies that support the inflammation hypothesis (in all its forms) be listed. Perhaps you have this here already and I have not found it yet. The peer reviewed studies provide suitable ammo to address the many professionals I train (including MDs) who are still tethered to antiquated dietary beliefs,… Read more »
Mike
Mike
6 years 7 months ago

I’ve often heard the line, repeated above, that dietary changs have only a minimal (5%-10%) impact on blood cholesterol levels, despite the evidence of many people, including myself. After switching to a Paleo diet for about 3-4 months prior to a recent fasting blood cholesterol measurement I went from a Total of around 160 to a toatl of 231. HDL went up to 87 and TriG’s were super low at 27, so I know I have nothing to worry about, but just wanted to point out that dietary changes can have huge impacts on blood cholesterol.

hunter
hunter
6 years 6 months ago

I just got blood work done:
total:206
tri: 53
HDL: 54
LDL: 136

My doctor want says this is a bad place to be and I need to lower my LDL to below l20. All my other numbers on the list of acronyms are in the normal range. Any thoughts or comments? Or can I tell my doc where to go next we meet. I really like to tell people to where to go when they try to tell me how to live or what to do. (Prior military)

Charles
Charles
6 years 6 months ago

@hunter: Your doctor is…well…nuts.

Triglycerides under 100? HDL and TG about the same?

With TG of 53, nearly ALL of your LDL is going to be the large, fluffy, healthy type.

If your doctor is so adamant about your LDL, have him test for LDL fractions. It could be educational for him when they all come back as Pattern A (the good stuff).

People would kill for your lipid profile…

hunter
hunter
6 years 6 months ago

Thanks for clearing that up. I was really upset after leaving the doctors office that day. He made it seem like I was about to have a stroke during the check up and I am only 25.

Andres
Andres
6 years 5 months ago

I’ve been on the PB for 80 days, before these were my lipid levels:

Cholesterol: 241
HDL: 49
LDL: 177
Tryglyceride: 75
Weight: 194 pounds

And in the latest results:

Cholesterol: 385
HDL: 66
LDL: 307
Tryglyceride: 64
Weight: 175 pounds

The 385 + 307 numbers freaked me out. I’ve been eating losts of bacon (uncured) (probably half a pound a day) + coconut oil + 6-8 eggs (grass fed) daily + grass feed beef hamburgers (2 – 3 daily) + lots of vegetables (Kale, broccoli, asparagus…)

I’m thinking about cutting a bit in those fats (mainly bacon and Coconut oil)…

Thoughts anyone?
Thanks,

Andres

Jessica
Jessica
6 years 2 months ago
has anyone gotten back to you on this? i’m having the same kind of problem. i just had blood work done and my Dr says i have high blood pressure too. i don’t have old test results to compare with, but as of now… HDL- 85 LDL- 155 Cholesterol- 250 she told me my cholesterol should be under 200 and that i need to stop eating as much fatty foods. the article above said that “230 or even 250 might not be dangerous at all if your HDL is high and your small particle LDL is low”. i don’t know… Read more »
Alisha
Alisha
6 years 20 days ago

Hey Jess,

Did you get a reply on this one? I just got my bloodwork done and my doc said everything looks great, except my cholesterol it was 240. I told her about being PRIMAL and that is what I have been doing for about 5 months now…and she specifically said I need to cut back on red meat and bacon! I have been eating TONS of bacon… but I thought that was ok? I am confused, because I thought I was doing everything right…

Thanks,
Alisha

Jay
Jay
5 years 10 months ago
Doctors are still on the “red meat is evil” phase, when you know, red meat can help with hypertension, is lower in dietary cholesterol than chicken ounce-for-ounce, and even when grainfed, have just as much “healthy fats” as “bad ones.” Not to mention that CLA (the true “trans fat” is a possible anti-cancer treatment) is also pretty high even in grainfed. Interesting note on “healthy” versus “non-healthy” fats: When compared to normal tissue, according to research done by Anthony Colpo, the scientists saw that 50% of the plaque was polyunsaturated, 30% monounsaturated, and 20% saturated. A bit backwards isn’t it?… Read more »
Melissa
Melissa
5 years 11 months ago
Ed Terry
Ed Terry
6 years 5 months ago
I’ve been studying diet and cholesterol for several years now and I’ve learned quite a bit about how I react to different diets. On a SHAD (standard American healthy diet) with lots of cardio, fruit, grains, and vegetables, my cholesterol rarely went above 200. However, my HDL constantly hovered around 30. I have a very strong history of both heart attack and stroke in my family with every man having either a stroke or heart attack before the age of 50, so I thought I was genetically screwed. I accepted the fat-heart disease hypothesis. I then made every attempt to… Read more »
Jay
Jay
5 years 10 months ago
*insert YO DAWG WE HEARD joke that I can’t be arsed to think of here* Anyway, I eat about 80% fat and 15-20% protein (carbs are in there still) on most days, I don’t even bother getting my cholesterol checked, my CRP is hovering around .7 (1 mg/dl is seen as “the upper limit”), I eat all naturally raised meats, so it actually makes it harder to get the fat. But I commend you on not taking the USDA’s foiled attempt to make you sick and eat about 16 ounces of rice a day. I’m trying to stay off anything… Read more »
bec
bec
6 years 3 months ago
Nourished Mom
Nourished Mom
6 years 3 months ago

Grok doesn’t do blood tests!

Nourished Mom
Nourished Mom
6 years 3 months ago

Sorry, I meant, Grok doesn’t get lab tests done!

Alicia
Alicia
6 years 1 month ago

Just got my blood work done.

Total: 225 (considered High)
Tryglycerides: 96
HDL: 72
VLDL: 19
LDL: 134 (considered High)
LDL/HDL Ratio: 1.9

What do you all think?

B.B
B.B
6 years 8 days ago

Can someone please answer Alex’s questions, asked on July 15th, 2009.
I’m worried about that too

B.B
B.B
6 years 7 days ago

“You seem to be saying (correct me if I’m wrong) that cholesterol is not the cause of heart disease, but inflammation is? Is that to say that there is no limit on cholesterol as long as you keep inflammation at bay?

very confusing and feels like I am gambling with my health by eating
contrary to ‘common knowledge’” ^

Mary C
Mary C
6 years 7 days ago

Our current “common knowledge” is created by advertisers to sell processed foods, degraded meats, fruits and vegetables, and medicines. Not so good, huh? The idea here is to find comfort in the foods human beings ate safely and productively for millenia and to determine whether or not your genetics enable you to tolerate some of the things that came along in the last few thousand years. So you’re really returning to common knowledge, not flouting it.

B.B
B.B
6 years 7 days ago

Thanks Mary. What’s worrying me is I’m trying to put on a little weight, but how can I do it without worsening my cholesterol. E.g. the 12 eggs on the other post. My cholesterol’s borderline high already, but wouldn’t eating all those eggs make it even worse? I read through this page and the posts, and it’s the posts where people’s bad levels of cholesterol went Up that worry me, because how would you ignore That? I know cholesterol is beneficial for different things, but too much of anything, esp HDL isn’t good!

Ed
Ed
6 years 7 days ago

Every day for breakfast I have a four-egg omelet that has coconut oil, bacon, cheese, and sun-dried tomatoes (& occasionally freezer-dried blueberries- don’t laugh until you’ve tried it.)

My total cholesterol is under 160. I’m trying to increase mine to 180.

B.B
B.B
5 years 11 months ago

Thanks Ed. What’s your cholesterol like? I’d still love to gain muscle /weight without going too far in the wrong direction. Should I just go crazy on the fats? Does anyone have meal ideas for a healthy weight gain? I’m 128 lbs (female), trying to gain a little weight

Ed Terry
Ed Terry
5 years 11 months ago
I’m a bit of a geek, so I already had a spreadsheet with food values from the USDA National Nutrient Database. With that spreadsheet and a set of scales, I was able to determine how much fat (& which types), protein and carbohydrates I ate. I pretty much eat the same breakfast, lunch and snacks everyday, so I decided to change my diet slowly. This was important for me because adding fat to my diet allowed my body to handle the additional load intestinally. Gaining weight has never been my goal (just the opposite). I can provide advice on unhealthy… Read more »
Jay
Jay
5 years 10 months ago
Have you read Anthony Colpo’s “The Great Cholesterol Con?” Not to mention the simple fact that 75% of people who have heart attacks have normal cholesterol. The lipoid hypothesis used 7 countries when there were 22 countries with data available. Also, if you look at MONICA, the fact you can keep the cholesterol myth alive is just astonishing, as there is little-to-no correlation between deaths and cholesterol. Other good reads were Dwight Lundell’s “The Great Cholesterol Lie” and Uffe Ravnskov’s “Fat and Cholesterol are good for you.” I haven’t believed the cholesterol myth for quite some time, nor the “Metabolic… Read more »
keithallenlaw
5 years 9 months ago

I’m not buying the whole ‘anti-oxidant’
hype. The ant-oxidants found in plants are FOR THE PLANTS! Cancer, tumors, bacteria,fungals, and whatever other bad guys are anaerobic by nature, not aerobic. Anaerobic=no oxygen, aerobic=oxygen. So why would you take
“anti” oxidants?

Bopis
Bopis
5 years 4 months ago

Instead of “aligned” I think you mean “maligned”.

Vasco Nevoa
5 years 3 months ago
Well, looks like I’m not alone in this. 🙂 After about 2 months in a non-radical Primal lifestyle: # Fasting Glucose = 86 [mg/dL] # Blood Pressure: 90 / 50 [mmHg] # Total Cholesterol = 275 [mg/dL] # HDL = 56 [mg/dL] # LDL = 210 [mg/dL] # Triglycerides = below 90 [mg/dL] (too low for the chemist’s machine to get right) Now, I’ve stumbled upon a very interesting article that clarifies that the most telling indicator of CVD risk is actually TG/HDL. If you’re below 2.0, you’re ok. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2664115/ Assuming a TG count anywhere between 70 and 90, this… Read more »
charles monmiller
5 years 1 month ago
Mark, There has been substantial evidence that saturated anima fat promotes arterial disease. Even so-called grass fed beef. There was a man who was on the Atkins diet who sued Dr. Atkins when he developed heart disease after 1 year on his high fat animal diet. For that reason I do not eat red meat, instead I eat lean turkey breast which I boil in hot water to reduce the fat even more. I do think your understanding of the correct diet for the human specie is right on the money.. However, too many carbs can easily sabotage this diet.… Read more »
Bryanccfhsr
Bryanccfhsr
5 years 1 month ago

I just ate a big steak, a bunch of kale wilted in cocunut oil with some whole cream dripped over it.

Everyone (mostly coworkers)comments on my physical improvement as I am obviously leaner, more muscular and strongerthan severalmonths ago. Then they don’t believe me despite my improved lipidprofile over last year before transitioning to primal.

Then they gawk when we go out to eat and I get a 16 ounce pork chop T bone and put butter on top! .

Thanks Mark for helping shatter a myth.

Deanna
Deanna
4 years 8 months ago

Charles, please don’t come in here and rant about “substantial evidence” that you don’t bother to provide links for. It’s rude.
Also, I hope you enjoy that boiled turkey breast. Yes, indeed, that just sounds yummy! You know, even if Mark and the hundreds of thousands of paleo/primal eaters in the world, not to mention the millions of ancestors throughout history turned, out to be wrong, I’m OK with it. I’d rather die young, happy, and well fed than live to be a 100 eating the disgusting crap you just described.

Clare Harding
5 years 27 days ago

Of course, what is so scary about all this cholesterol con is now the ‘scientists’ are using teleoanalysis to prove that cholesterol causes heart disease. Teleoanalysis “provides the answer to studies that would be obtained from studies that have not been done and often, for ethical and financial reasons, could never be done.” Law and Wald – Combining data from different types of study. So this means that you can prove things you know to be true despite there being no studies done. Awesome.

Phil
Phil
5 years 20 days ago

I just had my results having eaten high fats, higher proteins, low carb for a year and a half or more, and my total cholesterol is *very* high. 433 in American money. Any thoughts, anyone? Here are the numbers;

Total 433
HDL 73.5 (rounded up)
Tri 50.3 (rounded up)

That means my Tri/HDL ratio is very low (0.68), but I must have loads of LDL going on.

Andres
Andres
5 years 20 days ago

I’m in the same boat, after almost two years being primal, my numbers are extremely similar to yours. I feel great, and I’m stronger than ever, the problem is that last month I left my 8-5 job to start my own company, and I could not get any insurance company to insure me (so I’m under the expensive COBRA)… Rats!…

Phil
Phil
5 years 16 days ago

Interesting. Sorry about the insurance thing, but good to hear you feel well.

In my case, I wonder whether the cholesterol is elevated because there’s some sort of healing going on, or whether I do just eat too much for me at the moment. My results were marked “severe hypercholesterolaemia in the range associated with FH (familial hypercholesterolaemia)..but noted “normal trigylcerides, TSH and glucose”, so as to underscore for my GP it’s not being down to issues with diabetes or thyroid, I would think.

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