"The Doc said my Good Cholesterol is OK, but the Bad Cholesterol is Too High".
Why is this WRONG and MISLEADING?
This article links into a previous article I shared about Heart Attack and Stroke because there are common features. To be fair I suspect one of the reasons doctors mislead their patients on this topic is because in the UK a GP has an average 9.2 minutes per appointment, and that simply isn't enough to explain this rather complicated topic well. Even this article simplifies, but it shares enough to allow you to separate the important facts from those which are merely of interest or just plain wrong.
The words Fat & Oil are interchangeable here. Fats, known as Essential Fatty Acids (EFA's), are molecules. They can be either Saturated (their carbon atoms 'C' are saturated with hydrogen 'H'), see the diagram, or Unsaturated, (some of their carbon atoms are missing a hydrogen, producing a kink). Saturated fats are stiff molecules, usually solid at room temperature and kept in a tub, like butter. Unsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature and usually kept in a bottle, like olive oil. Coconut oil, a saturated fat, melts at 240C so in the tropics it will be liquid, in the fridge it will be solid. Fish oil is unsaturated, as clearly it would be problematic if fish swimming in cold North Atlantic waters contained oil like coconuts, as they would be stiff. Salmon oil melts at between -70 to 13.5 degrees C.
Whether oils are saturated or unsaturated confers certain properties to them which have important implications for our health.
Why is Omega 3 oil so good for us?
Omega 3 oils contain two important molecules called DHA & EPA. These molecules have powerful anti-inflammatory action. When choosing your Omega 3 sources, look at the amount of DHA/EPA, not just the overall quantity of omega 3 oil. These oils have health benefits because they are unstable, allowing them to breakdown easily so the individual parts can perform specific functions in our bodies. The downside to this however, is they will oxidize (go rancid) quickly when exposed to air, heat and light. Hence they must be looked after carefully. One sure way to judge the quality of fish oil capsules is to smell them. If they smell even remotely fishy, they are rancid, likewise Flax oil becomes bitter when oxidized.
Omega 3 oil has become synonymous with salmon, but the omega 3 content of farmed salmon varies considerably now, depending on their feed, and many other fish including sardines have a relatively higher content anyway. Grass-fed beef is a good source but most beef consumed these days is not grass-fed and contains less or none. All sources are destroyed when cooked. To ensure sufficient intake we need to rely on other sources, such as flax seeds, chia seeds, walnuts, lentils and supplement from a legitimate source.
What do healthy Fats do for me?
Fats are critical to many bodily functions from hormone synthesis to cell membrane structures. The brain itself comprises about 70% fats by dry weight. Surprisingly, many people don't get enough fat in their diet, because the fats they do consume are destroyed by frying and can't be used, leading to a range of health issues. Fat and oil should be consumed uncooked and unrefined.
The good fats should also be consumed in the right proportions. The two healthy oils we hear most about are Omega 3 and Omega 6. They are both Unsaturated. Neither can be made by the body and must therefore be consumed. The ideal balance is 2:1, omega 3:6. but Omega 3 oil is so deficient in our food sources nowadays, many diets tend to be relatively too high in omega 6. This imbalance also leads to many health problems, not least inflammatory and degenerative conditions. The problem is clear when we look at what happens to consumed oil excess to requirement.
It has been suggested there is no upper limit for consumption of Omega 3, but an excess of Omega 6 is converted into pro-inflammatory prostaglandins, aggravating any existing inflammatory conditions, such as arthritis or cardio-vascular diseases. So whilst the Mediterranean Diet is often touted as the most healthy because it is rich in locally produced organic Omega 6 olive oil, it will not be healthy if you don’t have enough Omega 3 to balance it. Not only this, but a lot of olive oil on supermarket's shelves is a poor quality refined product, and a far cry from the home-produced unrefined organic oil consumed by centenarians in the Greek hills.
Here's one major problem with oils.
When oils are heated they reach a point at which the molecules fall apart or denature, called the smoke point. Oils taken above their smoke point produce trans-fats. Trans-fats are consistently linked to cardio-vascular disease, because they are pro-inflammatory. Oils such as olive, coconut, palm, sunflower or ghee have high smoke points and are less likely to produce trans-fats when fried, but even these oils will, if taken to a very high heat for too long; as they might be in fast food outlets or the food court. If you want to fry your food, put a small amount of water in the pan first to keep the temperature of the oil down, then flash-fry it with a minimal amount of oil. Anything deep-fried will be bad. If you are truly concerned about your health, heed the advice of fats guru Udo Erasmus, “If you want to fry something, fry it in water”.
Will Fats make me Fat?
Fats are a great source of energy, providing 9 calories per gram compared with 4 calories per gram for both carbohydrates and protein. Fats don't necessarily make you fat; excess calories make you fat, regardless of the source, if you don't exercise. As oils are calorie rich however, it is easier to over consume them compared with vegetables.
How are Fats related to Cholesterol, LDLs, HDLs and Triglycerides?
Triglycerides, LDL's (low-density lipo-proteins) and HDLs (high density lipo-proteins) are NOT cholesterol. Cholesterol is a lipid (a fat); an organic compound that doesn't dissolve in water. Lipo-proteins are a compound of protein and fat. They are different substances from cholesterol.
Cholesterol is essential for life, forming part of the wall of every single cell in your body, all 30 trillion of them. It is also used for many important bodily processes including manufacture of sex hormones; oestrogen, progesterone and testosterone. Without adequate cholesterol, production of these hormones will be adversely affected, leading to sex-hormone linked conditions, such as infertility, disturbed menses and possibly incomplete pregnancy.
The quantity of cholesterol needed daily varies depending on sex, size, exercise and reference! Let's say for arguments sake you need 1g of cholesterol daily. You can easily consume 50g of fat in one fast food meal, but it’s rare to consume more than 1g of cholesterol in a day.
If you eat one egg (that's always the first food the docs incorrectly tell you to avoid), that's about 200mg of cholesterol. Your body still needs another 800mg to meet daily needs. If you don't eat any more, that deficit WILL be made automatically by all the cells in your body, until you have enough! Even if you have zero cholesterol in your diet, because it is a critical compound, your body will make it from stored fat, sugar or protein.
LDL is NOT bad cholesterol, just as HDL is NOT good cholesterol. These two lipo-proteins are both transport mechanisms. LDL molecules carry cholesterol in the blood stream to the cells, HDL molecules carry it back. The way this process is usually explained leads people to believe they have a problem with their cholesterol, but what they actually have a problem with is the LDL, the 'taxi' for cholesterol. An increased number of 'taxis' can clearly carry an increased amount of cholesterol in the blood. Here is the million dollar reveal: The primary culprits for increasing the number of LDL's are refined carbohydrates and sugar, NOT consumed cholesterol or fat.
To date NO LINK has been established between high cholesterol and cardio-vascular disease (CVD), despite what we hear all too often. The primary risk factors linked to CVD are elevated LDL’s, triglycerides (stored fat), and nutritional deficiency.
If you consume calories excess to requirement, they will be stored as fat, no matter what you ate. That stored fat may be converted into LDL's at some time later. By reducing fat reserves, both triglycerides and LDL's are reduced, lowering the ability to carry excessive cholesterol in the bloodstream.
Why does excess LDL lead to cardio vascular disease?
In the previous article we saw how inflammation causes sticky Red Blood Cells (RBCs) to congregate around microscopic cracks on the inside of blood vessel walls, slowly blocking the vessel. Obesity, (excess stored fats), raises the number of cholesterol carrying LDLs in the blood. If this LDL/cholesterol compound also sticks to the inside of blood vessels, medically it is called 'plaque', and the process is known as 'atherosclerosis'. More commonly it is referred to as a 'furring up' of arteries. These two processes together hasten the blockage of arteries.
Taking a step back from the mechanisms, both are the result of excess calories, inflammation and nutritional deficiency. Those excess calories tend to come from refined carbohydrates, (sugar, white bread, white rice, cakes & cookies, pasta, deep fried foods etc.) because they elevate blood sugar levels far too quickly, triggering a decisive response from the hormone insulin to store it, before you go into a coma! That's what happens if blood sugar rises uncontrollably.
If you have been told your cholesterol is high, check the level of LDLs and Triglycerides. If they are normal, don't change anything! If those two are elevated, cut out the refined carbohydrates completely and be primarily vegetarian for two months, then retest. In addition, identify any inflammatory triggers (that's almost always the wrong food) and get checked for nutritional deficiencies which prevent damaged blood vessels from repairing properly.
Advice on buying oils.
Bottles of oil on supermarket shelves are sometimes advertised as ‘cholesterol free’. The question you should be asking is not ‘which will be better for me?’ but ‘what have they done to this oil in the refining process?’ Oils made from animal products will naturally have a small amount of cholesterol; those made from vegetable sources are naturally cholesterol free already. Beware, these are clever marketing strategies to encourage you to buy super refined, bleached, unhealthy oil. Unrefined oils will be less clear than refined ones, and maybe even be slightly cloudy or have a little sediment. Oils are sensitive to air, light and heat, especially omega 3 oils, so they should be kept in the fridge. They should also be in dark bottles protecting them from sunlight. Avoid any oil if it is crystal clear and in a clear glass bottle. Such oils will certainly have been through a refining process rendering most, not just devoid of goodness, but actually pro-inflammatory or even toxic.
Article by David Wells 2021
As always, information in this article comes not just from medical training but also from observation of symptoms and treatment protocols after 20 years of clinical experience. If you want to learn more about this topic, my book Finding Awesome, Proven Step to Extraordinary Health is available at Amazon.