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The Cholesterol Paradigm

May 31, 2013 08:03PM ● By Anonymous

These days, however (according to, eggs have less cholesterol than they used to (a large egg has about 185 milligrams of cholesterol according to the USDA, down from 215) possibly because of changes in hens’ diets.

Cholesterol is the fatty substance necessary for making hormones (like estrogen and testosterone), bile acids (to help digest food), Vitamin D, and cell wall membranes. On the fl ip side, cholesterol is also considered by many to be a leading cause of stroke and heart disease. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports 1 in 6 adults in America have doubled their risk for heart disease because of high cholesterol. These numbers can be alarming, especially considering that heart disease is the number one killer in America. In short, cholesterol is a duplicitous sort of substance that we can’t live with (too much) and we can’t live without.

Despite all of the talk about reducing cholesterol as a way to reduce heart disease, some studies, scientists, and even some doctors now claim that cholesterol has little to do with heart disease. One highly publicized cardiologist/nutritionist/ integrative medicine specialist (and co-author of the book The Great Cholesterol Myth) Dr. Stephen Sinatra, says that high levels of cholesterol might actually lead to longer, better lives. The book, coauthored with nutritionist Jonny Bowden, Ph.D., examines other causes of heart disease, such as inflammation, refi ned sugar, trans fats, and stress. Similarly, studies like the Norwegian Hunt 2 study have found the risk between high cholesterol and heart-related-deaths to be greatly overestimated.

For Dr. Sinatra, the inability of the human body to function properly without cholesterol, combined with a lifetime of discrepancies in what he calls the “cholesterol paradigm,” caused him to back away from labeling cholesterol as a culprit. Throughout his practice, he saw many patients develop heart disease with low cholesterol levels (less than 150) and just as many patients with high cholesterol (greater than 280) enjoy perfectly healthy hearts. In his book, Dr. Sinatra points to pharmaceutical companies, the low-fat industries, government regulatory agencies, and medical organizations as having a hand in propagating a wide-scale cholesterol phobia.

As a true cholesterol skeptic, Dr. Sinatra went from serving as a paid consultant for drug manufacturers of the most widely prescribed cholesterol medications (statins account for a more than $30 billion operation) to rarely using the medication in his practice. When he does prescribe a statin, it is manly for middle-aged men who have a strong history of heart disease (i.e., heart attack, bypass, stents, angioplasty, or coronary artery disease). The book not only diminishes the correlation between high cholesterol and heart disease, it also blames the current practice of aggressively lowering cholesterol as being potentially harmful to many populations— including the elderly, who are at a greater risk of infection and frailty as a result of using statin medications. The Great Cholesterol Myth paints a very different picture from mainstream health’s demonization of cholesterol. In fact, it even indicates that people with higher levels of cholesterol can enjoy better cognitive functioning, lower risk of infection, and an overall increase in vitality because of the positive relationship between cholesterol and hormone production, cell membrane function, immunity, and vitamin D synthesis.

That aforementioned Norwegian Hunt 2 study—a 10-year examination of more than 52,000 Norwegians ages 20 to 74—correlates Dr. Sinatra’s view of cholesterol by citing no real relationship between cholesterol and death from heart disease in either women or men. The study held even more promising information for the ladies: Women with higher cholesterol levels were actually less likely to die in comparison to those women with lower levels. In light of the wide scale commercial interests linked to the treatment of hypercholesterolemia, researchers from this study have openly encouraged other populations to complete similar studies.

Finally, to be or not to be…overly concerned with your cholesterol level? It’s a very tough call…one that may need further study by both the medical community and we the patients. Total dependency on statins to do the work diet and exercise should be doing is never a good idea. And do not confuse very fatty food and high triglycerides with cholesterol levels. Anything that expands your belly and adds weight is probably not good for your heart, even if you do have a low cholesterol level.

If it does turn out that cholesterol is not harmful, pharmaceutical companies will be crying in their statins, chickens will be eating larger portions, and perhaps even those high cholesterol pigs will fly.

Editor’s Note: In a somewhat related vein (or should I say artery)—this writer was struck speechless while browsing the aisles of the Pennsylvania Dutch Farmers Market at Annapolis Harbour Center the other day. Doing a once-around the candy vendor and managing to resist the chocolate covered molasses sponges, I saw cooked pieces of crisp bacon three-quarters of the way covered in dark chocolate. Who could conceive of such a combination? Now I know some of you will be as flabbergasted as I was…and some of you will be cueing up when the market opens this weekend. But you know it can’t be good for you, right? —S.H.