Thursday, March 19, 2009

High cholesterol from your food? Not likely!

Television advertising – and maybe even your doctor – would have you believe that eating foods that contain high amounts of cholesterol highly raise your cholesterol levels.

As it turns out, this is true for rabbits because they lack enzymes necessary for the digestion of fats (1), but very far from true for human beings!

Also, they would have you believe that high cholesterol is the cause of stroke or heart attack. This is far from true, too. Many studies have shown that cholesterol is a poor indication of risk; cholesterol levels do not effectively mark a person for heart disease, and in fact people with low cholesterol levels currently deemed as "healthy" may suffer more health problems that those with levels currently deemed "too high."

Here is an excerpt, bold highlights are my additions:

"In the Framingham heart study done near Boston that spanned 30 years , the researchers concluded that high cholesterol was a risk factor for heart disease, but when one really dissects the data, one must question how they came to that conclusion. For example, when the participants of the study are plotted on a graph it clearly shows that those with cholesterol levels between 182 and 222 did not survive as long as those with higher cholesterol levels of between 222 and 261. The study shows that about half the people with heart disease had low cholesterol, and half the people without heart disease had high cholesterol.

"Most studies have found that for women, high cholesterol is not a risk factor for heart disease at all - in fact, the death rate for women is five times higher in those with very low cholesterol. In a Canadian study that followed 5000 healthy middle-aged men for 12 years, they found that high cholesterol was not associated with heart disease at all. And in another study done at the University Hospital in Toronto that looked at cholesterol levels in 120 men that previously had heart attacks, they found that just as many men that had second heart attacks had low cholesterol levels as those that had high. The Maoris of New Zealand die of heart attacks frequently, irrespective of their cholesterol levels. In Russia, it is low cholesterol levels that are associated with increased heart disease. The Japanese are often cited as an example of a population that eat very little cholesterol and have a very low risk of heart disease. But the Japanese that moved to the US and continued to eat the traditional Japanese diet had heart disease twice as often as those that maintained the Japanese traditions but ate the fatty American diet. This suggests that it is something else, like stress perhaps, that is causing the heart disease."


Me again: So, perhaps we should take a look at what cholesterol is, where it comes from, and how the body uses it. Below are two articles that should clear up a lot of the misconception.

How the Body Uses Cholesterol by Neil Stone

As a vital part of the body's chemistry, cholesterol is used to produce the steroid hormones required for normal development and functioning. These include the sex hormones estrogen and progesterone in women and testosterone in men. These hormones trigger development of the physical traits characteristic of adult women and men; they also play a role in reproduction.

Other steroid hormones produced from cholesterol include cortisol, which is involved in regulating blood-sugar levels and defending the body against infection, and aldosterone, which is important for retaining salt and water in the body. The body can even use cholesterol to make a significant amount of vitamin D, the vitamin responsible for strong bones and teeth, when the skin is exposed to sunlight.

Cholesterol is also used to make bile, a greenish fluid that is produced by the liver and stored in the gallbladder. The body needs bile to digest foods that contain fat. Bile acts as an emulsifier -- it breaks down large globules of fat into smaller particles so they can mix better with the enzymes that digest fat.

Once the fat is digested, bile helps the body to absorb it. The presence of bile in the intestines is required before cholesterol can be absorbed from foods. The body also needs bile in order to absorb vitamins A, D, E, and K, called fat-soluble vitamins, from food or supplements.

Your body has the ability to make al­l the cholesterol it needs for these various functions. A diet that contains animal products, however, also supplies cholesterol to the body. In an effort to balance these two sources of cholesterol, your body adjusts the amount it produces each day.

For example, if you eat many foods from animal sources, your body gets a substantial dose of cholesterol from the diet, called dietary cholesterol; your body then slows down its own production of cholesterol. On the other hand, when most of the foods you eat come from plant sources, your body manufactures more cholesterol in order to meet its needs.

Your body can also eliminate some excess cholesterol through bile. Whenever bile is released into the intestine, a portion of it is absorbed back into the body to be used again. The remaining bile is excreted in the feces. To help maintain the cholesterol balance, the body can dissolve excess cholesterol in the bile and can also convert more cholesterol into bile acids so that the cholesterol will be excreted with the feces.


Dr. Neil Stone is a professor of clinical medicine in cardiology at the Feinberg School of Medicine of Northwestern University and a practicing internist-cardiologist-lipidologist at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. He also serves as the Medical Director of the Vascular Center for the Bluhm Cardiovascular Institute. Dr. Stone was a member of the first and third National Cholesterol Education Program Adult Treatment Panels and a past chairman of the American Heart Association Nutrition Committee and Clinical Affairs Committee.


Here's more on the lack of correlation between high cholesterol foods and your high cholesterol:

Cholesterol Facts: Avoiding Cholesterol in Foods Won't Lower Your Cholesterol by: Gabe Mirkin, M.D.

If you avoid all foods that contain cholesterol, will your high cholesterol return to normal?

It's not that simple. Your blood cholesterol level is influenced far more by how many calories and how much saturated and partially hydrogenated fat you eat, than by how much cholesterol is in your food. Cholesterol is found only in foods from animals, such as meat, fish, chicken, dairy products and eggs. It is not found in plants. More than 80 percent of the cholesterol in your body is made by your liver. Less than 20 percent comes from the food that you eat. When you eat more cholesterol, your liver makes less.

Your liver makes cholesterol from saturated fats, which are found in most foods but are concentrated in meat, poultry and whole-milk dairy products. The saturated fat is broken down by your liver into acetone units. If you are not taking in too many calories, your liver uses the acetone units for energy, but if you are taking in more calories than your body needs, your liver uses these same acetone units to manufacture cholesterol. That explains why eating two eggs a day does not raise blood cholesterol levels in the average American. They are already taking in so much cholesterol from meat, fish and chicken and diary products, that when they take in more, they absorb less.

The average North American takes in 350 mg per day of cholesterol. If he takes in 26 mg per day, he absorbs 41 percent. When he takes in 188 mg cholesterol per day, he absorbs only 36 percent, and when he takes in 421 mg per day (the equivalent of two eggs), he absorbs only 25 percent. Some people absorb more than five times as much as other people at the same intake. So you lower blood cholesterol levels far more effectively by eating less food, less saturated fat and less partially hydrogenated fats than by avoiding foods that contain cholesterol.

About The Author
Dr. Gabe Mirkin has been a radio talk show host for 25 years and practicing physician for more than 40 years; he is board certified in four specialties, including sports medicine. Read or listen to hundreds of his fitness and health reports at


Me again……so, got it? It's ok to eat meat and eggs, really; in fact, eggs have been knows as "the perfect food" for ages, and they still are! Cholesterol isn't the enemy, and you really need reasonable levels to properly absorb vitamins and minerals so you will be healthy. If your cholesterol levels are pharmaceutically forced too low, you will be sick.

(There is an ad on TV these days with a man telling us he didn't know his high cholesterol could have caused his erectile dysfunction. I have another theory: along with exposure to dietary herbicides and pesticides, the statin drug he takes to lower his cholesterol is interfering with his testosterone levels, and those are the causes of his ED, not his cholesterol level. What do you think?)

The bottom line: Don't overeat – many people do when stressed, and that is a greater danger than eating foods rated high in cholesterol. Eat healthy – try eating according to your Metabolic Type or your Blood Type (I do!) – and definitely eat organic!

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