One of the most misguided things a doctor has ever said to me occurred during a routine physical when I was in my twenties.
My blood test had come back with a total cholesterol number in the 150’s, and after reviewing the report, he proceeded to extol the benefits of my low cholesterol and how this was such a excellent indicator of overall health.
Mmmm, I thought to myself.
Then why was I so doggone exhausted, experienced light-headedness like I was going to pass out if I stood up too quickly, felt lousy a lot of the time, and suffered from more than my fair share of colds, flu and sinus infections that frequently needed antibiotics to resolve?
The truth is that low cholesterol is not even remotely close to the health panacea that conventional medicine portrays it to be. In fact, compelling research warns that low cholesterol can be downright deadly especially the older we get.
Cholesterol is not just a natural and essential nutrient in food that is required for our very survival. It is also a critical component of the brain, Vitamin D and hormones such as cortisol and testosterone.
It is easy to understand then, if blood cholesterol levels get too low it could actually dangerously jeopardize health with vital functions unable to be performed by the body and optimal wellness unable to be achieved.
While minimal cholesterol may be needed to survive, ample amounts are required to thrive!
According to Dr. John Briffa MD, top honors graduate of the University College London School of Medicine, low levels of cholesterol are associated with an increased risk of cancer (predicting risk many years before diagnosis), hemorrhagic stroke (bleeding in the brain), and now even a higher overall risk of mortality.
The relationship between a higher all cause risk of death and low cholesterol was published in May 2012 by Scientific World Journal. The results of the large epidemiological study examined the relationship between overall mortality and low cholesterol in individuals aged 60-85 for a period of 12 years.
Analysis revealed that higher total cholesterol levels (> 200 mg/dl) were associated with a 24% reduced risk of mortality over the 12 year study period. Moreover, lower cholesterol levels (< 170 mg/dl) were associated with a 60% increased risk of death.
The statistical significance of lower cholesterol (below 170 mg/dl) and increased risk of death from all causes remained even when confounding factors such as illness and frailness of the study participants were removed.
While an epidemiological study like this does not definitely indicate that low cholesterol and higher risk of death is causal, it certainly suggests that blindly pursuing low cholesterol levels especially below 170 mg/dl is misguided and likely even foolish if one is middle aged and beyond.
Perhaps more importantly, this study strongly builds upon previous research that for elderly women and men, high cholesterol is associated with a longer life.
So is the suggestion by conventional medicine to take statins if cholesterol is over 180 mg/dl completely arbitrary, unscientific (aka, bought and paid for “science”), and potentially harmful over the long term?
Yes, yes and YES.
Are whole foods like butter, cream, egg yolks and pate that are high in natural cholesterol (as opposed to the dangerous oxidized cholesterol in processed foods) really to be feared? It should give you much comfort to know that these traditional foods are eaten with abandon in France with no corresponding increase in heart disease.
Again, according to Dr. Briffa:
You’ll sometimes hear about the ‘French paradox’, which describes the phenomenon of low heart disease rates in France ‘despite’ a diet rich in saturated fat. Well, it seems that this ‘paradox’ is not limited to France, but is alive and well in several other countries too including the UK, Germany, Austria, Finland, Belgium, Iceland, the Netherlands and Switzerland. In other words, it’s not a paradox at all. It’s only a paradox if one believes saturated fat causes heart disease. The thing is, there’s really no good evidence that it does.
Now that you understand the other side of the low cholesterol story, you may well go out and bury your head in a tub of butter. This is basically what I did! Raising my cholesterol out of the deadly 150’s range and keeping it well over 170 has been my goal for over 20 years. I’m happy to report that my issues with fatigue, frequent illness, and light-headedness which plagued me when I had low cholesterol have been a thing of the past for nearly as long.
Sarah, The Healthy Home Economist
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