People no longer ask, what is the best way to guard against heart disease? but rather how do I keep my cholesterol in check? Did anyone stop to ask is this still the right questions? I did and I didn’t like what I found…
It is a given that cholesterol is the bad guy in heart disease, but in fact this is a twisted version of a complex truth.
The cholesterol and cardiovascular disease (CVD) link started out life because cholesterol is found in atherosclerotic plaques, the assumption was made that cholesterol must therefore be a causal factor in CVD.
Cholesterol, fats and other non-water (or blood) soluble compounds are transported around the vascular system in lipo-protein complexes. Low density Lipoproteins (LDL) and high density Lipoproteins (HDL) are just 2 of these complexes. LDL is produced by the liver carrying cholesterol, fats and other substances to where they are needed around the body. LDL then breaks down to the smaller HDL which mopes up unneeded substances and is reabsorbed into the liver. Excess LDL is also reabsorbed into the liver. LDL has been dubbed ‘bad cholesterol’ and HDL ‘good cholesterol’. This is only because LDL rather than just cholesterol is what is found in atherosclerotic plaques.
From here the grand leap of faith was made that if we keep LDL down in the blood then that will prevent heart disease. And the even grander leap of faith that it must be an imbalance of LDL and HDL in the blood that is causal in CVD. Both of these leaps were made with blurred vision – blurred by the view of potential proﬁts from Statins that had already been patented by scientist involved in the research.
This has turned into an unstoppable machine. The fact that there is now an abundance of research that counters the cholesterol hypothesis doesn’t seem to have much of an impact on the medical industrial complex.
Let\’s Look at Some of the Science
The research shows a number of clear facts. Firstly for anyone with no previous history of heart disease, statins are ineffective in preventing CVD. Secondly only for men with a previous history, are statins shown to delay secondary episodes, but Thirdly low blood LDL is clearly demonstrated to shorten life expectancy. Low LDL causes depression, increased death from accidents, suicide and cancer. Fourthly the level of LDL in the blood bears no relation to rates of heart disease. There are populations with low LDL and high rates of heart disease and vice versa.
The conclusion to be drawn is that blaming LDL for heart disease is like blaming the sticking plaster for the cut. It is bad, incomplete science. On the following page I will discuss this further and look at the real cause of CVD.
So what of cholesterol. It is important to understand how signiﬁcant this substance is the human life. 25% of cholesterol found in our body is in our brain, where it is essential for correct synaptic ﬁring. It is the precursor to sex and stress hormones and vitamin D and it is essential to cell structure. The liver makes up for any lack of cholesterol in the diet by making it and gets rid of any excess by turning it into bile. Cholesterol, is pretty important stuff!
What of statins? Well they block the livers production of cholesterol and also Co-enzyme Q10 which is an essential part of our energy system. Statins can cause crippling muscle wastage for some. One of the most worrying facts about statins – in the light of there ever increasing availability – is the terrible dangers of taking them whilst pregnant. The birth defects that have already been recorded are worse than those caused by Thalidomide.
What Really Causes CVD?
If levels of blood LDL are shown to bear no relation to rates of heart disease, but LDL is found in atherosclerotic plaques, then what is actually happening in the process of CVD?
LDL is very much the sticking plaster that our body uses to patch up damaged arteries. But it isn’t precisely LDL – but rather LDL with an extra protein attached called apo(a). LDL with apo(a) attached is termed Lp(a). With me?
So Lp(a) levels in the blood are an indicator of higher CVD risk, but not because Lp(a) causes CVD, but because it’s presence indicates damage that needs patching up.
Enter stage right, the eminent scientist and only ever double noble prize winner (for chemistry and peace) Dr Linus Pauling and his associate Matthias Rath MD, these are the scientists that uncovered the story of Lp(a). But that’s not all they found. They discovered that in the presence of increased levels of Vitamin C, Lp(a) goes down. What’s more HDL and LDL levels normalise – just with an increase in Vitamin C.
Why? Well this is really a story about arterial walls and what they are made of and what causes them to become damaged.
The main component of all connective tissue, including our arteries is collagen. Vitamin C is an essential component in collagen synthesis. A severe deﬁciency in vitamin C is called scurvy. With scurvy the collagen in our bodies falls apart.
Humans, all other primates and guinea pigs are the only animals that have lost the ability to produce their own vitamin C. In evolutionary terms, ancestral humans would have ingested so much vitamin C from fruits and leaves eaten fresh from plant to mouth that the body just didn’t need to make any. We live in a very different world today where modern food production, storage and processing means vitamin C is not so available. So are we all suffering a mild form of scurvy? Possibly. Bleeding gums is one of the ﬁrst signs.
Back to our arteries, here there is a constant pressure load as our hearts pump blood around our bodies, so if we have a deﬁciency in collagen synthesis it is not surprising it will show up here. When arterial collagen starts to break down, broken strands of the protein lysine (part of collagen) stick out. It is precisely these strands that Lp(a) locks onto to seal up the breach and make the artery strong again, and there a plaque is formed.
Pauling treated people with advanced CVD by supplementing large doses of vitamin C and L-lysine (6 grams of each a day) with apparently great success. One gentleman went from only being able to walk 100 yards before needing to rest to being able to walk a few miles. To protect against CVD (if there is a familial history for example) a daily dose of 1-2g of vitamin C and Lysine is a good idea.
So what do I do if my doctor says my cholesterol is too high? Is the test useful at all? Total cholesterol (TC) alone is not much help, especially as ‘they’ keep changing what is normal, it used to be 7 now it is 5. TC also varies greatly with ethnicity. But, the TC to HDL ratio can is useful to know. If it is 4.5 or less then that is good. TC to HDL ratio demonstrates any imbalance between LDL and HDL. So if this ratio is higher than 4.5 what do I do? Well, have a look at your diet. But not your intake of saturated fats and cholesterol but rather your intake of sugar and vegetable oils. It is now known that sugar alone is the most signiﬁcant factor in causing dyslipidemia – a poor LDL/HDL ratio to you and me. Alcohol is similarly signiﬁcant. Damaged fats – this is any vegetable oils that have been cooked to high temperatures – they are a poisonous nightmare for our livers. Any foods fried or baked in vegetable oils will contain damaged fats. 100 years ago these oils did not exist and CVD was rare. Damaged fats cause inﬂammation which contribute to the CVD process. A healthy balance of omegas 3 and 6 in the diet is essential. These reduce inﬂammation and provided our bodies with essential building blocks for healthy cell walls. Fresh raw plant foods provide essential nutrients like vitamin C. Finally stress, not strictly a dietary factor but never the less signiﬁcant in CVD. Stress elevates cortisol levels putting us in a constant state of ﬁght or ﬂight – a state in which our bodies can’t repair properly. Bad news for our arteries!