In the world of health and nutrition, few topics, and when I say “few topics,” I mean “zero fucking topics,” are as controversial and widely discussed as cholesterol. For decades, we have been bombarded with bullshit warnings about the dangers of consuming too much cholesterol and saturated fat. The prevailing notion is that a high-fat, high-cholesterol diet will lead to high levels of LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol, which in turn will cause atherosclerosis, a condition characterized by the build-up of plaque in the arteries, ultimately leading to heart disease and death. But is this narrative based on solid evidence or is it certified nonsense that belongs next to Bigfoot and the theory that Stephen King killed John Lennon (that’s a story I’ll tell you another day)? Let's take a closer look.
First, it's important to understand that atherosclerosis is indeed a serious condition that can have devastating consequences. When plaque builds up in the arteries, it restricts blood flow and increases the risk of heart attack and stroke. However, the idea that cholesterol is the enemy in this process is an oversimplification and not accurate… at all.
Studies have shown that LDL cholesterol is just one VERY SMALL factor in the development of atherosclerosis. In fact, it is not the cholesterol itself that is the problem, but rather the oxidation and inflammation of LDL particles. Oxidized LDL is more likely to become trapped in the arterial walls and contribute to the formation of plaque. Therefore, focusing solely on lowering cholesterol levels does not even remotely consider the root cause of atherosclerosis.
Moreover, the link between dietary cholesterol and blood cholesterol levels is not as straightforward as we once thought. Our body has a highly sophisticated system for regulating cholesterol, and dietary cholesterol has a near zero impact on blood cholesterol levels for most individuals. The liver produces most of the cholesterol in our body, and it can adjust its production based on our dietary intake. So, even if you consume high levels of cholesterol, your body will compensate by producing less cholesterol.
Additionally, it's essential to consider the role of different types of fats in our diet. We NEED dietary fat to carry fat soluble vitamins, maintain immune function, produce hormones, and optimize brain function, but… Not all fats are created equal. While it is true that some saturated fats can increase LDL cholesterol levels ever so slightly,, other fats, such as monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats from seed oils have been shown to cause autoimmune issues, inflammation, endocrine disruption, and a lot of other terrible shit, so should we eat the fat that increases your LDL (which probably doesn’t matter) or the fat that kills you in all sorts of unique and awful ways? That’s rhetorical.
It's also worth noting that the demonization of "too much cholesterol" dates back to the 1950s when a researcher named Ancel Keys conducted the famous Seven Countries Study. Keys's study suggested a correlation between saturated fat intake and heart disease mortality. However, his study was criticized for cherry-picking data and excluding the 16 of 23 countries studied whose data did not support his hypothesis. Multiple subsequent studies have failed to replicate his findings because, well… his findings were a pile of horse shit. There's likely no such thing as too much cholesterol or unhealthy cholesterol levels.
Part of the reason lies in the influence of the food industry, pharmaceutical companies, and government policies. There is a great deal of money to be made from selling low-fat products, cholesterol-lowering medications, and promoting public health campaigns focused on cholesterol reduction. The narrative that cholesterol is the primary villain in heart disease aligns with these economic interests. Read that paragraph again. THEIR money is so much more important to them than YOUR health that they’ll literally just make shit up.
However, the reality is much more complex. Our body needs cholesterol to function properly. Cholesterol is a vital component of cell membranes, a precursor for hormone synthesis, and essential for brain health. It is also worth noting that our ancestors consumed plenty of dietary cholesterol, primarily from animal sources, without the same rates of heart disease that we see today. In fact, they had none.
How do we reduce the risk of heart disease? Instead of focusing solely on cholesterol levels, it is far more important to adopt a holistic approach to heart health. Factors such as a high protein diet that prioritizes nutrient-dense animal foods, regular exercise, stress management, promoting good blood flow, and maintaining a healthy weight all play crucial roles in preventing heart disease. A healthy lifestyle that includes a diversity of nutrient-dense foods, while minimizing highly processed and refined options, will have a more significant impact on overall health than fixating on high blood cholesterol which, we’ve just explained, is quite insignificant as a predictor of anything as compared to the 20+ other markers of metabolic health... Cholesterol tests tell us very little, if anything, about our health. Let's worry about other risk factors. Why not get a comprehensive blood test with a metabolic panel? You'll probably be better off.
The belief that cholesterol is inherently bad for you is an oversimplification based on flawed research and influenced by economic interests. While atherosclerosis is a serious condition, cholesterol is just one piece of the puzzle. It is essential to consider the broader context of a person's lifestyle and overall diet when assessing heart health. By adopting a balanced approach and focusing on whole foods and lifestyle factors, we can improve our chances of maintaining a healthy heart and overall well-being.