The Myth of Cholesterol, Part II

Aug 17, 2010 | Articles, Nutrition

In my previous post I reviewed what I consider to be an inappropriate focus on cholesterol in the effort to alter risks for preventable diseases such as heart attacks, strokes, and peripheral artery disease.  Although statins may be effective in reducing the risks for these diseases, it is now clear that they are the result of complex metabolic changes associated with poor nutrition, physiological changes associated with exposure to stress, and sedentary life styles. Virtually all national health advocacy groups agree and call for addressing these diseases (and many more including and especially cancer) by addressing these complex metabolic changes rather than focusing on one factor (and a not very important one at that).

The metabolic changes at issue include inflammation, sex hormone disruption, disturbance in blood clotting, high blood pressure, the consequences of exposure to environmental toxins, excessive accumulation of extra calories in the form of fats (especially in inappropriate places like the liver, muscle, the belly, bone and blood vessels), insulin resistance, alterations in the stress hormones and compromise in the immune system.

While not everyone eating the SAD diet (Standard American Diet), worrying too much, and watching too much television will develop all of these metabolic disturbances, virtually all Americans who practice these life style choices will have a combination of some of them.  Deciding whom to give statins to is like looking for one sick tree in a devastated forest.  As I said in my last post, there is no area of medicine and health that calls more loudly for a holistic approach.

If I were the health czar I would require every American of virtually every age to have a holistic assessment of these variables to determine which aspects of their metabolism is involved – which parts of their forest needs help. This can be done easily and cheaply with a set of blood tests, a body composition analysis, and a couple of questionnaires to assess adaptation to stress and overall level of “toxicity”.

This information can be compiled to help each individual develop a unique program to better nurture and support the aspects of their metabolism that are most disturbed.  One truly beautiful aspect of this approach is that most people do not need to address every “sick tree”.  A program to benefit the most disturbed parts of the forest helps create an ecosystem that begins to work in harmony again and all the trees – the entire forest – benefit. To bring the metaphor back to the focus of the article: a person’s entire metabolism benefits and every aspect of cell health improves and becomes more vital.

Certainly one reason that statins have such a small effect on heart diseases risk is that their use amounts to treating only one of the sick trees.

Features of almost everyone’s program will be similar and some aspects will differ.  Those common to almost everyone’s program include:

  • Stop eating foods empty of nutrients – soft drinks for example. All individuals need to reduce intake of foods that raise blood sugar – the high glycemic index foods – fries and chips for example.
  • We all need to eat enough healthy fats, especially those that are generally deficient in the American industrialized food production process – the Omega 3s.  We do not need to avoid cholesterol.
  • We do need to learn how to manage stress – it cannot be avoided. There are easy techniques available for free and that can be invoked even for 3 or 4 minutes daily that will bring your physiology back to relaxation from the place of fear anger or tension.
  • Many individuals will want to modestly restrict calories but this can usually be done quite easily by eating more frequently, not less, thus avoiding the cravings and overeating that almost necessarily accompany long periods of not eating.
  • There are many ways people can slowly and incrementally increase their muscle size (a very good thing) without, for example, belonging to a gym. The old Royal Canadian Air Force Exercises can be done every morning for 11 minutes (and that can be found on the web) is a well-studied approach and requires no equipment.

The aspects of each person’s program that will differ most will be the use of supplements. This is because we are all different genetically, and the combination of metabolic disturbances that we experience will likely be different. Supplements for specific metabolic conditions are generally well studied, virtually always safer than medications, less expensive and often do not need to be continued beyond the period of “repair”.

Although most traditionally-trained physicians are completely unprepared to help their patients investigate these aspects of their metabolism and develop a plan to address them, the study of functional medicine provides an effective paradigm for understanding and addressing metabolic disturbances based on human biochemistry.   Naturopaths have this approach built into their marrow.  There are many good, well-trained, naturopaths practicing in this country. There would be more if state Medical Societies were less actively involved fighting legislative practice acts supporting their independent regulation.  Why does the traditional medical establishment so ardently protect and promote the pharmaceutical/disease model of health?  That would be the topic of another post.