First, know that cholesterol is a hormone produced mostly by your liver. And like all hormones, it has many important jobs to do in maintaining your health. It is a critical structural molecule in the membranes of every one of your cells, and it is an important ingredient of brain tissue – just to name two.
Cholesterol is not an evil beast like so many people think it is – you cannot live without cholesterol! However, just like I'm always saying about insulin, you need the correct amount in your system. It's true that you don't want too much, but you sure don't want too little either! There are two ways to get cholesterol into your blood – by eating foods that have cholesterol (known as "dietary cholesterol") and through the liver production I just mentioned.
Regarding these two ways, your body has a balance system – if you don't get enough dietary cholesterol, your liver will produce more to make up the deficiency. (Proof enough that cholesterol is a needed thing… you just don't want tons too much).
So here's a hugely popular myth we can go ahead and BUST today: "You get high cholesterol by eating too many cholesterol foods. " The fact is there isn't a single test or paper or shred of proof in the medical community that offers any proof of this.
It's just a theory… a theory that has growing evidence against it. One of my favorite doctors on the subject, Dr. Michael Eades (more from Dr. Eades in a second), has looked for years and he cannot find any correlation between eating dietary cholesterol and getting high cholesterol (and locating this type of research is what he does – if it existed, he'd know). In addition, most people only get about 15% of their total cholesterol from food (the rest is produced by your own body).
So you would have to eat an impossible amount of these cholesterol foods in order to "eat yourself to high cholesterol". So what causes high cholesterol then? Pretty much the same thing that produces all the high blood pressure of recent generations, as well as the obesity epidemic. A high carb diet!
Eating a diet that is too high in carbohydrates, and not high enough in protein (the typical diet of today), causes your own liver to produce too much cholesterol! THAT'S how you get high cholesterol.
As for the cholesterol testing we all go to the doctor for… this floored me. When doctors do a cholesterol test, the final report covers four criteria:
1. Your "good" cholesterol, called HDL (high-density lipoprotein)
2. Your "bad" cholesterol, called LDL (low-density lipoprotein)
3. Another "bad one": VLDL (very low-density lipoprotein)
4. Your total cholesterol level.
But here's the kicker! Testing for your total cholesterol level, and for your HDL level, is pretty straightforward. But performing an actual, physical test for the other two – the LDL and VLDL (the bad ones) is more difficult, and quite costly. And so – unbeknownst to you – these numbers are almost always estimated.
An equation called the "Friedewald Equation" is used to estimate your LDL levels (developed by William Friedewald and others in 1972). This has become the standard, no-questions-asked process. Now, in fairness, the equation has shown to be very accurate most of the time.
But in recent years, more and more situations have been found where this equation produces a much higher number than if you actually tested – the estimate is wrong.
An example of such a situation is people who keep their carbs nice and low; such folks tend to have triglyceride levels lower than 100 mg/dl, which skews the Friedewald equation. Which means those of us who actually eat a correct, healthy, Primal diet would be told that our cholesterol is too high – because of a faulty equation. And then your prescription-happy physician will whip out his pad and prescribe a statin.
The moral of this story?
Keep learning. Become the Captain of your own health. Doctors are one important source to be sure, but only one.
To prevent your liver from over-producing cholesterol, eat a diet made up of about 65% protein and fat, and 35% carbohydrates – just like The Primal You™ Diet Course lays out.
If you are being told that your cholesterol is high, and a statin (or treatment) is recommended, insist on a direct test of your LDL cholesterol level, not the estimated version derived from the Friedewald equation. (Feel free to show your physician this article!)