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Despite the campaigns designed to get people to test their cholesterol and “know your numbers” and the subsequent push for cholesterol lowering statin drugs, people are still dying from heart disease in numbers higher than any other cause of death. Why? According to revolutionary cardiologists like Dr. Stephen Sinatra, it’s because cholesterol isn’t the problem, inflammation is.
Did you know half of all people who die from heart attacks have normal cholesterol levels? Did you know half of all people with high cholesterol don’t have heart disease? Does this mean we should ignore cholesterol? No, but it does mean we need a better understanding of what it really does in the body and how to identify risk factors before they become a full-blown problem. And your typical blood lipid panel with just total cholesterol, HDL, and LDL levels isn’t going to give you those answers. Find out the truth about cholesterol and heart health below.
Cholesterol is a necessary building block for every cell in your body. It’s not only a component of every cell’s protective membrane, but also serves other important functions in the body. It helps you make Vitamin D, stress hormones, and sex hormones, and supports the health of your immune system and your brain. Breast milk is rich in cholesterol because it’s important for developing the myelin sheath around the nerves; cholesterol nurtures a baby’s growing brain.
When you find cholesterol in your blood vessels, it’s there for a very important reason – repair. And what causes the damage? A pro-inflammatory diet full of sugars and processed foods. Inflammation in the arteries causes the lining to become injured more easily, and where there’s an injury, there’s a protective substance sent to help heal that injury. In this case that protective substance is cholesterol, but what kind of cholesterol is there determines whether it does more harm than good.
HDL (High Density Lipoprotein) cholesterol has 2 important functions that have given it a good reputation. First, it goes through your bloodstream and removes the more dense and “sticky” LDL cholesterol that can clog your arteries. Second, it travels through the blood vessels constantly repairing the inner lining. This is the cholesterol you want sent to repair injuries to your inflamed arteries.
Normal HDL blood levels are 40-90 mg/dL in adults. When this cholesterol is in the normal range, there is plenty available to do these essential jobs. But when your levels are low, which is common with diets that are low in healthy fats and high in sugars, there isn’t enough of this cholesterol to go around and LDL cholesterol is sent in its place. Conversely, when HDL cholesterol is too high, it’s a sign your liver is congested and having trouble processing cholesterol, and depending on the type of HDL that’s present, it can be inflammatory and contribute to plaque in the arteries just like HDL can.
If your HDL cholesterol is high, you want to get the fractions tested. HDL-2 is anti-inflammatory, and high levels of this are good for your health. On the other hand, HDL-3 contributes to inflammation, so you want to lower levels of this before it turns into plaque.
Most doctors stand by the myth that all LDL (Low Density Lipoprotein) cholesterol is “bad” and should be lowered with dangerous statin drugs. In truth, LDL cholesterol is a transport molecule that’s important not just for your overall health, but especially for the health of your immune system and brain. Current guidelines for “normal” cholesterol levels have dropped so low they are in the range for thalassemias, genetic blood disorders known to enhance consumption of cholesterol and reduce it to dangerous, symptom-producing levels. Normal levels of LDL cholesterol should be 80-130 mg/dL, but knowing the fractions is more important than the total.
LDL-A is the “good” form of LDL cholesterol. These large, fluffy particles are harmless and contribute the most to overall health. LDL-B is the “bad” form, made up of small, dense particles that contribute to inflammation and plaque formation. The “ugly” form of LDL cholesterol and by far the worst is Lp(a). Most doctors don’t test for this fraction – and they should. If you are in good overall health, this particle will actually help you repair your damaged cells. But in a body that already has high levels of inflammation, these highly inflammatory cholesterol particles will build up and accumulate in the injured arteries, causing not only plaque but also blood clots.
When you eat more sugars and calories than your body can burn, the liver processes them and stores it all as triglycerides. Triglycerides go up when you regularly eat more sugar than your body needs. Normal triglyceride levels are less than 150mg/dL and if yours are higher than this, it’s time to cut the carbs. More important than your triglyceride level is the ratio between triglycerides and HDL cholesterol. Studies done even in children show when this ratio is elevated there is a 16 times greater risk of heart disease than those with lower ratios. Higher ratios are an indicator of stiff, injured arteries. Ideally, you want a 2:1 ratio of triglycerides to HDL, or less. For example, if triglycerides are 100mg/dL, then HDL should be 50 mg/dL.
According to Dr. Sinatra, these are the test results you need to get a good picture of your heart health:
Total Cholesterol: 180-240 mg/dL
Total HDL Cholesterol: 40-90 mg/dL
HDL Cholesterol subtypes: >25 mg/dL HDL2; >15 mg/dL HDL3
Total LDL Cholesterol: 80-130 mg/dL
Lp(a): <30 mg/dL
Triglycerides: 50-150 mg/dL (ideally 100 or below)
Ferritin: <90 mg/dL
Fibrinogen: 180-350 mg/dL
Homocysteine: 7-10 umol/L
Interleukin-6: 0-12 pg/mL
6 Steps to Optimal Heart Health
Follow the Fat Flush Plan to Lose Weight. If you’re overweight, losing weight is such a powerful tool in the fight against heart disease. It isn’t easy, but it’s so worth the effort. You deserve to feel good and look good. Ann Louise Gittleman’s Fat Flush Plan will not only help you lose weight and feel great, but also eliminates processed foods, high sugar foods, and trans fats – the “triple threat” of inflammatory foods that lead to unhealthy cholesterol levels. It’s tempting to choose a diet low in cholesterol, fat, and protein, but these diets drop cholesterol too low and energy plummets as a result.
Exercise Daily. The best way to raise a low HDL cholesterol level (and lower triglycerides) is through regular aerobic exercise for at least 30 minutes each day. You don’t have to go to a gym to get the workout you need. Start by dancing in your living room or going for a brisk walk around the neighborhood. The important thing is just to get moving.
Quit Smoking. Smoking is one of the most famous risk factors for heart disease, stiffening arterial walls and making them more prone to injury, while also decreasing HDL cholesterol levels. Breaking the addiction is challenging, but there are many innovative techniques available to help, from acupuncture to hypnotherapy. Don’t’ give up – where there’s a will, there’s a way, and you may have to try multiple approaches before you find the one that works for you.
Supplement with Omega 3 EFAs. To lower levels of dangerous Lp(a) cholesterol, take 1-2 grams of our Super-EPA fish oil daily and get the anti-inflammatory Omega 3 essential fatty acids that also help raise healthy HDL levels.
Support Your Liver. A healthy liver both produces and removes cholesterol from your body. When cholesterol levels go too high, whether it’s HDL, LDL, or triglycerides, it’s a sign your liver needs support and detox. Niacin is a superstar when it comes to cholesterol metabolism. To lower triglycerides and raise healthy HDL levels, start slowly at 250mg at bedtime, then increase gradually to 1-2 grams daily in divided doses. The form best tolerated is inositol hexanicotinate.
CoQ10 is liver protective and especially useful for people who take statin drugs. Statins deplete the body of CoQ10 as one of their many harmful effects, so it’s essential to take at least 100-200mg of CoQ10 daily while on these drugs. For liver health when not taking statins 50-100mg daily is optimal.
Toxin exposure can congest the liver and cause high cholesterol and weight gain by itself. Our Liver Lovin Formula was created to support your liver’s detox pathways, and keep fat and toxins from building up in your bloodstream. Bile Builder supports your liver’s detox abilities, boosts your fat metabolism and helps support cholesterol metabolism and fat loss. This supplement is a must-have for anyone who has had their gallbladder removed or is looking to lose weight.
Don’t be a doctor’s Christmas present or the next heart disease statistic! Get tested for the numbers you really need to know then follow these 6 steps to get your heart health back on track.