Your HDL/total cholesterol ratio should be above 25%
If you were told cholesterol is not all bad for you, you would most likely find it hard to agree with this statement. Mainly due to the huge publicity around good cholesterol versus bad cholesterol that you frequently hear or see in the media, and what we are told by medical professionals. But, is all cholesterol really bad for you? We look at this questions to find out more about cholesterol; especially arguments in the medical and scientific world that do not agree with the notion of all cholesterol is bad for you.
Firstly, what is cholesterol? Well, simply put, cholesterol is fat in our blood. Cholesterol is insoluble in water and thus also in blood, it is transported in our blood inside spherical particles composed of fats (lipids) and proteins, known as lipoproteins.
Most people think there are two types of cholesterol, but in fact, there are two known types of lipoproteins, which are HDL (High Density Lipoprotein), and LDL (Low Density Lipoprotein). These transport cholesterol through your blood circulatory system.
LDL is often wrongly thought of as being bad cholesterol because it carries cholesterol to your arteries and HDL is frequently referred to as good cholesterol because it carries cholesterol away from your arteries (to your liver). However, both LDL and HDL carry the same cholesterol.
Many studies have been conducted finding out more about cholesterol and how it impacts our bodies. Most have concluded that cholesterol is bad for health. However, studies by Danish doctor, Uffe Ravnskov, MD, PhD, author of The Cholesterol Myths: Exposing the Fallacy that Saturated Fat and Cholesterol Cause Heart Disease, Fat and Cholesterol are GOOD for You! and Ignore the Awkward! How the Cholesterol Myths are Kept Alive, argues that this is not the case and his scientific research and work backs his claims.
The cholesterol found in your blood comes from two sources: cholesterol in food that you eat and cholesterol that your liver makes from other nutrients.
Dr Ravnskov says cholesterol is not a deadly poison, but a substance vital to the cells of all mammals. There are no such things as good or bad cholesterol, but the level of blood cholesterol may be influenced by mental stress, physical activity and change of body weight. High cholesterol in a person is not dangerous by itself, but may reflect an unhealthy condition, or it may be totally innocent.
Regarding dieting to reduce cholesterol, Dr Ravnskov says, your body produces three to four times more cholesterol than you eat. Thus, the amount of cholesterol that your liver produces varies according to how much cholesterol you eat. So, if you eat a lot of cholesterol, your liver produces less. If you don’t eat much cholesterol, your liver produces more. This is why a low cholesterol diet does not typically decrease a person’s blood cholesterol by more than a few percent.
Atherosclerosis is a condition in which fatty material collects along the walls of arteries. This fatty material thickens, hardens (forms calcium deposits), and may eventually block the arteries resulting in heart disease.
Dr Ravnskov discusses how cholesterol does not affect this condition. A high blood cholesterol is said to promote atherosclerosis and thus also coronary heart disease. But many studies have shown that people whose blood cholesterol is low become just as atherosclerotic as people whose cholesterol is high. Therefore, people who have low blood cholesterol have the same rates of heart disease as people who have high blood cholesterol.
Uffe’s work reveals that there is no evidence that too much animal fat and cholesterol in the diet promotes atherosclerosis or heart attacks. For instance, more than twenty studies have shown that people who have had a heart attack haven’t eaten more fat of any kind than other people, and degree of atherosclerosis at autopsy is unrelated with the diet.
One key aspect of interest for high cholesterol sufferers is that those prescribed with statins may not be onto a good thing according to Dr Ravnskov. Statins are cholesterol lowering drugs given to you by your doctor as a quick way of managing high levels.
Uffe says, statins do reduce your risk of heart disease, but through mechanisms that are not related to lower blood cholesterol. Unfortunately, statins like lipitor mevacor, zocor, pravachol, and lescol can also stimulate cancer in rodents, disturb the functions of the muscles, the heart and the brain, and worryingly, pregnant women taking statins may give birth to children with malformations more severe than those seen after thalidomide.
Dr Ben Kim, a chiropractor and acupuncturist from Ontario, Canada, is very supportive of Dr Ravnskov’s work and says:
“I consider Dr. Ravnskov to be the world’s leading expert on the relationship between cholesterol and human health.”
The concept of foods that contain ‘damaged cholesterol’ is highlighted by Dr Kim. The term refers to highly processed foods and animal food cooked at very high temperatures.
Dr Kim reveals that if you regularly consume damaged cholesterol and foods that are rich in free radicals, you likely have significant quantities of damaged cholesterol floating through your circulatory system. And if you regularly have damaged cholesterol in your blood, then a high LDL level correlates with a higher-than-average risk of developing cardiovascular disease, and a high HDL level correlates with a lower-than-average risk of developing cardiovascular disease.
Therefore, why are we constantly told that we should lower cholesterol by doctors and health professionals? Dr Kim says that conventional guidelines that promote lower cholesterol levels for a healthy heart are influenced in large part by pharmaceutical companies earning billions of dollars with their cholesterol-lowering drugs.
So what is ideal for cholesterol levels? Dr Kim says, ideally, it’s best to have a blood cholesterol level of over 150 mg/dL (3.9 mmol/L). But if your blood cholesterol level is lower than this, so long as you are eating a nutrient-dense, plant-centered diet and not suffering from any health challenges, there is likely no cause for concern.
Another entity related to fat in the body is your triglyceride level. Your body makes some triglycerides and they also come from the food you eat. Dr Kim says, ideally, it’s best to have a triglyceride/HDL ratio of 2.0 or lower.
Your HDL/total cholesterol ratio should be above 25%. Generally, the higher this ratio, the better. If this ratio is 10-15 percent or lower, there increased risk of heart disease.
From what we now know about getting your cholesterol to a level for better health, what should we be doing? Dr Kim says, don’t just focus on your blood test results from your doctor but aim for a regular intake of a wide variety of nutrient-dense plant foods (vegetables, legumes, fruits, whole grains, and small amounts of nuts and seeds); regular intake of healthy fats, such as those found in avocados, olives, coconuts, organic eggs, and perhaps some cold water fish on occasion and minimise intake of animal foods that have been highly processed and/or exposed to high cooking temperatures.
And most importantly, food intake alone is not just the answer. You must strive to live a balanced life that includes adequate rest, physical activity, exposure to fresh air and sunlight, meaningful relationships and general well-being.
Heart disease is a health problem amongst ethnic and British Asian communities in the UK and this is mainly due to a rich diet and lack of exercise. Mainly due to intake of wrongly cooked foods and a mindset not geared up to exercise. Therefore, it is important to get a balanced lifestyle with a healthy diet and regular physical activity.
So, next time you check your cholesterol, do take into account the work of Dr Ravnskov and Dr Kim, who demonstrate that cholesterol is not all bad for you.