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How To Raise Your Cholesterol

Huh? Why would you want to do that?

Well, the short answer is that it very well might lengthen your life. Let's have a go at Dr. Malcolm Kendrick, MD.

When I went to medical school I was told that the very high rate of heart disease in Scotland was caused by a diet containing far too much saturated fat. This raised our Scottish cholesterol levels. The excess cholesterol was, in turn, deposited in the artery walls, thus narrowing them to the point where they blocked up - causing angina, heart attacks and death.

The answer, therefore, to preventing heart disease was to eat less saturated fat, thus lowering cholesterol levels. Or, if you couldn't get people to eat less fat, then simply lower cholesterol level with drugs. It all seemed very simple and exceedingly straightfoward. Why look anywhere else, when the answer was clear.

Uh, OK, so why raise cholesterol? He continues.

For years I did not question this orthodoxy. Then, one day, I was on holiday in France. Whilst chewing on a fatty steak, dripping in butter, it suddenly struck me that the French ate rather a lot of saturated fat. As I peered through the smoke filled restaurant I also recognised that they smoked quite a bit too. However, their rate of heart disease was one tenth that of Scotland (age and sex-matched).

I then looked at the other classic ‘risk factors' for heart disease in France e.g. blood pressure, HDL ‘good cholesterol' levels, body mass index (BMI), amount of exercise taken. I found that, in comparison to the Scots, the French ate significantly more saturated fat, had the same cholesterol levels, the same blood pressure and the same HDL ‘good cholesterol' levels. They also had the same average BMI and took slightly less exercise (on average). They smoked considerably more. In short, much worse classical ‘risk factors,' one tenth the rate of heart disease.

This became the basis of the "French Paradox." I lived, worked, and ate in France for two years in the early 90s and can surely attest to the good eats, by which I mean: fat, fat, and more fat. People tend to think the French are famous for their bread and wine, which they are, but they consume much less of it than most people think. As I showed here, the proportion of bread to cheese is the reverse of what it is here and elsewhere. Rather than spreading a little cheese on a lot of bread, you place a huge gob of cheese (and butter too) on a small piece of crust. About the only time I saw the French eat quite a bit of bread was petit dejeuner (breakfast). Back to Kendrick.

So, the soon to be Professor, Hugh Tunstall-Pedoe looked at the French, and their diet, and came to the conclusion that the French were protected against heart disease by their high consumption of garlic, red-wine and lightly cooked vegetables (full of anti-oxidants, don't you know). Very soon after this, it became a ‘fact' that these three factors were protective against heart disease.

One slight problem is that there never was, and still is not, the slightest evidence that any of these three factors provides any protection. I write this in the certain knowledge that many of you are absolutely convinced that garlic, red-wine and anti-oxidants truly are protective, and that many studies have proved it. To which I would say..... ‘show me the studies'.

And now comes the punch line. What do the studies actually show?

To give another example of facts that aren't true. Namely, that saturated fat intake raises cholesterol levels. The Framingham study, the longest lasting, most respected study into the causes of heart disease (started in 1948) reported that ‘In Framingham, Massachusetts, the more saturated fat one ate, the more cholesterol one ate, the more calories one ate, the lower people's serum cholesterol.' Dr William Castelli - director of the Framingham study at the time - 1992.

That's bad, you see. You don't want your cholestrol levels decreasing (as they typically do with age). You want to keep them "elevated." Here's why.

For example, here is another quote from the Framingham study on the impact of cholesterol levels themselves. There is a direct association between falling cholesterol levels over the first 14 years of the study and mortality over the following 18 years. 11% overall and 14% CVD death rate increase per 1mg/dl per year drop in cholesterol levels.

In short, once your cholesterol level starts to fall, you are much more likely to die from heart disease. A 150% increase in relative risk for every 10 % fall, approximately. Add this to another very big study of the elderly, published in the Lancet: Our data accord with previous findings of increased mortality in elderly people with low serum cholesterol levels, and show that long term persistence of low cholesterol concentration actually increases the risk of death. Thus, the earlier that patients start to have lower cholesterol concentrations the greater the risk of death.

It's only a matter of time.

It is a slight comfort to know that in fifty years (hopefully many fewer than this), people will look back at cholesterol lowering and say ‘You did WHAT?' Were you MAD? Don't you know that cholesterol is absolutely vital for human health? Didn't you realise that blocking cholesterol synthesis would directly lead to nerve cell damage, muscle destruction, liver obliteration and cancer?

So, how do you raise your cholesterol to adequate, healthful levels, for which I believe -- as shown in these graphs based on data from four governmental databases worldwide -- is 200-220?

Eat healthful fats, and lots of them: butter, ghee, coconut oil, coconut milk, cream (preferably from pastured cows), quality real cheeses, and of course all the animal fat you can get your hands on, along with the meat. Yep, especially the chicken skin.

For more information on Dr. Malcolm Kendrick's views on cholesterol, see The Great Cholesterol Con: The Truth About What Really Causes Heart Disease and How to Avoid It. Here is a great primer by the doctor that's a must read: The Great Cholesterol Myth.

I blogged about that article more than a year ago.

Comments

  1. What about eating cheese and other dairy products and the impact it causes on your insulin? Quote of Cordain: "In addition to having a potent insulin response, similar to eating a slice of white bread, a recent dietary intervention showed that a high milk diet for only seven
    days caused insulin resistance in a group of 24 eightyear old boys." (in:www.thepaleodiet.com/articles/Cordain%20US%20Dermatology%20Reviews.pdf) )which mentions more bad stuff circulating in milk)

  2. Great post.
    I think the first question I would get if I told someone about this would be "ok, then what causes clogging of artery walls, the narrowing to point where they get blocked up – causing angina, heart attacks and death."
    Anyone have a good answer for me?

    Marc

  3. As I understand it, it's inflammation (from diet rich in grains).

    The LDL stick to the wall's inflammation in an attempt to repair it or something of the sort. That's where you get the build-up.

    Can someone verify this? I might be talking out my ass. ;)

  4. Kathleen Conway says:

    If it is a good thing to have high cholesterol, are you worried that you have such low cholesterol readings?

  5. Joe Matasic says:

    Richard, I must be confused. You put the quote stating the the myth that saturated fats raise serum cholesterol is false and that the consumption of the saturated fats and cholesterol actually lower serum cholesterol. Then you say to eat lots of these fats to increase cholesterol? Did I misread something? Maybe you meant certain factions of cholesterol like HDL. Hell, I could eat grains out my ass to raise my cholesterol (trigs) since that's used in the calculation. That, of course, would be bad and cause weight gain like mad. Could you clear up the confusion?

    I know all those fats are healthy. You should have seen the amount of butter I consumed at a French restaurant in Vegas last weekend and not to mentioned the roasted bone marrow, which I'm pretty sure grossed my wife out. Haven't got her eating straight animals fats yet.

    I'd read Colpo's book of the same name and it was good and would also recommend that to someone who has never read either. Regardless of what he's doing now. I know Kendrick's is supposed to be good also, but my book list is long and don't want to read a similar book till its cleared.

    • good point… but we’d have to find out why total cholesterol was lowered… was it because of the good nutrition associated with eating meat and fat-soluble vitamins with enough tasty and solublilicious fat lowered cholesterol by lowering chronic inflammation and cellular damage? (cholesterol repairs cells and is an antioxidant, in addition to being the building block of many hormones)

      It’s possible for a small minority of people that they still need cholesterol from diet because their livers can’t make all of it by themselves. It’s possible that everyone’s ability to make cholesterol from the liver is reduced as people age. It’s possible dietary cholesterol allows the liver to take a break and focus on other things like detoxification and self-repair.

  6. I'd ask what the other variables are, like wheat, veg oil, sugar, etc.

    I don't think dairy is best as a huge part of diet.

  7. Grok, that is the essence of it. The "plumbing" analogy of fat in the blood clogging pipes is completely false, but even physicians are guilty of describing it this way. I tend to think of arterial plaque as bandages put down on injury spots.

    When people mention cholesterol lowering or problems with high cholesterol to me, I say, "the only thing that worries me about my cholesterol is not having enough of it". That usually prompts a quizzical look and a follow-up question, because they aren't sure if they heard me right. Then if it seems right, I mention the higher rates of dementia/Alzheimer's, cancer, and other non-CVD causes of mortality associated with low (total) cholesterol in the elderly, especially for women. If I'm really "spirited", I drop the bomb that I cook with lard and use lots and lots of butter (qualified with the info that I render the lard myself from healthy, well-tended pigs and the butter is grass-fed and high in vitamins.

    I read Kendrick's book quite some time ago and it was quite good for the most part. The social dislocation theory especially fascinated me, as well as the disrupted HPA axis and disordered hormone patterns if eating while stressed. I'm reminded of that if tempted to eat on the run or while I have something stressful "stewing" in my brain. And I couldn't help but wonder if my grandfather's early death from CVD at age 50 was in part due to the significant time he spent away from his family while building some of the nation's highways in the 40s and 50s, with significant time in Alaska (low Vit D?). I'm pretty sure the family's use of margerine instead of butter didn't help, either.

  8. Inflammation (from wheat/grains and veg oils) combined with small dense LDL.

  9. Kathleen:

    My total serum cholesterol is actually right in the sweet spot, 219 a year ago and 223 a couple of months ago.

    http://www.freetheanimal.com/root/2008/07/lipid-pannel.html

    http://www.freetheanimal.com/root/2009/03/new-lipid-panel.html

  10. Joe:

    That quote by the director of the Framingham study just goes to show how confused they all are. The thing to keep in mind is control of variables, like, how much wheat, veg oils and sugar were they eating? How did their diets change over time? What does "the more" mean, quantitatively? How much fat and saturated fat were they eating?

    We know that fat in the diet raises HDL and I don't think that's in dispute.

    My speculation about what that quote really means is that given its long term nature, people's total serum cholesterol went down as they got older. To me, that means that the older you get, the more important it is to eat lots and lots of healthful fats with a good emphasis on saturated fats.

  11. The foam cells in plaque are a result of chronic bacterial infection and the response from the immune system.

    E.g.

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16765261

    Bacterial colonies form on the walls of blood vessels. In people with a compromised immune system, macrophages assault the colony and paper it over, which transforms into the typical foam-cell colony of plaque.

    This is of course, inflammatory, as is anything else that arouses the attention of your immune system. Small LDL is a symptom, as the body uses cholesterol to try and fix the damage.

    I thought everyone knew this…

    Prevention of chronic infection by maintaining the health of the gut and not compromising the immune system by making it chase after gliadin (gluten) peptides is a good way to avoid the formation of plaque. Similarly, smoking compromises the lungs. I know people have looked for a link between gum disease and CHD and didn't find a link, although I think there is one in dogs.

  12. Seven-Year Changes in Alcohol Consumption and Subsequent Risk of Cardiovascular Disease in Men

    http://archinte.ama-assn.org/cgi/content/full/160/17/2605

    This shows that moderate drinking reduces the risk of heart disease.

  13. food with high fat can trigger heart disease and stroke. the solution is with food containing fiber, such as carrot juice, tomatoes and eating fruit.

  14. Yea, but only, it seems, if you drank almost none and then began drinking moderately. For other categories it seems to show increased risk, such as those drinking about a drink per day drinking more.

  15. Uh… Bullshit!

  16. From what I've seen, one to two drinks a day is optimal, better than both no drinking and heavy drinking. French typically drink a little each day, which sounds good. Scots typically drink heavy (bad) or not at all (suboptimal).

  17. Source?

  18. Pam Maltzman says:

    I think there may be a similar link in cats between gum disease and CHD (and other conditions as well, maybe renal problems).

  19. Pam Maltzman says:

    I've been going to a county clinic recently. They are behind the times with regard to the cholesterol theory of heart disease. I flat-out told both the doctor and one of the male nurses that (1) I thought the cholesterol theory of heart disease was pure BS, (2) no way was I ever going to take a statin at all, for many reasons, including the side effects of rhabdomyolysis and cognitive decline, and (3) I was actually doing low-carb and deliberately eating more fats.

    The doctor didn't say anything. The nurse actually told me to eat a low-fat, low-cholesterol diet, after which I ranted at him. He then told me the same thing, after getting this deer-in-the-headlights look on his face.

    I'm coming to really dislike doctors as a group of people… On this issue and others, they're basically boneheaded.

    A whole LOT of the current generation of doctors is going to have to pass away before the paradigm changes in their world. In the meantime, those of us who don't believe their BS will have a hard time finding a doctor we can trust.

  20. Pam Maltzman says:

    The same complaints go for nurses and nutritionists. The nurses actually spend a lot more time with patients than the doctors do.

    I don't like county clinics, but I'd be even more insulted if I had to pay full price for this crapola.