Don’t Believe the USDA Dietary Guidelines on Cholesterol (or Anything Else)
Sometimes someone just puts things together in such a way that makes you go, wow, that’s so clear and simple! I just found a terrific post on what’s wrong with the proposed 2010 version of the USDA dietary guidelines (and most of the older ones, as far as I know). I’ve read all this countless times before from various sources, but “cereal killer,” as the writer calls himself, has done a great job putting it all together.
For instance, did you know that there is no such thing as “bad cholesterol” and “good cholesterol”? You see this all the time, and it drives me crazy. When I was an editor on the health-care industry and science team at Bloomberg News, we used those terms as a shorthand for LDL and HDL, but those aren’t cholesterol either. Nope.
LDL stands for low-density lipoprotein, and HDL is high-density lipoprotein. Lipoprotein, a combination of fat and protein, is the carrier of cholesterol throughout the body, and there are indeed many permutations of lipoprotein (VLDL, which stands for “very low-density lipoprotein,” and large, fluffy LDL as well as small, dense LDL, and maybe others by now). But there’s just one cholesterol. Cholesterol is generally good for you, unless it has been oxidized, such as when you turn milk into nonfat milk powder. (Sally Fallon writes on the WAPF website how “Commercial dehydration methods oxidize cholesterol in powdered milk, rendering it harmful to the arteries.” See further discussion in answer to a reader question on oxidized cholesterol.)
Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance. That’s about all anybody in the popular press agrees upon. You’d think it was the devil’s brew, the way it’s talked about, as something that should be kept as low as possible, eschewed from your diet, and feared above anything except maybe saturated fat, oooohhh! But like saturated fat, it’s a natural and necessary component of both our bodies and our diets. Cholesterol is found in every cell in our bodies. That’s 70 trillion to 90 trillion cells for each of us. Cholesterol is found in animal foods but is also made by the body from saturated fats we ingest and also from sugar. Excess carbohydrates in the diet can end up made into saturated fat and then cholesterol. If you don’t consume enough cholesterol, your body will make more of it. The more you consume, the less your body will make, but we need to get it in our diets to get enough, plus the natural sources of cholesterol also provide protein, fats and the vital fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K, plus minerals. It’s one interrelated system, folks: we are biological beings who need nutritional support from whole, nutrient-dense foods, because that’s what our species evolved and adapted to eat.
So if our bodies make cholesterol and it’s found in every cell, it stands to reason it’s there for a purpose. Cholesterol has been unfairly and inaccurately maligned by misinformed people and others with products to sell you, but the scientific evidence does not support the theory that cholesterol causes heart disease. Elevated blood cholesterol levels were originally considered a risk factor of heart disease, but that’s not the same as saying cholesterol causes heart disease, though many have conflated those two points. For detailed information on the whole debate and vindication of cholesterol, there are excellent books out there including The Cholesterol Myths, by Uffe Ravnskov (now out of print, but his more recent book, Fat and Cholesterol Are Good for You, covers the same ground and more), and Good Calories, Bad Calories: Fat, Carbs, and the Controversial Science of Diet and Health, by Gary Taubes.
So what’s cholesterol there for? Oh, little things like making your sex and adrenal hormones, proper functioning of serotonin receptors in the brain to keep you from depression, producing bile salts that aid digestion. It’s also needed for cell membranes and cellular integrity, the synthesis of Vitamin D (actual a hormone) in your skin when it’s hit by sunlight, it’s needed to make the myelin sheath that protects nerve endings and enables neurological functioning. And probably a few other things; this isn’t necessarily an exhaustive list.
Much more could be said on cholesterol, but the main thing to remember is that most of what is out there is overly simplified and erroneous. Cholesterol is a natural part of the diet and vital to human health. An elevated cholesterol level could signify something is wrong, but cholesterol naturally fluctuates depending on environmental factors such as stress, not just diet, and it may be that a healthful level for one person is too high or too low for another. This is still an area of active research where science hasn’t necessarily caught up with human experience. (Think: the diet humans evolved to eat and the traditional diets healthy human ancestors ate provide clues to what we should eat for optimal health.)
This is my opinion (and that of many researchers I respect), but don’t let your doctor put you on cholesterol-lowering statins until you research the subject thoroughly yourself. Have you noticed the ads that say in fine print “Crestor has not been shown to redue the incidence of heart disease or heart attacks”? Thanks to The Cholesterol Scam for reminding me about the Crestor ads, which I had noticed myself. Statins also destroy CoQ10, which is necessary for heart health, so if you must take statins, at the very least, supplement with CoQ10.
Thanks to Cereal Killer author Alan L. Watson (who blogs as “cereal killer”) for the list of 25 Reasons The 2010 Dietary Guidelines Are Wrong About Cholesterol, Saturated Fat, And Carbohydrates. It’s well worth a read. Then send it to everyone you know.
UPDATE: Another great source of information on fat and cholesterol is http://www.thincs.org, the International Network of Cholesterol Skeptics, comprising various physicians, scientists and science writers. Uffe Ravnskov (author of Fat and Cholesterol Are Good for You) is the webmaster and spokesman. Free material on the site includes articles by members and others, book reviews, and unpublished letters to various medical journals and related commentary.