Why ‘Bad’ Cholesterol Isn’t As Bad As You Think

June 1, 2011 by  
Filed under Health

I would say it isn’t as bad as most doctors claim either, and having lived in France where supermarkets proudly proclaim their cheeses as 100% fat, and they do not have the heart disease rates that we have in the UK and US it’s time to take a balanced view according to a new study.

The so-called “bad cholesterol” or low-density lipoprotein (LDL)—has been examined by Texas A&M University and their findings may surprise you. Steve Riechman, a researcher in the Department of Health and Kinesiology, says the study reveals that LDL is not the evil Darth Vader of health it has been made out to be in recent years and that new attitudes need to be adopted towards it. As a woman who has never given up butter and regards low fat cheese as an anathema, I am pleased to hear it and send thanks to him and a whole raft of colleagues from the Universities of Pittsburgh, Kent State, Johns Hopkins Weight Management Center and the Northern Ontario School of Medicine.

They published their findings in the Journal of Gerontology and their study was based on 52 adults aged 60-69 who were in generally good health but not physically active, and none of them were participating in a training program. The study showed that after fairly vigorous workouts, participants who had gained the most muscle mass also had the highest levels of LDL (bad) cholesterol. Riechman explained that this was “a very unexpected result and one that surprised us. It shows that you do need a certain amount of LDL to gain more muscle mass. There’s no doubt you need both — the LDL and the HDL — and the truth is, it (cholesterol) is all good. You simply can’t remove all the ‘bad’ cholesterol from your body without serious problems occurring.”

Muscle mass is important, particularly as we get older, and are prone to a condition called sarcopenia, which is muscle loss due to aging. Previous studies show muscle is usually lost at a rate of 5 percent per decade after the age of 40, a huge concern since muscle mass is the major determinant of physical strength. After the age of 60, the prevalence of moderate to severe sarcopenia is found in about 65 percent of all men and about 30 percent of all women, and it accounts for more than $18 billion of health care costs in the United States.

Your total cholesterol level comprises LDL (low-density lipoprotein) and HDL (high-density lipoprotein) cholesterol. LDL is almost always referred to as the “bad” cholesterol because it tends to build up in the walls of arteries, causing a slowing of the blood flow which often leads to heart disease and heart attacks. HDL, usually called the “good cholesterol,” often helps remove cholesterol from arteries. “But here is where people tend to get things wrong,” Riechman says.

“LDL serves a very useful purpose. It acts as a warning sign that something is wrong and it signals the body to these warning signs. It does its job the way it is supposed to. People often say, ‘I want to get rid of all my bad (LDL) cholesterol,’ but the fact is, if you did so, you would die because everyone needs a certain amount of both LDL and HDL in their bodies. We need to change this idea of LDL always being the evil thing — we all need it, and we need it to do its job. Our tissues need cholesterol, and LDL delivers it. HDL cleans up after the repair is done and the more LDL you have in your blood, the better you are able to build muscle during resistance training.”

LDL — the bad cholesterol — serves as a reminder that something is wrong and if we have high levels of it then we need to find out why. It gives us warning signs: is smoking the problem, or poor diet, or a lack of exercise? That is where we need to start and you can deal with those factors yourself before resorting to medication.

Curbing Cholesterol Helps More Than Your Heart

March 16, 2011 by  
Filed under Health

Keeping cholesterol levels low is something that most doctors are very hot on – mine certainly is – and despite my recent piece on chocolate helping with cholesterol he remains unconvinced. However I have found a new product to help lower cholesterol and that it seems will also help the body’s immune system fight viral infections, according to researchers at the University of Edinburgh.

They have shown a direct link between the workings of the immune system and cholesterol levels and as high cholesterol is linked to heart disease, which is the most common cause of death in the UK, this is an important connection. What they have discovered is that when the body succumbs to a viral infection a hormone in the immune system sends signals to blood cells that causes cholesterol levels to be lowered.

Cholesterol produced by our cells is needed for viruses and certain bacteria to grow and so it is logical that limiting our body’s production of cholesterol would therefore curb the opportunity for viruses to thrive. According to Professor Peter Ghazal who led the research: “Drugs currently exist to lower cholesterol levels, and drugs such as antibiotics are used to fight infections by targeting the bug directly. The next step would be to see if such drugs would also work to help bolster our immune systems.”

How to help yourself reduce cholesterol:
The researchers hope to find new ways to manipulate the body’s immune system by targeting cholesterol metabolism. This could involve mimicking immune signals sent to lower the production of cholesterol.

In the meantime, you could do much to help yourself naturally lower your cholesterol levels, and avoid having to take drugs at all for the condition – particularly the use of antibiotic or statin drugs can be avoided by adopting some natural strategies.

High cholesterol levels usually start with the diet so opting for a Mediterranean diet rich in fruit, vegetables and fish is an excellent place to start. Add in a daily glass of red wine and a brisk walk and then look at some healthy additions such as reduction in saturated fats by switching to skimmed rather than full fat milk, but please stick with butter but in reduced quantities as margarines are unhealthy for many other reasons.

A new supplement specifically aimed at reducing cholesterol has been tried by one of my ‘guinea pig’ volunteers and seems to have done the trick in bringing down his levels. Works with Water Nutraceuticals has produced help:cholesterol which is a fairly self explanatory name. It contains only natural ingredients including barley beta glucan which has been proven to help reduce LDL cholesterol levels after a minimum period of six weeks.

Clinical research has shown that taking 3 to 8g of barley beta glucan a day, the key ingredient in help: cholesterol, reduces the ‘bad’ cholesterol (LDL cholesterol) by an average of 10-14%. These results have been confirmed by the EFSA (European Food Standards Agency) in 2009 after analysis of the clinical research into the cholesterol-lowering benefits of beta glucan.

Beta glucan is the soluble fibre naturally found in the cell wall of cereal grains and the easiest and most effective solution to ensure you get your necessary daily intake of barley beta glucan is to take a supplement such as help:cholesterol twice a day. You mix a sachet with water or juice and the only drawback my tester mentioned is that you have to drink it immediately you have put it in water and stirred vigorously as its textures changes when it hits the liquid. You should find it in health stores and Boots, but in case of difficulty visit the website at www.workswithwater.co.uk

5 point plan for reducing cholesterol

January 4, 2010 by  
Filed under Food & Nutrition, Health


Naturally, you didn’t overindulge at Christmas at that New Year’s Party, but in case you know anyone who does here is a simple 5 point plan to tackle cholesterol for 2010.

1. Reduce saturated fat. I know, you know all about this, but it may be time to start practicing it rather than theorising. Just avoid too much red meat, butter and high fat cheeses and substitute healthy low fat options – not the ones containing chemicals, but the really natural ones like more white meat and fish and fewer slabs of brie and stilton and switching to cottage or edam cheese – at least for a while. Substitute whole soy protein for animal protein, and use low- or non-fat dairy products.

2. Avoid trans-fat. Read the labels and beware of the phrase “partially hydrogenated oil” on the label. Most often found in snacks such as crisps – which you were cutting down on anyway, weren’t you? Look for baked rather than fried crisps if you really can’t give them up.

3. Go for garlic because it not only will help lower cholesterol levels, but it will boost your immune system as well.

4. Switch to green or white tea as they both contain antioxidants that help lower cholesterol and prevent the cholesterol in your blood from oxidizing. Without milk or sugar please, though a little honey might help if you find green tea too bitter.

5. Fill up on soluble fibre as it has a powerful cholesterol-lowering effect, and is found in the kinds of foods that naturally fill you up and will help you avoid unhealthy snacks. Fill up on beans and lentils, apples, citrus fruits, oats, barley, peas, carrots and freshly ground flaxseed.

Cholesterol screening for two year olds in the USA

April 23, 2009 by  
Filed under Health, Medical Research & Studies


Often in health matters we follow the USA, but this is one case where I sincerely hope we don’t. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) is recommending cholesterol screening for children as young as two if there are weight issues or a family history of heart attacks or high cholesterol.

That might sound like a good health preventive, except that the response if high cholesterol is found is to recommend statin drugs, not dietary changes. Statins work by blocking the action of a certain enzyme in the liver which is needed to make cholesterol. Proponents say there is growing evidence that the first signs of heart disease show up in childhood – which is true – but their claim that cholesterol-lowering drugs, called statins, may be their best hope of lowering their risk of early heart attack is much more controversial.

Dr. Jatinder Bhatia, a member of the AAP nutrition committee, has said that “The risk of giving statins at a lower age is less than the benefit you’re going to get out of it”. A statement that is seriously undermined when he went on to say that there is not “a whole lot” of data on pediatric use of cholesterol-lowering drugs. So how on earth can he recommend it foThe use of statins in adults is currently under debate, so why on earth promote a drug that has been shown to actually cause heart problems in healthy subjects? Last year, US researchers at the University of Illinois examined the effects of the statin drug Lipitor on subjects with no history of heart problems. After taking the drug for three to six months, some subjects showed deterioration in at least one marker for heart function, and a smaller number were found to have deterioration in three different heart function markers. Natural Alternatives|:

Statins have been heavily promoted to reduce cholesterol, but there are plenty of healthy alternatives instead. CoQ10, artichoke leaf, red yeast rice and sugar cane are all being used to reduce cholesterol and if you have a history of heart disease in your family, or are concerned about your cholesterol levels – or those of your children – then these are some other things you can try:

* Follow a low-glycaemic diet (low processed carbohydrates), which lowers cholesterol

* Eat foods containing high levels of beta-sitosterol, found in most plants, especially soybeans, as they can reduce cholesterol by at least 10 per cent

* Take omega-3 fatty-acid supplements, preferably with vitamin B6

* Eat a high-fibre diet based on vegetables, fruits and nuts and oat bran, apple pectin and psyllium are especially helpful

* Try blue-green algae supplements; they contain large amounts of polyunsaturated fatty acids which may reduce cholesterol

* Garlic lowers cholesterol so cook frequently with it

Fried eggs can benefit cholesterol!


You can’t entirely blame Edwina Currie, though anyone who writes as badly as she does ought to be blamed for something, but we have steadily been eating fewer and fewer eggs. The dreaded phrase ‘high in cholesterol’ have sealed their fate, but ironically it now seems that new research shows they could actually reduce a risk factor for heart disease.

We have been warned over and over again about the dangers of eggs producing cholesterol that will clog up your arteries – though as cholesterol is essential to our health and wellbeing it has always been a mixed message.

The main target has been those people who have high blood pressure, and instead of a natural regime of exercise and diet many doctors have been prescribing an Angiotensin- Converting Enzyme (ACE) inhibitor drug. How about a couple of fried eggs instead? Two splendid Canadian researchers at the University of Alberta recently ran lab tests to see whether eating fried eggs or boiled eggs would produce greater amounts of ACE inhibitory peptides and the fried eggs were the winners!

They found that cooked eggs could generate a number of potent ACE inhibitory peptides and although I am not advocating you have them every day, do not remove them from your diet because of the cholesterol scare but eat in moderation – as you should do with all things in your diet.

Incidentally, the research that led to the egg/cholesterol scare was done on powdered eggs and the problem has always been cholesterol that has been heated and exposed to air for an extended period. This does not occur with ‘real’ eggs as the yolk sac insulates the cholesterol from oxidation. Many doctors believe that there is no link between eggs and having high cholesterol levels and in fact if you don’t have enough cholesterol from food sources then your body is forced to manufacture it as it is essential for your health. This form of cholesterol that the body produces is more likely to be deposited in blood vessel walls than any form of cholesterol found in eggs.

Egg and chips anyone?

Top 4 foods to fight cholesterol

As winter approaches and cold weather is upon us, we naturally start to change our diets and often we are going for food that is comforting and also high in cholesterol from increased amounts of things like red meat and butter. Now while I admit that a crumpet with low fat spread would never pass my lips, it is sensible at this time of year to look at your overall diet and see if you are including the best possible foods to help fight cholesterol if that is a health problem for you. Women might also want to check out the Health Bites item for a tip on vitamin K.

I don’t think any of these ‘superfoods’ are going to be a revelation to you, but they might remind you of how helpful they can be in your fight to maintain low cholesterol. Many people ask me why I don’t just suggest statins (see previous issues on the website for my negative views on that) or just take one of the many cholesterol-lowering drinks you find in your supermarket. You can, of course, but if you read the labels on many of them you will find they are full of sugar, or worse, sweeteners plus E numbers and colours.

Also, the American Heart Association warns consumers about filling their diet with sterol-enhanced products such as spreads and drinks unless they also cut back on other sources of fat. If you just add these items in without doing so, they warn that obviously it could lead to excess calorie consumption which is not healthy and that anyone who has a history of heart disease or elevated LDL levels, must talk to their doctor before adding these sorts of products into their diet.

These suggestions are for a natural way to control cholesterol, and in these economically challenged times they are also cheaper – and healthier – than those manufactured products.

1 Oats
The Scots have had it right all along, because porridge for breakfast is one of the healthiest ways to start the day. If you don’t fancy the traditional salt version, and I wouldn’t recommend it if you are dealing with heart disease, then try it with semi-skimmed or low-fat milk and sweeten with a little honey or maple syrup. It’s the fibre in the oats that plays a significant role in decreasing “bad cholesterol” (LDL) levels. It works to reduce LDL levels by grabbing onto the cholesterol and eliminating it from the body through the digestive system. If you want to increase your fibre intake even more then add a chopped apple, or some prunes to the breakfast bowl. Some excellent fiber-rich choices besides oatmeal and oat bran include beans, barley, apples and prunes.

2 Plant Sterols
Another way to significantly reduce LDL levels is to include plenty of natural sterols found in fruit, vegetables, pulses, nuts and seeds. They work by blocking cholesterol absorption and preventing it from getting into the bloodstream. People who include plenty of fruit and vegetables in their diet experience, on average, a 9% decrease in LDL levels and an average 12% reduction in C-reactive protein levels, another key indicator of heart disease risk. Another good reason for exceeding your ’5 a day’ quota.

3 Fatty Fish
I can’t help it, the phrase Fatty Fish reminds me of a childhood reading of Billy Bunter, and doesn’t sound all that appetising does it? However, wild salmon, sardines and anchovies are all rich sources of omega-3 fatty acids. There is so much research now on how these “healthy fats” are essential for so many functions in the body that I hesitate to even mention it. But – in case you haven’t heard, they reduce LDL levels, help lower high blood pressure and cut cardiovascular risk. Foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids may also raise levels of “good cholesterol” (HDL), which helps transport bad cholesterol to the liver, where it can be eliminated from the body. The usual recommendation is to have these fish at least twice a week, but not from the fish and chip shop as they are at their healthiest when grilled or baked.

Vegetarians, or fish haters, can also get the same good benefits from soya beans, seeds or nuts. A study in Hypertension: Journal of the American Heart Association reported that omega-3 fatty acids from walnuts and flaxseeds had as much impact on blood pressure as omega-3 fatty acids from fish. A handful a day is enough to provide the heart benefits you need – any more and you are running into high calorie territory. Oh, and check out the health bites for another benefit of Omega 3.

4 Olive Oil
I have mentioned the benefits of the Mediterranean diet before, and olive oil is a key component of it. For a healthy heart we need to cut down on saturated fat and trans fats – often listed in the ingredients as ‘hydrogenated’ or ‘partially hydrogenated’fats or oils.

Sources of the healthier monounsaturated fats are extra virgin olive oil, avocados, peanuts and nuts and they will all help lower your LDL and raise your HDL levels. Again, however, please be cautious as all types of fat contain more than twice the calories of proteins or carbohydrates.

So how do you combine them in the ideal day? Well you could start with breakfast of porridge with an apple chopped into it, then for lunch a large salad and dinner of grilled fish and home made ratatouille – lots of olive oil and healthy garlic in there!

Men and heart attacks – It’s the hormones

September 10, 2008 by  
Filed under Mens Health

Sex, or to be fair, hormones are now shown to be the reason why men are more prone to – and likely to die of – heart disease compared with women of a similar age. I thought it was just they worked harder, and worried more, but am always happy to be proved wrong! A new study from the Department of Cardiovascular Sciences at the University of Leicester, suggest that this “male disadvantage” may be related to the effects of their naturally occurring sex hormones, and yes they do have more than one: estradiol, estrone, testosterone and androstenedione. The researchers studied how each of these interacted with the three major risk factors of heart disease: cholesterol, blood pressure and weight. For once, it is not testosterone that is in the dock because they found that two of these sex hormones (estradiol and estrone, both oestrogens) are linked to increased levels of bad cholesterol (LDL-cholesterol) and low levels of good cholesterol (HDL-cholesterol) in men and that they may be important risk factors of heart disease – even before men present symptoms of coronary artery disease or stroke.

In women, oestrogen helps protect women from heart disease so why it affects men differently is interesting – but the research didn’t throw up why this happens, only that it does. However, men concerned about their heart health could ask their doctor for a blood test to determine their level of these two oestrogens to see if they are at risk.

Why low cholesterol is not always a good thing

I know that in the media there is a lot of emphasis placed on the dangers of high cholesterol, however what many people fail to realise is that cholesterol is essential for your health. It’s present in every single cell in your body where it helps to produce cell membranes, hormones, vitamin D and bile acids to help you digest fat.

Cholesterol also helps in the formation of your memories and is vital for neurological function, and now scientists have discovered that there is one specific area where having low levels of one type of cholesterol has been linked to memory loss and Alzheimer’s disease.

Scientists studied more than 3,500 civil servants to investigate how levels of HDL or “good” cholesterol were associated with memory. HDL cholesterol can influence the formation of the beta-amyloid “plaques” that are a distinctive feature in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients. Higher levels of HDL are also believed to protect against damage to blood supply caused by the narrowing of the arteries.

After the five-year study period, the researchers found that people with low levels of HDL were 53% more likely to suffer memory loss than people with the highest levels of HDL. Those with impaired memory are at an increased risk of developing dementia later in life, and that is not the only area where low cholesterol levels can cause you health problems.

The Risks of Low Cholesterol

Other risks related to neurological function are depression, suicidal tendencies and may lead to violent behaviour and aggression. Cholesterol levels that are too low can also increase your risk of cancer and Parkinson’s disease so trying to reduce your cholesterol to unreasonably low levels is doing your long-term health no favours.

Why do cholesterol levels rise?

High cholesterol has become such a hot topic that many people don’t realise that it is not a disease in itself. It is actually a perfectly normal response when something has gone wrong and your body needs to make new, healthy cells. Because cholesterol is produced whenever your cells become damaged, it will show as high cholesterol levels, but if you have a lot of damaged cells, you’re also going to have a lot of cholesterol in your bloodstream. This is a good thing, because it means your cells are being repaired.

Instead of just trying to reduce the high cholesterol, it makes more sense to search for what’s causing the damage in the first place, rather than moving straight on to cholesterol-lowering drugs.

One of the most common causes of high cholesterol is inflammation, and that can be brought on by a number of factors, including:

** Too many processed foods
** Smoking
** Not enough exercise
** Emotional stress

Healthy cholesterol levels are essential to keep your cells functioning at their best, and all of those risk factors above are within your control so that might be the place to start. If stress is the issue, have a look at the website for my book on How To Cope Successfully With Stress at www.sortingstressout.com

Cholesterol and Exercise – getting it right

October 27, 2007 by  
Filed under Fitness & Sport, Health, Lifestyle

Being recommended to take more exercise is usually what happens if you talk to your doctor about lowering your cholesterol levels. However, what they may not tell you is that what makes the difference is not how hard you exercise, but how long you do it for. A Japanese study has shown that working out extra hard has no effect on cholesterol, but exercising for at least 40 minutes several times a week raised the levels of HDL (beneficial cholesterol) by 2.53 points. It’s particularly important for women as for each point the HDL level increases means that our risk of heart disease gets reduced by 3 per cent. And don’t think 35 or 39 minutes will do, apparently it takes a full 40 minutes to activate an enzyme called LPL, which helps raise HDL levels. Anyone for a long walk?