Cholesterol: An unjustified bad rap

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Cholesterol Myths Exposed(NaturalHealth365) For years, cholesterol in general – and “bad,” or LDL cholesterol in particular – has gotten a bad rap in the media, taking much of the blame for American’s current heart disease epidemic.

But not all scientists agree that cholesterol deserves its reputation; in fact, multiple studies indicate that the links between cholesterol and heart disease may be exaggerated, and that cholesterol isn’t actually as bad as it’s been portrayed.

Here’s what you need to know about the latest cholesterol findings…

The many myths surrounding cholesterol

For decades, we’ve been told that high levels of cholesterol, specifically low density lipoprotein or LDL cholesterol, is a causal factor in heart disease. In order to lower LDL levels, many people avoid foods with high cholesterol content, such as eggs, butter and red meat, while others have turned to cholesterol-lowering drugs known as statins.

It’s a common issue; according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about one in six adults – or 17 percent of Americans – have high cholesterol. However, according to Harvard Medical School and CNN, more than 42 million people currently take statins to lower their cholesterol, or nearly one in four Americans.

Does LDL deserve its “evil” reputation?

Multiple studies say “no”!

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A 2014 study in Future Medicine suggests that dietary sources of cholesterol do not play a role in increased risk of heart disease.

A 2013 metastudy in the British Medical Journal found that higher consumption of foods that contained high levels of LDL cholesterol did not increase the risk of coronary heart disease and, in fact, reduced the risk of developing a hemorrhagic stroke.

A 2011 study in the Journal of Gerontology found a link between higher LDL levels and higher muscle mass amongst adults that exercised regularly.

These and many other studies underlie a key fact that’s often overlooked in the cholesterol discourse: The body actually needs cholesterol, both LDL and HDH – high-density lipoprotein or so-called “good” cholesterol – to function properly.

Diets and drug regimens that severely reduce LDL may not be as healthy as once thought.

All things in moderation…

Dr. Steve Reichman, researcher at Texas A&M University, notes that LDL actually serves an essential purpose in the body: helping the body to gain muscle mass.

His 2011 study found that after adults exercised vigorously, those who gained the most muscle mass actually had the highest LDL levels. He attributes this finding to the fact that the body needs LDL in the blood in order to repair and rebuild muscles after exercise.

He also notes that elevated LDL levels not related to exercise serve as an early warning system that something is off – whether that’s an unhealthy diet, smoking or a lack of exercise.

Many experts point to a diet high in trans-fats, sugars and processed foods, all of which lead to inflammation, as the bigger culprit – noting that cholesterol is found throughout each cell in the body and is actually necessary for health.

These recent studies clearly indicate that the cholesterol story may be more complex than previously thought, indicating a need for more research.

Sources for this article include:

NEJM.org
CNN.com
ScienceDaily.com