Ever since cholesterol was linked to heart disease, we have been told that LDL is the “bad cholesterol” that leads to heart attack and HDL is the “good cholesterol”. While this oversimplification has some merit to it, there is much more to the story than meets the eye. Let’s break down LDL and HDL a little further to understand exactly why neither is actually good or bad, just different, and why elevated LDL is a horrible predictor of heart attack risk.
LDL, or low-density lipoprotein, gets its “bad cholesterol” label due to its ability to form plaque on the arterial walls, which can clog the arteries and lead to heart attack. While long-term plaque accumulation is dangerous to your health, it doesn’t automatically mean LDL is always bad. LDL is also responsible for a number of incredibly beneficial functions including:
- steroid hormone formation
- immune system support
- wound healing
- fighting infection
- brain and memory function
And that’s just to name a few. When LDL levels go up, it means that the body needs it for a very specific reason and it must be elevated to fix the problem. The body simply doesn’t make mistakes!
To counter-act the plaque formation from the LDL, the body sends HDL, or high-density lipoprotein, to the sight of plaque accumulation to remove it and take it to the liver to get rid of it. HDL is like the garbage truck that goes around the body picking up the trash. When LDL levels are elevated, HDL acts as a buffer to make sure plaque formation doesn’t get out of hand. In this way, LDL and HDL work together to try to keep the body functioning properly.
Why is Cholesterol So Important to Health?
Cholesterol plays a major role in maintaining proper function throughout the body. From hormone production and immune response, cholesterol is a foundational building block to support the body. For a deeper understanding, check out this episode of A Different Perspective, or read the recap here. For a larger library of video content, our YouTube channel is an abundant resource.
Statins, How Are We Still Here?
Cholesterol has a reputation for being a “bad guy.” In 1986, Merck submitted the New Drug Application (NDA) for Ivostatin, the first commercial statin, to the FDA. At that time, heart disease was the #1 killer of Americans. In September of 1987, with FDA approval, statins were touted as the good guy to help reduce cholesterol in the blood and lower risks of heart attacks and stroke. According to drugs.com:
Statins are one of the most common medicines prescribed in the U.S., with more than 35 million people taking them.
Statins have gained popularity and become common practice. So, what does that mean for heart disease. Well, that’s not good news. In fact, according to the CDC, the #1 killer of men today is still heart disease and #5 is stroke.
|Leading Causes of Death, United States, males, 2016, all races and origins, all ages|
|1) Heart disease||24.2%|
|3) Unintentional injuries||7.4%|
|4) Chronic lower respiratory diseases||5.2%|
|7) Alzheimer’s disease||2.5%|
|9) Chronic liver disease||1.8%|
|10) Kidney disease||1.8%|
A Common Denominator?
That list of killers also tells another story. According to Mayo Clinic, a list of common side effects from statins includes:
- Liver damage
- Kidney failure
- Increased blood sugar or type 2 diabetes
- Neurological issues including memory loss or confusion
Compare those two lists again. This brings us to the question, are statins good at lowering cholesterol only to increase the risk of another health problem? Have statins improved the risk of death by heart disease? Ironically, today’s #1 killer of American men remains the same. Heart disease is still firmly on top of the list after 35 years of statins. The outcomes haven’t changed.
Is the cholesterol the problem? No, it is not. Is the testing incomplete to determine the real issue? Yes. Many people focus on the “bad cholesterol” (LDL). This is the type of cholesterol that goes out into the body to repair where damage has been done. If you have high LDL, you likely have something going on! HDL takes cholesterol back to the liver for processing. These cholesterols are not causing the health challenge. It means they have work to do and they’re restoring function. If we interfere with them from doing their job, we prohibit the body from healing.
For more information on cholesterol, check out what our founder, Dr. Patrick Flynn has to say in this video.
The Real Culprit
HDL and LDL are both important; they each have very unique and important roles. If LDL was truly the “bad guy” is has been made out to be, we would see a correlation between elevated LDL levels in relation to heart attacks, right? However, that is not the case. In fact, one study demonstrated that only 50% of patients with heart attacks had elevated LDL levels (>100 mg/dl). Would you consider something reliable if it only worked half the time? No – especially when it comes to your heart! LDL levels are a horrible indicator of heart attack risk!
What, then, is a reliable indicator of risk? Inflammation. Inflammation is what actually determines your level of heart attack risk. It interferes with the ability of LDL and HDL to do their jobs. It weakens the arterial walls and makes the body more susceptible to the plaque rupture that leads to a heart attack. Unless you determine the level of inflammation present, you cannot accurately measure heart attack risk.
In order to reverse the heart disease epidemic, we need to erase the years of misinformation about LDL and HDL. They are both important, and they are both necessary. They aren’t to blame for the heart disease epidemic. The basic lipid testing and recommendations made by your traditional healthcare provider is going to fall short of what you really need to know. What you need to know, and what you need to address, is the issue of inflammation.
Assess Your Real Risk
Knowing how your body is functioning and how to support proper restoration of function comes down to thorough testing. Once you have the facts, you can determine the best way to support your health. Cholesterol isn’t as easy as “good” or “bad” “high” or “low.” It is crucial to put these numbers into perspective as to how they relate to your unique body and health. For the clear picture proper testing offers, assistance in determining your risk, and guidance in how to support health restoration, reach out to a Wellness Way clinic today!