Don't Be Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf: Cholesterol

Let’s start right from the beginning—there are two major subjects we are not taught in school—first is Personal Finance—why is it that almost 50% of the United States population has less than $10,000 in the bank at retirement. Second is our Health.

Medical illiteracy has never been higher. 

One example is getting a blood test.  If your blood test comes back and some of your numbers fall out of the normal level, you may be walking out of your doctor’s office with some type of medication to target your specific symptom?  It is time to take more ownership in our greatest asset—and that asset is our health!

Our cholesterol conversation is the first of a series of blogs geared to improving our literacy surrounding our health.

Here is a typical example of a phone call or email we receive daily at On Target Living:

“I just came from a visit from my doctor, and my doctor says my cholesterol is high and would like to put me on a cholesterol lowering medication and I am confused on what I should do”?  

First let’s dive into some deeper questions to help you determine your risk?  There are two important numbers when talking about your cholesterol profile.  First is your Cholesterol to HDL Ratio, and second is your Triglyceride to HDL Ratio—let’s look at yours to help determine your risk and have a better conversation with your doctor in the future.

  1. What is your total cholesterol? 230
  2. What is your HDL? 69
  3. Your Cholesterol/HDL Ratio is 230/69 = 3.33 (goal of 3.5 or less for women, 4.5 or less for men)—yours is a fantastic ratio!
  4. What is your Triglyceride level? 85
  5. Your Triglyceride/HDL Ratio is 85/69 = 1.23 (goal of 2.0 or less)—this again is a fantastic ratio!
  6. If you are only looking at your cholesterol profile numbers—your numbers look great!

Let’s keep the conversation going to learn more and further understand your risk.

Cholesterol is a hot topic wherever you go, and why not—the cholesterol scare has been rampant for decades.  But there is so much misinformation about cholesterol.  When we survey people in our speaking events or through our training almost 100% will say that they have had their cholesterol checked in the past two years.  Then we ask, “how many of you have had your Homocysteine and Highly Sensitive C-Reactive Protein checked?"

This percentage is close to zero.  Why is this?  These two blood tests are powerful risk factors for predicting heart disease, cancer, and stroke!  Short answer, there are no medications to prescribe for these tests and second there is a lack of education by our health professionals and we as consumers!

In fact, the latest research has found that you live longer if you have high cholesterol levels that are in balance—and the key word here is BALANCE—your cholesterol needs to be in balance!   Did you know that over 60% of all heart attacks occur with normal cholesterol levels?  Over 25% of adults in the United States are currently taking a statin medication.  More than $60 billion dollars is spent each year globally, on statin medications to lower cholesterol.   But here’s the real kicker--heart disease is not getting any better.

"You will live longer if you have high cholesterol levels that are in balance."

Most people have been led to believe that having a high cholesterol is the most important risk factor for having a heart attack or stroke and as I just stated, over 60% of all heart attacks occur with normal cholesterol levels!  We like to say cholesterol is only 33% of the story and without the other 67% you can't determine your risk.

Cholesterol may play a role in your risk of having a heart attack or stroke, but there are many other risk factors besides having an unbalanced cholesterol that affect your risk.  Most people still believe that having low cholesterol is good and having high cholesterol is bad.  What if it's the opposite? Let’s go deeper and start having a better understanding of cholesterol, so you can have a better conversation with your health professionals along with taking greater ownership in your personal health.

What Does Cholesterol Do?

I believe when most people discuss cholesterol, they think of it as something bad or they are proud that their cholesterol is low, believing the lower the cholesterol the better.  Let’s change this thinking right now! Cholesterol is essential for optimal health.  Cholesterol makes up every cell membrane in the human body, cholesterol heals the body, cholesterol makes our stress and steroidal (sex) hormones, cholesterol transports vitamins and minerals and helps to absorb Vitamin D, cholesterol is essential for memory and brain health, and cholesterol is necessary for strength, vitality, and the production of CoQ10, a powerful antioxidant involved in energy production of every cell in the body, and most famously for keeping the heart healthy.  

When taking a statin medication to lower cholesterol, the statin medication blocks the pathway for production of CoQ10.  In fact, if you live in Canada and are prescribed a statin medication, you are also prescribed a CoQ10 supplement.  Remind me again why I am taking a statin medication if it blocks the production of one of the most powerful antioxidants that keeps the heart healthy?  

During my daughter-in-law’s first pregnancy, by mistake her cholesterol was taken.   Her total cholesterol came back extremely high, but her doctor told her not to worry, that during pregnancy cholesterol levels rise dramatically and that this was completely normal when making a new life!  Cholesterol is amazing, and without it we would not have life.

Why Is My Cholesterol High or Out of Balance?

This is a tremendous question to ask.  If your cholesterol is too high or out of balance (having a balanced cholesterol level is what we should all be striving for), you need to ask the question why, why is my cholesterol out of balance?  Remember cholesterol is the raw material for your building (sex) hormones and keeps your cells energized and healthy.  

Maybe your stress levels are too high, your body has too much inflammation, you lack sleep, eat too many processed foods, drink too much coffee, soda pop, energy drinks or alcohol; your body may be talking back and trying to help.  When the body goes into healing mode the liver begins producing more cholesterol for hormonal balance and repair.  

The body is trying to fix itself and does this by producing more cholesterol.  Some people may also have a genetically predisposition to produce more cholesterol than the average person, and in most of these cases the goal again is to create balance within the cholesterol profile.

"Cholesterol is not the risk factor, why your cholesterol is out of balance is the risk factor."

Should I Take a Statin Medication?

Before I get too far, I want you to understand that I am not your doctor.  My intention is to empower you with greater knowledge and understanding so you can make a more informed decision about your health along with working with your doctor.  With that being said, hang on, because I am going to give you my thoughts and beliefs about improving your cholesterol profile, lowering your risk of having a heart attack or stroke—and it is not with a statin medication.

What is a statin medication?  Statin medications have been on the market for over 35 years and are the most prescribed medication around the world to help lower cholesterol.  Statins are big business, a multibillion-dollar business, and continues to grow.  The statin class of drugs are very effective at reducing cholesterol.  They do their work in the liver by suppressing an enzyme called HMG-CoA.  

When you block the enzyme HMG-CoA, you also block the production of CoQ10 as I mentioned earlier, a powerful antioxidant especially for the heart.  A deficiency in CoQ10 can lead to multiple problems, such as leg pain or muscle cramps, erectile dysfunction, depression and memory loss, Type 2 diabetes, shortness of breath or fatigue, cardiac palpitations, liver enzyme abnormalities; it sounds like these statin medications can have many side effects, and I am not done yet!

Remember earlier I discussed the role of cholesterol and its importance for having healthy hormones. Cholesterol is the raw material for all steroidal (sex) hormones, meaning all your healing hormones, growth hormone, testosterone, estrogens, progestins, mineralocorticoids and glucocorticoids are all made from cholesterol.  If your cholesterol production is blocked by a statin medication, you compromise these hormones.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this blog we receive copies of blood work from people wanting to learn more and have a better understanding about their blood work.  They want to be more in control of their own health and have better conversations with their doctors.  One area we see on a regular basis is an extremely low reading of total cholesterol followed by an extremely low reading of testosterone.  Immediately I know this person most likely is taking a statin medication.  The statins block the cholesterol production and compromise the production of sex hormones. 

We must ask why are the erectile dysfunction medications skyrocketing?  Now you know; taking a statin medication blocks the production of cholesterol and many times compromises the production of our sex and healing hormones in the body.  I might be oversimplifying this to some extent, but my point is why are we seeing an epidemic level of ED—could one answer be our overconsumption of statin medications?

Another concern is the epidemic increase in brain and nerve diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and Multiple Sclerosis.  All these diseases are based on the breakdown of the myelin sheath, the protective coating that surrounds every nerve in the human body.  One of the possible side effects of statin medications is the breakdown of the myelin sheath.

As you can tell, I am not a fan of statin medications due to their vast array of potential side effects.  If you want to improve your cholesterol profile, I believe there is a safer and much more effective path to take. 

What’s Your Risk?

We all must take more ownership in our personal health and become more educated in this space.  In today’s world of medicine most doctors have less than 12-minutes per office visit—12-minutes!  How do we expect our health professionals to fix broken sleep, high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes, or an imbalanced cholesterol profile in less than 12-minutes?  On top of such a short visit, will the patient be compliant on changing their lifestyle by getting more rest, drinking more water, eating healthier foods, and moving their body daily?  

In the late 80’s I worked with a family practice physician by the name of Dr. Barry Saltman.  Dr. Saltman was a beautiful and loving human being, I loved this guy.  Dr. Saltman would see up to 40-45 patients on a daily basis and many of his patients were extremely unhealthy, he loved his patients and wanted the best for them, but due to the way the system was set up made it extremely difficult to change some of his patient’s unhealthy lifestyles!

Understanding your risk is critical to your future health.  Here is a snapshot of what you need to know.

  1. Cholesterol/HDL Ratio:This is an easy indicator to see if your cholesterol profile is in balance.  There are other cholesterol tests that are available such as cholesterol particle size or a calcium score, but the cholesterol/HDL ratio is where you should begin to understand your risk. Here is an easy example:  Total Cholesterol of 210 and an HDL of 70.  Divide the total cholesterol by the HDL (210/70 = 3.0). For women this number should be 3.5 or less and for men should be 4.5 or less.  So, in this example, 3.0 is a fantastic Cholesterol/HDL Ratio for both men and women!

  2. Triglycerides/HDL Ratio:Triglycerides are a great indicator of how healthy one is eating or drinking and can change very quickly.  If your triglycerides are 100 and your HDL is 70 (100/70 = 1.42) goal of under 2.0.  So, in this example, 1.42 is a fantastic Triglyceride/HDL Ratio for both men and women.

  3. Glucose:Glucose is a great indicator of cellular health.  Goal of under 98.

  4. Homocysteine:Homocysteine measures oxidation or rust and as I mentioned earlier is a powerful risk factor heart attack or stroke.  Goal of 13 or less! If you are not eating carbohydrates, or you are on a high protein diet this number is usually elevated.

  5. Highly Sensitive C-Reactive Protein:  Highly Sensitive CRP measure inflammation and is also a powerful risk factor for heart attack or stroke.  Goal of 1.0 or less

Next time you have an appointment with your health professional give them the Know Your Numbers Handout and ask for all of these tests to help determine Your Risk! 

How Do I Improve My Cholesterol Profile?

Over the last 35-years I have helped hundreds of people avoid taking statin medications or get off their statins along with working with their doctors.  If you are willing to make some of these lifestyle changes, you are now playing offense versus defense with your health.

  1. Ask Better Questions, Get Informed, and Understand Your Risk!  
  2. REST—Getting enough rest is critical for balancing your cholesterol profile and improving your overall health.
  • Breath Work—breathe through the nose, use your diaphragm, and slow down you’re breathing.
  • Sleep—8 hours of sleep
  • Pace and Space—is the pace of your life not in line with the amount of space you have in your life?  Can you slow down your pace?  How can you create more space in your life?
  1. Water—drink more water, minimum of 50 ounces per day—goal is to work toward consuming ½ your body weight in ounces per day, or 6-8 ounces per hour.
  2. Cod Liver Oil—take 1-2 tablespoons of cod liver oil each morning.  This is great for lowering triglycerides, decreasing inflammation, and raising your HDL.
  3. Flaxseeds or Chia Seeds—take 1-2 tablespoons of ground flaxseeds or chia seeds 4-7 times per week. High in omega 3 fats, magnesium, and fiber!
  4. Vitamin C—berries, lemons, oranges, grapefruit, limes, watermelon, pineapple, broccoli, kale, asparagus, and sweet potatoes, all high in vitamin C.
  5. Superfoods—spirulina/chlorella, frozen wheatgrass, pumpkin seeds, Brazil nuts, apples, walnuts, oatmeal, beans, use the Food Target as your guide Superfoods
  6. Move Your Body----move your body daily, play more, and find movement activities you enjoy! Click here for EXERCISES.

For most people there is no need to ever take a statin medication if you are willing to change your lifestyle—YOU HAVE THE POWER!

Enjoy the Journey!

- Chris Johnson 'The Prevention Guy'

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