ChoLESSterol…not so fast

August 31, 2016

Self-Paced Course: Non-Diet Academy


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A Certified Eating Disorders Registered Dietitian (CEDRD) with a master's degree in dietetics & nutrition. My passion is helping you find peace with food - and within yourself.

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Getting your cholesterol as low as possible doesn't necessarily support optimal brain health! — Ralph Carson, LD, RD, PhD, The Brain Fix

Most people believe that when it comes to cholesterol, less is better.  Less in your blood, less in your diet.  After all, we've been told by experts that it is dangerous, right?  Some studies have correlated cholesterol with vascular disease, but let's remember that correlation and causation are not the same thing.  And not all studies even show this correlation.  

A study published in the American Journal of Medical Sciences in 1990 looked at the autopsies of 194 people, and in those who died from severe atherosclerosis 65% of them had a total serum cholesterol <200, and 95% had cholesterol <250.  Hmmm…so it's possible that cholesterol and atherosclerosis are not as tightly linked as we've been led to believe.  The same study identified homocysteine as an independent risk factor for atherosclerosis.

The recommendation used to be to limit dietary cholesterol intake to 300mg/day.  So people started avoiding dietary cholesterol, eating egg whites, a sad travesty given that the egg yolk is packed full of nutrients, including choline, which we don't get nearly enough of.  Plus, let's face it, whole eggs taste better than egg whites.

Previously, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommended that cholesterol intake be limited to no more than 300 mg/day. The 2015 DGAC will not bring forward this recommendation because available evidence shows no appreciable relationship between consumption of dietary cholesterol and serum cholesterol, consistent with the conclusions of the AHA/ACC report.2 35 Cholesterol is not a nutrient of concern for overconsumption. — Scientific Report of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee


What IS cholesterol in the first place, and why do we need it in our bodies?  Cholesterol is part of every cell wall in your body.  It is also a precursor for vitamin D, bile and many hormones (e.g. estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, cortisol).  Most of the cholesterol in our blood comes from the liver, not your diet.  Hence, avoiding eating cholesterol doesn't lower your cholesterol levels.  It's also important to recognize that cholesterol (in addition to fat) makes up most of your brain tissue.  Cholesterol is crucial in fetal development, to the extent that pregnant women should not take cholesterol-lowering drugs because if deprived of cholesterol in utero the baby stands a higher chance of being born with developmental issues.  And a fascinating final note, low cholesterol has been correlated with violence, aggression and impulsive behavior and is often seen in violent offenders (Carson, 2012).

Yet, at the slightest sign of elevated serum cholesterol docs started putting people on statins, a powerful cholesterol-lowering drug.  This topic has been hot in the news and scientific community lately. "Our opinion is that although statins are effective at reducing cholesterol levels, they have failed to substantially improve cardiovascular outcomes (Diamond DM, Ravnskov U)."  Another article here.  

While I could go on and on about this, my point is that just because we are told that lowering our cholesterol is a good thing, that may not necessarily be true.  And there is certainly no reason to limit your dietary intake of cholesterol, so my goal is to diminish any fear you may have had about that.  I also want to challenge you to be skeptical about what you hear in the media and online.  


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