Over 16 percent of U.S. adults have high cholesterol, defined as 240 mg/dl according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Even the average level for Americans, 200mg/dl, is high, they say.
Many health organizations insist that high cholesterol puts people at increased risk for heart disease, the leading cause of death in the United States
But Dr. Ellen Kamhi, Ph.D., says this isn’t necessarily true. And other experts reveal information that runs contrary to what most of us have been told about cholesterol over the years.
“This stated fact scares millions of people into taking statin drugs to lower their cholesterol levels,” she says. “But cholesterol is actually an essential part of your body, used to produce cell membranes, steroid hormones, vitamin D and the bile acids your body needs to digest fat.
“You brain needs cholesterol to function properly, as does your immune system, and if a cell becomes damaged, it needs cholesterol to be repaired.”
In fact, says Kamhi, author of “The Natural Medicine Chest,” making excess cholesterol is actually your body’s response to inflammation, which it does to help heal and repair your cells.
“Many Americans are under the impression that all cholesterol is bad, but in reality, cholesterol is good for your body and necessary for you to live,” says Kamhi.
She also puts to rest the myth that eating foods high in fat drives up your cholesterol levels, which clogs your arteries and leads to heart disease. In fact, a recent study found that there is no association between eating saturated fat and heart disease.
Furthermore, research shows that eating cholesterol-rich foods, like eggs, is not what gives you high cholesterol. According to the Harvard Heart Letter, it’s a myth that all the cholesterol in eggs goes into your bloodstream and arteries.
“For most people, only a small amount of the cholesterol in food passes into the blood,” the Heart Letter states. “The only large study to look at the impact of egg consumption and heart disease found no connection between the two.”
Another question raised by Kamhi is exactly what is considered to be high cholesterol levels? According to the American Heart Association, anything over 200 mg/dl is considered high.
But according to lipid biochemistry expert Mary Enig, Ph.D. in an article published in the “Weston A. Price Foundation” quarterly magazine:“Blood cholesterol levels between 200 and 240 mg/dl are normal. These levels have always been normal. In older women, serum cholesterol levels greatly above these numbers are also quite normal, and in fact they have been shown to be associated with longevity.”
What this means, according to Kamhi, is that many Americans may be taking statin cholesterol lowering drugs unnecessarily, believing their cholesterol is dangerously high when it’s not.
In fact, in an article published in “Business Week,” James M. Wright, a physician and professor at the University of British Columbia found that people over the age of 65 taking statin drugs had no benefit in preventing heart disease no matter how much their cholesterol levels declined.
“Most people are taking something with no chance of benefit and a risk of harm,” said Wright.
Among the risks of taking statins drugs are muscle problems, increase in blood glucose levels, tendon problems and an increase in liver enzymes, leading to permanent liver damage. Nausea, diarrhea. Abdominal pain, constipation, headaches and skin rash are other known side effects.
Statin drugs are also known to block the production of important nutrients in the body, including CoQ10, which is beneficial to heart health and muscle function. If CoQ10 levels become depleted, which is common in those taking statin drugs, it can actually cause heart failure.
“The best way to maintain healthy cholesterol levels is to reduce inflammation,” Kamhi advises. “Your body tends to make more cholesterol when it’s in a chronically inflamed state.”
Inflammation is often the result of a poor diet and the consumption of processed foods. For instance, if you eat a lot of fast food, you probably have increased inflammation levels, as pro-inflammatory foods include sugar, soda, alphol, bread, trans fat and red meat.
Top tips to reduce inflammation include:
- Eating a healthy diet with plenty of raw fruits and vegetables
- Exercising regularly
- Not smoking
- Managing stress in your life
- Limiting alcohol
“You can also find natural detox products that can help rid your body of heavy metals and other toxins in the body,” says Kamhi. “These steps will help lower chronic inflammation in your body so that your cholesterol levels will naturally revert to a healthy range — no drugs required!”