Cholesterol – Friend or Foe?

Recently, an article was published stating that the health and medical community in the U.S. is actively moving toward insuring that 33% of its population is on cholesterol reducing drugs. At present, 15% of the population is on cholesterol reducing drugs such as Lipitor, Zocor and/or Crestor.  These numbers are supposed to help reduce heart attacks and heart disease throughout the population. However, whereas these statistics are healthy insurance for Big Pharma income they may not be such good insurance for good health as we are led to believe.

You see, Big Pharma portrays cholesterol as being evil because evil sells. Selling sickness sells too.  All you have to do is instill fear into the general population by convincing them that they are at risk of dying unless they take drugs. After all, heart disease is the number one killer in North America. It’s a simple marketing strategy that is really, really effective. Make people afraid by selling them sickness and then sell them an expensive cure.

Let’s take a look at what cholesterol really is and does:



Cholesterol is a waxy substance – a sterol actually that is produced by the liver. Cholesterol occurs in all animal tissues, particularly in the brain, spinal cord and fat tissue including the fats (lipids) in your blood. It is required for cell structure, nerve cells, Vitamin D production and is very important for fat digestion and absorption.  It also functions as a protective agent in the skin and myelin sheaths of the nerve cells. Cholesterol is very important for brain function helping to prevent diseases such as Alzheimers, senility and Parkinsons. And without cholesterol you cannot synthesize adequate levels of major hormones: progesterone, estrogen, testosterone, glucocorticoids (controls metabolism and inflammation) and mineralocorticoids which maintains the body’s salt and water balance. In other words, cholesterol is a critical substance required for healthy cells and vital functions that the body cannot do without.

So if cholesterol is so good why is it so bad? Why would a healthy body turn one of its own hormones against itself?  Because long-term poorly designed studies motivated by economics proved that having high cholesterol levels were linked to cardiovascular disease (heart and arteries). But the logic in these studies is seriously flawed. Here’s why:

Cardiovascular disease (CVD) includes heart attacks and strokes and is caused by blocked arteries. These blockages are caused by damage to the inside of the arteries and is known as atherosclerosis. It is a degenerative condition marked by fat deposits that adhere to the blood vessel wall linings.  These fat deposits narrow the artery walls, creating turbulence, which then favours the clumping of blood.  Blood pressure rises, which increases clotting.  The consequences of narrowed arteries are circulation problems, pain, senility and eventually heart attacks and strokes.

Now here’s the problem. Because the fat deposits contain cholesterol, medical researchers (read pharmaceutical companies) believe that cholesterol is the culprit and that medical treatment should focus on forcing the body to eliminate excess cholesterol to break down plaque formation. There are several problems with this approach: it’s simplistic, it sells drugs and, most importantly, it does not address the underlying cause. The underlying cause is the degeneration and damage to the blood vessel which precipitated the fatty deposit in the first place. Fatty deposits also contain both saturated and unsaturated fatty acids and these dietary fats, including trans-fatty acids and free radicals, are the number one villain in tissue damage and degeneration.  So now the body must repair itself and damage control requires the liver to send in a repair team of which cholesterol is a major player – 80% of the body’s cholesterol is produced by the liver. And remember, cholesterol is sticky and hard and makes a perfect “tire patch”. Therefore, the so-called “bad” cholesterol (low density lipids – LDL) is really good because it carries fats from the liver to the repair site, while so-called “good” cholesterol (high density lipids – HDL) is still good because it removes it. HDL travels from the liver to the arteries to scavenge the unhealthy cholesterol (LDL) from the blood vessel walls when the LDL is no longer needed.

So this is what high cholesterol levels really mean:  the liver’s defense mechanism is alive and well but both the liver and the cardiovascular system are in serious need of repair. A toxic and fatty liver is caused by drugs, alcohol, caffeine, tobacco, non-organic food, excess weight and sugar metabolism problems – all of which are directly associated to heart disease. Healing is NOT accomplished by forcing cholesterol out of the body but is achieved by cleansing and nourishing the liver, heart and arteries – all of which need to be decongested of their “fatty” tissues and healed from their toxic damage, including free radical damage.

It is therefore clear, that the answer to the prevention and treatment of CVD is not accomplished by an attack on the “tire patch” with toxic medications, but is accomplished by repairing the underlying damage through correct diet, increased exercise and the appropriate supplements. Drug therapy actually disables the “tire patch” leaving the fats to do their damage, and disrupts the body from doing its own natural and effective repairs. And, by reducing cholesterol levels, drug therapy actually encourages the mal-digestion of fats – good ones and bad ones which are the very foods that cause the problems in the first place.

Still worried about heart disease? Consider these facts:

a)     More than 50% of heart attack fatalities have normal cholesterol levels.

b)    If you don’t have heart disease blood cholesterol levels are a very poor predictor of whether or not you will ever suffer a heart attack or stroke.

c)     Elevated cholesterol levels indicate a very, very tiny and miniscule risk for heart disease.

d)    Elevated cholesterol levels are not hereditary but heart disease can be.

e)     People do not die from elevated cholesterol levels. They die from the underlying causes which force the liver to produce more cholesterol.

f)      One industry publication for pharmacists reported that one in every twenty people in a high-risk group would see a benefit of only five percent.

g)    And another high quality study showed that over a thousand people would have to take cholesterol lowering drugs every day for a full year to prevent one person from dying. That leaves the other nine hundred and ninety nine people to suffer from the drug’s side effects serious enough to impact quality of life.

h)    Heart and artery diseases and/or elevated cholesterol levels are not caused by a deficiency of medications.

Are you on cholesterol lowering statin drugs and suffering side-effects? Statin drugs work by crippling the liver’s ability to produce cholesterol by interfering with important enzyme reactions. But what the statin patient doesn’t know is that these same drugs also interfere with enzyme reactions in the muscles. This causes major cell damage in both the skeletal and respiratory muscles leading to muscle soreness and weakness as well as breathing problems or coughing. These cells eventually disintegrate, the debris drops into the blood and then congests the kidneys, which is why some statin patients experience kidney damage or even failure. In other patients these drugs can elevate liver enzymes – alanine aminotransferase and aspartate aminotransferase, both of which can cause liver damage. And others experience cataract development, digestive problems and/or sexual dysfunction. Low cholesterol levels have also been associated with cancer.

But what’s really of concern is the effect that lowering cholesterol has on the brain. Synapses, the junction between the billions of nerve cells, require cholesterol as a building block. In other words, your brain cells have to have adequate levels of cholesterol to fire. Cholesterol and omega 3 and 6 fatty acids are the most important molecules in the synapse, without which the brain cells cannot fire properly. Low cholesterol is also associated with low serotonin levels, the neurotransmitter that is responsible for our moods.

And that is why cholesterol lowering drugs are clearly associated with an increase in memory loss, confusion, irritability, depression, fatigue, violence, accidents and suicide. Pretty serious stuff.

Statin drugs can also lead to diabetes by causing insulin resistance and since high blood sugar is linked to heart disease I think I’m missing the point here. Statin drugs also deplete Coenzyme Q10, a significant nutrient for heart health and regulating blood pressure. I’m still missing the point.

And don’t be fooled into taking more drugs to treat the side-effects. “Doctor denial” is when your health practitioner doesn’t acknowledge that side-effects are occurring and instead prescribes you another drug and insists that you continue to take a cholesterol-lowering drug that, in all likelihood, is completely unnecessary.

Recommended Reading:

Alan Cassels
Pharmaceutical Policy Researcher
University of Victoria
Author of:
Seeking Sickness: Medical Screening and the Misguided Hunt for Disease
(Greystone, 2012) (Dr. Beatrice A. Golomb) (Dr. Barry Sears)