Controversies Over What Raises Cholesterol
The answer to what raises your cholesterol should be a simple one, but even today there are conflicting opinions. I would like to shed some light on the subject not with my opinion but with fact… ok some opinion.
Paleo and Keto diets are quite popular in Crossfit, health and fitness and even functional medicine. This is because they reduce body fat, lower blood markers, and stabilize blood sugar. This ultimately reduces inflammation and improves health. At least that is the goal. These diets rely mostly on high-fat, moderate protein and low-carb ratios.
So, How Does Your Cholesterol Get High and How Much Control Do We Have Over It?
Let’s start with how Americans used to eat before processed foods, added sugars and food substitutes. What I understand from my parents and grandparents is that they cooked with fat, ate the whole egg, drank unpasteurized whole milk, didn’t know the difference between GMO and Non-GMO or organic versus non-organic, and ate a variety of food based on the season. They ate meat, all kinds, without worrying about LDL or triglycerides and fruit without thinking it would cause weight gain. There was no food timing or carb cycling.
To be fair, I do understand many things have changed since then. We have cell phones, cars, and a coffee shop on every corner, and stressors coming from every direction.
What are older generations always saying about today’s health? I don’t remember so many health issues growing up! And you know what? They are right! There has been an exponential increase in chronic disease since the evolution of food.
What Does Cholesterol Do and Why Do We Need It?
Cholesterol is the base for so many functions in the body. Here are a few that may interest you. Cholesterol is a precursor to testosterone, estrogen, cortisol and progesterone.
These are the hormones responsible for sex drive, female hormone balance, energy, sleep, muscle mass, blood sugar control and so much more. Cholesterol is essential for neural function and the formation of other hormones and absorption of nutrients. So, cholesterol is really important.
Our liver makes about three-quarters of our cholesterol, leaving the rest to be consumed through diet.
By the way, I still can’t find a study proving that consuming high amounts of cholesterol will increase bad cholesterol and put our body into a state of disease.
Low Fat and High Fat Diets
We tried the low-fat trend and around the same time we saw increases in obesity, heart disease and a number of autoimmune disease. What does a low-fat diet consist of? High amounts of sugar because food without fat tastes horrible. So, manufacturers added sugar to make food taste better. Of course, most of it wasn’t real food anyway.
Having high triglycerides is known to be associated with disease, obesity, and diabetes. Triglyceride levels are high, usually as a result of high blood sugar and the liver converting excess carbohydrates into fat. The low-fat diet or any processed low-fat foods are high in carbohydrates which could result in increased triglycerides.
Newsflash: Saturated fat and cholesterol have never been proven to cause harm! And, the American Journal of Managed Care released a statement rescinding cholesterol’s bad name.
Looking at a Keto diet or a Paleo diet which is also traditionally a low-carb, high-fat diet there have been no substantial evidence that these diets increase blood cholesterol.
In fact, risk factors decrease when on these types of diets. One of the most famous is of Gary Taubes, writer of best-selling book, “Why We Get Fat, and What to Do About It,” who is a proponent of high-fat and protein eating. When questioned about his blood markers by Dr. Oz., Gary did not respond on camera as he didn’t know, but later got his blood measured and they were optimal.
Not only have I seen this repeated with my own clients, but also on myself. I have patients who tell me stories about how their doctor can’t understand how they got their markers into optimal range without drugs. Weird, eating real food works.
What Really Causes High Cholesterol?
We touched on this earlier with the higher sugars and processed foods impacting cholesterol as a risk factor for disease. I want to go a little deeper. Since studying functional medicine and clinical nutrition, I’ve found the true backlash comes from stress and metabolic chaos impacting the stress hormones and eventually the gut and metabolism. Once our bodies get stuck in the cycle of blood sugar roller coasters this cycle turns disaster and is hard to reverse without some help.
Most of the studies defending the low-fat diet are compared to the Standard American Diet (SAD), which as the acronym states, is a really sad diet. Really, anything different would be an improvement. The only diet that has been proven through research to be effective or at least accepted by conventional medicine is the Mediterranean Diet.
SO what really causes high cholesterol is an overstressed lifestyle, diets high in carbohydrates and refined sugars, and the perpetual ups and downs in blood sugar causing metabolic chaos in the body.
How to Reverse High Cholesterol Without Drugs
First and foremost, change your eating habits! I prefer ketogenic diets and Paleo diets. However, vegetarian diets and the Mediterranean Diet can be equally effective. The point is to stop eating the Standard American Diet. If changing your diet hasn’t helped, it may be time to dig a little deeper with a functional medicine practitioner. Together, you’ll find the root cause of your cholesterol and ultimately your health issues.
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Rich Jacobs is a Board Certified Integrative and Functional Nutrition Practitioner who specializes in resolving gut, insomnia, low libido, fatigue and fat issues. He uses a holistic approach and functional lab work to identify root causes such as hormone imbalances or gut pathogens that could be impacting your health.