When people think heart disease they probably think saturated fat, cholesterol, obesity, or even stress. But sugar is not often the first connection made when heart disease comes up. And it does come up! It is still the leading cause of death. According to the CDC:
•About 610,000 Americans die from heart disease each year—that’s 1 in every 4 deaths.
•In the United States, someone has a heart attack every 42 seconds. Each minute, someone in the United States dies from a heart disease-related event.
•Heart disease costs the United States about $207 billion each year. This total includes the cost of health care services, medications, and lost productivity.
This is obviously an issue in our country. So let's unpack the culprits.
Cholesterol is not truly a lipid or a fat. It's a steryl alcohol that is carried by lipoprotiens. So there is more to it. What is the purpose:
•Required to build and maintain membranes.
•Modulate membrane fluidity.
•Converted in the liver to bile.
•Precursor to vitamin D.
•Precursor to steroid hormones: cortisol, aldosterone, progesterone, estrogen, testosterone.
•Brain health: 25% of your body’s cholesterol is in your brain, important for neuron health.
Smith Lemli Opitz Disorder-genetic deficiency in cholesterol. Most SLOD conceptions are spontaneously aborted. When not, those affected will have a number of issues from skeletal deformities to autism or aggressive behavior. Cholesterol is needed to form and maintain pregnancy.
Here are some more facts about cholesterol:
•A study in the Journal of Psychiatric Research found that men with low total cholesterol levels were 7 times more likely to die prematurely from unnatural causes such as suicide and accidents than other men in the study.
•A 1993 study published in The Lancet found that depression was 3 times more likely in men over 70 with low cholesterol than in those with normal or high cholesterol.
•A Swedish study found that women with the lowest cholesterol suffered significantly more depressive symptoms than other women in the study.
•A study in the journal Neurology showed that low cholesterol is associated with increased risk of dementia.
•A paper published in the European Journal of Internal Medicine linked low cholesterol levels with Alzheimer’s disease.
(Source: Kresser, Chris. Diet Heart Myth. Ebook.)
Furthermore, any correlation between saturated fat and cholesterol and heart disease has been weak or nonsignificant. (1) It should be mentioned that the study often used to point blame at saturated fat and cholesterol only lasted two weeks long.
Here are some significant points in science in regard to hear disease:
Anitschkov (1910s)-Infiltration theory-found that injecting rabbits with lipids did not lead to heart attacks, but did lead to atherosclerosis (clogging of arteries). Couldn’t figure out why. We now know this is from the oxidation of lipoproteins.
Ancel Keyes (1950s): Refuted for its lack of randomization, length, and outcome, but the American Heart Association continued to base their dietary recommendations on this study (2 weeks long!)
Brown and Goldstein (1970s): Traffic back ups of LDL causes them to oxidize. Oxidation morphs them into cells that degenerate into macrophages initiating “foam cell” formation and a T cell response. This leads to…INFLAMMATION at the site of these traffic jams.
Lipoproteins are the carrier for cholesterol, and are the cells that become oxidized. Oxidation creates damage and inflammation in arteries.
So yes, the amount of lipids you consume is relevant, but perhaps more relevant is the inflammation caused by oxidative stress that leads to “hardening” of arteries, and plaque build up.
While it’s clear that excess lipids have something to do with atherosclerosis, there are still no long term studies that suggest direct correlation with cholesterol intake to heart disease.
If oxidation of lipoproteins is a problem, what causes it?
-Smaller, denser LDL has shown to make people 3x more likely to suffer from a heart attack.
-Excess poly unsaturated fats (Omega 6 and 9) because they are most vulnerable (liquid oils-olive, sunflower, etc.) aka NOT saturated fat. (In fact as a more dense fat, saturated fat seems to be protective against oxidative damage.)
-Excess homocysteine in the blood. This is a genetic error/degeneration. Testing is needed to see if you have this. Simple correction with intake of B vitamins and methylated folate.
-A diet high in sugar.
Chronic inflammation is the culprit. How does sugar contribute?
Blood sugar imbalances may contribute way more to heart disease than fat intake:
Chronic Cortisol: ADRENALS
•Chronically high blood pressure, weakening heart and arteries over time.
•Hyperadrenia-high cortisol levels mean increased heart rate and blood pressure.
•Hypoadrenia-low cortisol levels mean more inflammation.
Insulin resistance compromises mineral uptake by the cells (calcium and magnesium).
EVERY heart beat needs enough and the proper balance of calcium to contract and magnesium to relax.
High insulin blocks PG1 pathway-this is the anti-inflammatory response provided by the proper balance of Omega 3: Omega 6
High sugar diets lead to glycation, when sugar literally coats proteins and insulin receptors.
Sugar feeds chronic disease and inflammation,
•Gut issues: SIBO, yeast (candida), leaky gut, sugar feeds bad bacteria (creates exotoxins that punch holes in lining.)
•Immunity issues: overloaded liver/detoxification system (pancreas, adrenals, and liver get worn out with chronic sugar intake.)
Remember, CONTEXT IS EVERYTHING! For example, if you have low cholesterol, or even low density lipoproteins, but drink every night, suffer from chronic stress, and never sleep you've created a CHRONICALLY INFLAMED environment, that puts you at risk for heart disease.
What I found is that there isn't enough information to support the claim that saturated fat and cholesterol are the main causes of heart disease. Lipids are a factor, but not in the way that we've been believing. Sugar, on the other hand, is the ultimate fuel for chronic disease and inflammation. As the world has been led down the path of low fat diets, we've increased sugar intake exponentially with the average American consuming 199 pounds of sugar a year! The low fat diet has not worked in our country. It's time to recognize the value in eating a diet rich in healthy fats and cholesterol. These are building blocks to a healthy mind and body.
1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20071648?dopt=AbstractPlus, Journal of American College of Nutrition, Vol 20, No. 1, 5-19 (2001), “Types of Dietary Fat and Risk of Coronary Heart Disease: A Critical Review” by Frank B. Hu, MD, PhD, JoAnn E. Manson, MD, D.Ph., and Walter C. Willett, MD, D.Ph., Department of Nutrition, Harvard School of Public Health.