For decades you’ve been told that cholesterol and fat are the twin dietary villains behind heart disease. So for decades you’ve diligently steered clear of burgers, bacon and egg yolks in the name of health. But what if we told you that was misguided advice? What if we told you burgers, bacon and egg yolks are now back on the menu?
If you’re confused by what your cholesterol numbers really say about your health, you’re not alone. That’s why Jimmy Moore wrote Cholesterol Clarity: What the HDL Is Wrong With My Numbers?, now a bestseller. He wanted to take the confusing topic of cholesterol and put it into layman’s terms that anyone can understand.
As Moore puts it, he “cuts through the muckity muck” that has been orchestrated over many decades by companies that are making a fortune preying on our collective fear that saturated fat and cholesterol cause heart disease. Instead he lets real science guide him and “lift the veil of deceit to shine a bring light on the truth.”
The information in this book could no doubt be shocking and controversial to anyone heavily entrenched in the conventional thinking that if you have high total cholesterol, especially the LDL-C (“bad” cholesterol) variety, you should take a cholesterol lowering statin medication (e.g. Lipitor) to lower heart disease risk.
Your arteries are like pipes
The common analogy of our arteries being like pipes that get clogged by too much cholesterol – thus blocking the flow of blood – is one that seems to resonate for people. Could it be so intuitive that we cease to even question its validity? A multibillion dollar industry has now been built upon this thinking.
The only problem is…our arteries aren’t like pipes. The human body is much more complex than the pipes underneath your kitchen sink, and Moore does a brilliant job of exposing why this model is flawed.
Here’s the real deal
Most of us who’ve been swept up in the thinking that cholesterol is bad forget this fundamental fact … we can’t live without it! Cholesterol is an important structural component of every single cell in our bodies. It’s used to make brain synapses and nerves, manufacture important hormones like testosterone, estrogen and vitamin D, and aid in the digestion and absorption of essential fats. In fact, cholesterol is so critical that most of it is made by our own livers regardless of how much we eat, or how much we avoid it like the plague.
Twin villains in the heart disease story
Most health professionals determine your risk of heart disease based primarily on the results of two values:
- Total Cholesterol: Mainstream experts would say your total cholesterol should be below 5.2 mmol/L, which Moore argues is a “virtually meaningless cut-off with no basis in science.” He likens it to knowing the total score of a sports game. Let’s say we know the total score of a basketball game is 200. We have no idea if it was a nail-biter at 101-99, or a complete snooze-fest at 199-1. Knowing your total cholesterol value gives zero appreciation of its relative composition (how much of it is good versus how much of it is bad).
- LDL-C: This has been labeled “bad” cholesterol but in reality 50 percent of heart attack victims have normal LDL-C levels. Moore argues something else is going on to explain this finding. As it turns out, it’s the size of the LDL particle that matters. The large, fluffy kind floats benignly through the bloodstream doing its job of delivering important fat molecules around the body. The small, dense kind is what triggers the increase in artery wall inflammation that has been shown to play a central role in heart disease.
What should we be measuring instead?
In Cholesterol Clarity, Moore proposes that we ought to be looking at two additional values:
- HDL-C: HDL-C’s job is to keep the insides of our vessel walls smooth and clean, which is why it’s often referred to as “good” cholesterol. So far the pharmaceutical industry has been unable to successfully develop a drug to raise HDL-C (the way they have to lower total cholesterol), which may be a key reason why it doesn’t get the same amount of press. Most people would be shocked to learn that the best way to raise your good cholesterol is to eat more dietary fat, including saturated animal fat!
- Triglycerides: Triglycerides deliver fat and sugar around the body. When they are elevated, it means our risk of heart disease increases. A diet high in refined sugar and carbohydrates raises triglycerides. Mainstream medicine would say that triglyceride levels below 3.9 mmol/L are desirable. Moore believes this number is “ridiculously high” and advocates for below 1.8 mmol/L (but certainly under 2.6 mmol/L).
The following table shows:
- The blood work values most mainstream health experts use to assess heart disease risk.
- The blood work values Cholesterol Clarity deems as ideal (for low risk of heart disease).
- A case study of my husband’s* 2013 blood work values to illustrate the difference in interpretation.
*At the time, he was 32 years old and had been eating real food for two years. And avid and accomplished middle distance runner, he also plays hockey and volleyball several times per week and strength trains twice per week. He sleeps eight hours a night and rates his stress levels as low-to-moderate.
My husband’s doctor spoke with him about his “borderline” total cholesterol and LDL-C values. His doctor cited the cholesterol in his diet as the cause of his “dismal numbers” and cautioned him that if he were older she’d be putting him on statin drugs!
As a Naturopathic Doctor, I agree with the importance of HDL and Triglycerides over the other numbers in a cholesterol panel. I also believe you have to look at all the numbers to see the overall picture. Most people don’t realize that LDL is a calculated measurement. It is not actually measured from your blood and there has been too much emphasis placed on it for too long. In contrast to his doctor, I would not be concerned with this patient’s numbers at all. His healthy HDL levels are normal and his triglycerides are excellent. – Dr. Michelle Durkin, ND, Eat Real Food Academy resident health expert
No wonder we’re confused about cholesterol when two practitioners would give the same patient completely different interpretations of their blood work values.
With heart disease and other chronic, preventable diseases steadily on the rise, we can’t afford to remain confused about cholesterol any longer. Cholesterol Clarity is one of many insightful books that can shed some light and get you up to speed on this important topic so you can work with your practitioner for maximum results.
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Theresa Douglas says
I find this whole book fascinating and am still in the process of reading it. I’m wondering if I’m ever in the position that your husband was in, of my doctor saying that my numbers are too high and threatening a statin, I’m not sure what I’d do. What did your husband do? I’m curious how others have handled it. I’d like to be prepared and well versed on the subject in case it ever comes up in my life.
I’ll be honest while the book has made a very compelling case I’m still confused about which number I should be concerned about and which test would give an allopathic the correct info.
Thanks for bringing this up,
Carolyn Coffin says
My husband kept on doing what he’s doing – eating real food, being active, getting enough rest, managing his stress and spending lots of time outdoors. He felt well committing to that process. And with his very healthy triglycerides and (good) HDL values, his naturopathic doctor encouraged him to stick with the process as well.