Cholesterol Myths, LDL isn't bad?, and Oxidation
Why is the cholesterol/fat story still being perpetuated?
As a Primal Blueprint certified expert, and someone who takes great pride in their research, I can't help but get frustrated with the nutrition education system of which I am a student. Outdated research is still being perpetuated to knowledge seekers and future nutrition "experts" who will then go on to teach this incorrect and dangerous information to their clients. Certainly, the doctors and professors who are teaching this faulty information are well intentioned individuals who are unaware of the harm they are causing. I am not here to vilify these well intentioned professors and doctors. However, intention is only one part of the equation. Intentions and RESULTS are equally important. The result of this misinformation is simple: heart attacks, strokes, obesity, and eventually, death.
Possibly the most perpetuated/faulty story that is still being taught to students is the cholesterol/saturated fat connection to heart disease. In this article, I will share with you several studies show CHOLESTEROL/ SATURATED FAT/HEART DISEASE STORY IS EXTREMELY FAULTY. In this article, we will explore the topic of LDL oxidation and discuss what foods REALLY cause LDL oxidation and provide published research to verify each of my points. I will also share 5 tips to prevent oxidation.
THE MOST IMPORTANT KEY TO PREVENTING/REVERSING HEART DISEASE
LDL isn't the bad guy + OXIDATION + PARTICLE SIZE
LDL is commonly believed to be the "bad cholesterol". However, modern research shows that LDL is not inherently bad, and can in fact, be beneficial. The problem occurs when LDL particles transform from large, puffy LDL particles into small, dense, LDL particles that stick to the walls of the arteries and become prone to oxidation. These small, dense, LDL particles stick to the walls of the arteries and begin to clog the arteries and restrict proper blood/oxygen flow.
This is where the modern education system goes wrong. We are taught that LDL is inherently bad, with no difference being distinguished between large, puffy LDL and small, dense LDL and no mention of oxidative LDL. There is without a doubt good evidence to prove that eating fat, including saturated fat, raises total LDL cholesterol. However there is so much more to the LDL story! Evidence shows that most people who suffer from heart attacks and strokes have relatively healthy HDL/LDL ratios! This means that LDL can't be the causative factor of heart disease.
Saturated fats (we are not talking trans fats here. We are mostly talking high quality animal fats) also increase HDL (known as the good cholesterol) and create large, puffy LDL while preventing small, dense LDL. Sure, the total number of LDL increases when you eat saturated fats, but the ratio of HDL/LDL is relatively unchanged and the type of LDL that is increased is less reactive and actually protective against heart disease.
HOW LDL IS OXIDIZED
Now that we all understand that eating saturated fat isn't the culprit for harmful LDL or LDL oxidation, let's talk about how small, dense LDL particles are created and oxidized. Due to the belief that eating a high fat/high cholesterol diet causes heart disease, we have all been taught to replace fats with "healthy" whole grains and other carbohydrates. THIS IS POSSIBLY THE WORST ADVICE EVER, AND BORDERLINE CRIMINAL !
Research shows that high carbohydrate diets cause LDL particles to shift from harmless, puffy variety to the deadly small, dense variety all while reducing total HDL. THAT’S RIGHT ! Not only have we turned the LDL particles into heart attacks and strokes waiting to happen, but we reduce our protective HDL cholesterol at the same time ! Since the HDL cholesterol has been lowered, it has an even more difficult time doing its job and cleaning up the harmful LDL particles. The combination of the small dense LDL particles increasing and the overall HDL decreasing is a potentially deadly situation.
Believe me when I tell you that there is WAYYYY more to whole cholesterol story than this blog post can do justice. Check out the Primal Example Podcast tab at the top of the page and listen to the whole podcast that we did on cholesterol. I promise you that you will learn some amazing new information.The main takeaways to remember are small, dense, LDL particles and oxidation are the main reasons modern American's are suffering from heart disease at alarming rates.
… Now, on to the tips !
5 Simple Steps to Prevent LDL Oxidation
1) Eliminate grains
Grains have a high carbohydrate load and are not nearly as nutrient dense as vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, fish, and meat. Insulin resistance (due to high carb diets) is directly correlated with LDL oxidation. In fact, oxidized LDL and insulin resistance seem to be evil tag team partners. One study showed that targeting oxidized LDL with antibody treatment had a positive effect on insulin resistance. This suggests that when you improve systemic oxidation, insulin sensitivity will also improve. Not only are refined grains generally void of nutrition, high carbohydrate/whole grain diets can also decrease the absorption of magnesium, zinc, and copper.
Trust me eliminating grains is not that hard ! Eliminate grains 30 days and gauge how you feel. Chances are, you will feel much better, have less inflammation, lower your small, dense LDL, and be less prone to oxidation at the end of your grain free trial.
2) Manage Your Stress
Studies show that chronic stress levels promote oxidation and low to moderate stress levels are not correlated with oxidation. Managing your cortisol (the main "stress hormone") is a hot topic as of late and for good reason. While cortisol itself is not a problem (it's actually vital for survival), modern day human's relationship with cortisol is where the conversation really begins. Like no other time in human history, we have to seek out stress management practices because they do not naturally fit into our schedule.
While it may be ideal to model your life in such a way that doesn’t cause chronic cortisol/stress levels, it may not be realistic for everyone. For the people who aren't going to shape their life in a way that limits stress, partaking in scheduled stress management activities is a MUST. Yoga, Qi Gong, box breathing, reading a book in quiet, or anything that is relaxing and YOU ACTUALLY WANT TO DO are all good ways to reduce stress levels and help prevent oxidation.
3) Eat High Quality Animal Fats
Research has proven that consuming saturated fat is not correlated with an increased risk of heart disease. In fact, studies show that eating saturated fats can protect against heart disease by increasing HDL and promoting the LDL particles to be large and puffy instead of small and dense. A few good sources of high quality animal fats include: wild caught seafood, pastured eggs, and grass fed beef. One of the most important things to do to prevent oxidation is to cook with high quality, saturated cooking oils such as grass-fed ghee/butter/tallow, pastured lard, and coconut oil. These saturated fats have shown to be more heat/light stable and less prone to oxidation at high cooking temperatures.
Fats are extremely sensitive molecules. When their chemical bonds are broken, they turn from a health food to a deadly food rather quickly. This is part of the whole fat story that the mainstream media and education system are failing to understand. The truth is that fats are both healthy and unhealthy. It all depends on whether or not the chemical bonds of the fat have been altered.
Animal fats and saturated fats in general are healthy as long as their chemical bonds aren't altered by factors such as cooking at too high of a temperature. The motto is to cook low and slow (low temperature for a long period of time). As long as you stick to that philosophy, you will be largely avoiding any health consequences associated with chemically altered fats.
4) Avoid Vegetable Oils
PROBABLY THE MOST IMPORTANT THING TO DO FOR YOUR HEALTH !!!
It’s a shame that vegetable oils (canola, soy, , corn, etc) are promoted as the "heart healthy" oils. Just about every packaged good in the supermarket has some type of vegetable oil in the ingredient list. As a nutrition student in a University setting, it pains me to sit through lectures that are aimed at teaching students to substitute cooking with saturated fats in favor of cooking with vegetable oils.
Using vegetable oils to cook (for anything at all, really) is the ONE OF THE WORST THING YOU CAN DO for heart health.
This is because vegetable oils are mostly polyunsaturated fatty acids. Research proves without a doubt that polyunsaturated fats are extremely prone to oxidation due to heat exposure (cooking), light exposure, or exposure to air. Olive oil is mostly a monounsaturated fat that is more heat stable than vegetable oils and does not oxidize as easily. While olive oil is better than cooking with vegetable oils, it is probably still a safer move to cook with saturated fats (ghee, butter, lard, etc.) when cooking at medium (or high) temperatures. Saturated fats are proven to be the most heat stable fatty acid and have been proven to undergo less oxidation. Additionally, as previously discussed, saturated fats contribute to large, puffy LDL (the benign kind), whereas the oxidation of vegetable oils contribute to the small, dense LDL particles that have been proven to contribute to heart disease.
5) Eat an antioxidant rich diet
Some research suggests that preventing antioxidant/vitamin deficiencies can greatly reduce heart disease risks. Antioxidants are said to protect against free radical damage/oxidative stress. The antioxidants that are most commonly discussed for preventing heart disease are Vitamin E, CO Q 10, beta carotene, and alpha lipoic acid. With the importance of CO Q 10 and its powerful prevention of oxidation being widely understood among health enthusiasts, it comes as quite a shock that Statin drugs have shown to decrease CO Q 10 levels by as much as 50 percent. That’s right, the drugs that we are given to "help" with our cholesterol problems are actually exacerbating the issue even further.
Please understand, there is a time and place for medicine. However, taking drugs in most scenarios should be a last resort, not a first line of defense. Eating a diet with abundant and diverse vegetable and fruit content should provide you with the necessary antioxidants to protect against oxidative stress. However, it may be helpful to assess your antioxidant content and supplement appropriately.