By Dr. Mercola
By now, you are probably aware I am a strong proponent of sun exposure and its many health benefits. Most of those benefits come from the boost in vitamin D, but a new UK study suggests sunlight’s benefits extend far beyond vitamin D.
In fact, exposure to the sun may be one of the most important steps you can take in preventing heart disease and stroke. Scientists at the University of Edinburgh discovered that when sunlight touches your skin, nitric oxide is released into your bloodstream,1 and nitric oxide is a powerful blood pressure lowering compound.
Researchers have concluded sun exposure may even prolong your life by significantly cutting your heart attack/stroke risk. The abstract for the study was published online in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology on April 15, 2013.2
The Edinburgh researchers mentioned an absolutely stunning statistic. For every one skin cancer death in northern Europe, between 60 and 100 people die from stroke or heart disease, related to hypertension.
Knowing that your risk of dying from heart disease or stroke is 80 times greater on average than from skin cancer really puts it in perspective.3 While higher vitamin D levels also correlate with lower rates of cardiovascular disease, oral vitamin D supplements do not appear to benefit blood pressure, and this latest study may be telling us why.
Researcher Richard Weller stated:
"We suspect that the benefits to heart health of sunlight will outweigh the risk of skin cancer. The work we have done provides a mechanism that might account for this, and also explains why dietary vitamin D supplements alone will not be able to compensate for lack of sunlight."
You Are My Sunshine
Research is illuminating a forever-growing list of sunlight’s health benefits. This isn’t really surprising when you consider the fact that we evolved hunting and foraging under the sun.
This team of researchers found that your body's production of nitric oxide is separate from its production of vitamin D, so it follows that there are two completely separate sets of benefits. Until now, increased vitamin D had been thought to be the sole explanation for the sun's health benefits, but it appears from these latest findings that vitamin D is only one part of the story.4
Besides the benefits derived from increased vitamin D, the sun also provides relief from a wide variety of health problems from mechanisms separate from vitamin D. For a comprehensive overview, refer to our previous article on the sun’s benefits, but here are just a few:
- Improved mood and energy levels through the release of endorphins
- Better melatonin regulation and synchronization of your biorhythms
- Suppression of the symptoms of fibromyalgia and multiple sclerosis
- Treating skin diseases (including psoriasis, vitiligo, atopic dermatitis, and scleroderma) and antibiotic-resistant infections, such as MRSA
- Treating tuberculosis, neonatal jaundice, and possibly T cell lymphoma
Why Care About Nitric Oxide?
The researchers found that sunlight triggers your skin’s production of nitric oxide. Why is this significant? Because nitric oxide is crucial for maintaining healthy blood pressure, helps prevent atherosclerosis, and plays a role in modulating immune system function.
Your skin contains large stores of nitrite and nitrate, but only the nitrite is biologically active. Sunlight appears to prompt conversion of nitrate to nitrite and nitric oxide (NO). Please don't confuse nitric oxide (NO) with nitrous oxide (N2O) or "laughing gas," the anesthetic gas used by dentists.
Nitric oxide is such an important compound that it was dubbed “Molecule of the Year” by Science magazine in 1992, followed by the 1998 Nobel Prize in Medicine for its discovery as a signaling molecule in the cardiovascular system. Your blood vessels require the amino acid L-arginine for the synthesis of nitric oxide, since L-arginine is its precursor in your body.
By helping to regulate your blood pressure, nitric oxide enhances blood flow. Nitric oxide signals the smooth muscle cells in your blood vessels to relax so that your vessels dilate and your blood flows more freely, which helps your arteries stay free of plaque. When you have inadequate nitric oxide, your risk for coronary artery disease increases.
If your blood is flowing freely, then nearly every physiological process will function better. If your blood is sluggish, then important cells and nutrients can't reach the areas that need them. It's like getting the tow truck to the scene of the accident… no tow truck means no repairs.
Not only is nitric oxide important in regulating blood pressure, it also functions as a signaling molecule in your brain and immune system. Besides sitting in the sun, you can increase your nitric oxide levels with a few natural supplements and techniques:
- Calcium and magnesium rich foods and supplements, and vitamins C and E
- Olive extract
- Bitter melon
- Electrical acupuncture
- Taking a warm bath, or by breathing in and out through one nostril (close off the other nostril and your mouth)
Uncontrolled High Blood Pressure, the SILENT Killer
According to the CDC, high blood pressure is the second greatest public health threat in the US. According to the CDC, 36 million people in the US have uncontrolled high blood pressure, and 14 million of them don’t even know it—quite alarming considering uncontrolled high blood pressure can be deadly when it results in a heart attack or stroke. But insufficient nitric oxide is just one factor contributing to the high blood pressure epidemic.
High blood pressure is associated with insulin and leptin resistance and elevated uric acid levels. One of the things driving up uric acid levels is overconsumption of fructose, and to a lesser degree, grains, beer and caffeine. Fructose breaks down into a variety of waste products, one of which is uric acid. Uric acid drives up your blood pressure by inhibiting nitric oxide in your blood vessels. In fact, 17 out of 17 studies demonstrate that elevated uric acid levels lead to hypertension.
According to the latest research, the safest range for uric acid is between 3 and 5.5 milligrams per deciliter, and there appears to be a steady relationship between uric acid levels and blood pressure and cardiovascular risk, even down to the range of 3 to 4 mg/dl. The ideal uric acid level appears to be around 4 mg/dl for men and 3.5 mg/dl for women.
Don’t Believe Everything You Hear About Melanoma
Melanoma is the most lethal form of skin cancer. However, your risk of dying from it pales in comparison to your risk of dying from cardiovascular disease, as discussed earlier. And the rates of melanoma so often quoted by government officials may be grossly inflated, based on recent data.
A report in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology5 claims that 90 percent of melanoma surgeries are actually unnecessary removals of benign lesions and not melanoma at all, raising questions about the accuracy of the “melanoma epidemic.” The lead author of the report attributed the unnecessary excisions to an increased awareness by patients who see anti-sun promotions, such as "melanoma awareness" campaigns, and worriedly run into clinics demanding treatment. The report highlights the necessity of getting a second, and perhaps even a third opinion from a specialized clinic before going under the scalpel.
Unfortunately, what this means is that, while the melanoma epidemic appears to be real if you go by surgical statistics, those stats actually paint a misleading picture if 90 percent of "melanoma cases" are not really melanoma! Sensible exposure to UVB light (adequate exposure without allowing your skin to burn) may actually protect you from melanoma, whereas UVA radiation is associated with skin damage. For example, indoor workers actually have a higher risk of melanoma than outdoor workers, suggesting that chronic sun exposure may indeed have a protective effect.
Melanoma studies are just now beginning to look at variables such as gender and affected body area. For example, one new Journal of Investigative Dermatology study found differences in skin cancer distribution patterns between men and women6. We need many more studies such as this before we can draw definitive conclusions about how the sun can increase—or decrease—your risk.
Basic Tips for Maintaining a Healthy Heart
Sunlight will provide enormous health benefits with respect to increasing your nitric oxide production, enhancing your vitamin D levels, and helping regulate your blood pressure, which in turn will reduce your overall cardiovascular risk. But you cannot stop there! You must also address other diet and lifestyle factors, starting with the basics.
- Proper Food Choices
For a comprehensive guide about which foods to eat and which to avoid, see my comprehensive nutrition plan. Generally speaking, you should focus your diet on whole, ideally organic, unprocessed foods that come from healthy, sustainable and preferably local sources. For the highest nutritional benefit, eat a good portion of your food raw.
Most people (although there are clearly individual differences) should strive for a diet high in healthful fats (as high as 50-70 percent of the calories you eat), moderate amounts of high quality protein, and abundant vegetables. Non-vegetable carbohydrates should be a fairly minimal part of your diet. Sugar, and fructose in particular, can act as a toxin when consumed in excess, driving multiple disease processes in your body including insulin resistance, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and systemic inflammation.
- High-Quality Animal-Based Omega-3 Fats
If you want to increase your overall health and energy level and prevent health conditions like heart disease, cancer, depression, Alzheimer's, and a host of other diseases, one of the most important strategies at your disposal is increasing your intake of omega-3 fats and reducing your intake of processed omega-6 fats. An animal-based omega-3 fat like krill oil is incredibly good for your heart and brain.
- Comprehensive Exercise Program, including High-Intensity Exercise
Even if you're eating the best diet in the world, you still need to exercise—and exercise effectively—if you wish to optimize your health. You should include core-strengthening exercises, strength training, and the right kind of stretching, as well as high-intensity “burst” type activities. Consider combining this with intermittent fasting to supercharge your metabolism.
- Optimize Your Vitamin D
The important factor when it comes to vitamin D is your serum level, which should ideally be between 50-70 ng/ml year-round, and the only way to determine this is with a blood test. Sun exposure or a safe tanning bed is the preferred method, but a vitamin D3 supplement can be used when necessary. According to the latest research, most adults need about 8,000 IU's of vitamin D per day to achieve serum levels of about 40 ng/ml.
If you take supplemental vitamin D, you also need to make sure you're getting enough vitamin K2, as these two nutrients work in tandem to ensure calcium is distributed into the proper areas in your body. Vitamin K2 deficiency is actually what produces the symptoms of vitamin D toxicity, which includes inappropriate calcification that can lead to hardening of your arteries. Fermented vegetables can be a great source of vitamin K2 if you ferment your own using the proper starter culture. Gouda and Edam cheese are also good sources.
- Stress Reduction and Emotional Housekeeping
Your emotional state plays a role in nearly every physical disease, from heart disease to depression to cancer, and yet it’s the factor most often neglected. Stress has a direct impact on inflammation, which underlies many of the chronic diseases that kill people prematurely every day. Meditation, prayer, energy psychology tools, such as Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT), and yoga are all viable options that can help you relieve stress and clear out hidden emotional blocks.
- Avoid as Many Chemicals, Toxins, and Pollutants as Possible
This includes tossing out your toxic household cleaners, soaps, personal hygiene products, air fresheners, bug sprays, pesticides and insecticides, just to name a few, and replacing them with non-toxic alternatives.
- Earthing, or Grounding Yourself to the Earth
When walking barefoot on the earth, free electrons transfer from the ground into your body through the soles of your feet. These free electrons are some of the most potent antioxidants known to man. Experiments have shown that these electrons decrease pain and inflammation, improve heart rate, promote sound sleep, and make your blood less viscous, which has a beneficial impact on cardiovascular health.
Lack of grounding due to widespread use of rubber or plastic-soled shoes has contributed to the rise of modern diseases by allowing chronic inflammation to proliferate unchecked. So the more you can walk barefoot on the ground, the better. Ideal locations are the beach, close to or in the water, and on dewy grass. If you spend much time indoors, you may want to consider investing in an Earthing mat.
- Drink Plenty of Fresh, Pure Water Every Day
- Get Plenty of High-Quality, Restorative Sleep
Sunless Tanning: Why Baking Is Out and Faking Is In
The Exercise Mistake Proven to Damage Your Heart
By Dr. Mercola
Your stress level is a major player in your overall health, impacting your risk of chronic health conditions like heart disease, depression and obesity.
But unlike other more obvious risk factors, like over-indulging in junk food or not exercising, stress is more insidious, subtly sneaking up on you over time, increasing your risk of health problems even as you don’t noticeably feel sick or realize that your late-night work habits and financial worries are slowly zapping away your vitality.
That said, you may very well feel stressed, and if you do, this is a warning sign that should not be ignored.
People Who Believe Their Health Is Affected By Stress Are Twice as Likely to Have a Heart Attack
In a recent study of stressed individuals, those who said that their health was “extremely” affected by stress had more than twice the risk of having or dying from a heart attack, compared to those who believed stress had no impact on their health.1
This could mean that these individuals were highly in tune with their bodies, and correctly perceived that stress was wearing them down. On the other hand, it could also be an example of the mind-body connection, in that if you believe stress is harming your health, it increases the likelihood that it will.
Either way, this is a significant increase in heart attack risk, so if you currently feel stressed to the point that you believe it is affecting your health, it’s time to take stress relief very seriously.
Severe Stress Can Raise Your Heart Attack Risk by 21 Times
Losing a significant person in your life raises your risk of having a heart attack the next day by 21 times, and in the following week by 6 times.2 The risk of heart attacks begins to decline after about a month, perhaps as levels of stress hormones begin to level out.
The study did not get into the causes of the abrupt increase in risk of cardiovascular events like a heart attack, but it's likely related to the flood of stress hormones your body is exposed to following extreme stress.
For instance, adrenaline increases your blood pressure and your heart rate, and it's been suggested it may lead to narrowing of the arteries that supply blood to your heart, or even bind directly to heart cells allowing large amounts of calcium to enter and render the cells temporarily unable to function properly.
Interestingly, while your risk of heart attack increases following severe stress, so does your risk of what's known as stress cardiomyopathy -- or "broken heart syndrome" -- which is basically a "temporary" heart attack that occurs due to stress.
This stress and the subsequent release of stress hormones are thought to "stun" or "shock" the heart, leading to sudden heart muscle weakness. This condition can be life-threatening and requires immediate medical attention, however it is often a temporary condition that leaves no permanent damage.
When your body is under the stress response, whether acute or chronic, your cortisol and insulin levels rise. These two hormones tend to track each other, so when your cortisol is consistently elevated under a chronic low-level stress response, you may experience difficulty losing weight or building muscle. Additionally, if your cortisol is chronically elevated, you’ll tend to gain weight around your midsection, which is a major contributing factor to developing diabetes, heart disease and metabolic syndrome.
Ignoring Your Stress Can Devastate Your Health
We all experience stress sometimes, and this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Some stress, like exercise, is beneficial. Likewise, the stress response can work to your advantage in some cases to give you a burst of energy and focus when you’re facing a challenge, be it warding off an attacker or completing an assignment with a tight deadline.
Stress turns ugly when it is either extremely severe, such as facing combat or another traumatic scenario, or long-term. It is the latter that poses a risk to many Americans, who live in a chronically elevated state of stress and anxiety. Over time, chronic stress may impair your immune system and cause a number of detrimental events in your body, including:
Decreased nutrient absorption Elevated cholesterol Increased food sensitivity Decreased oxygenation to your gut Elevated triglycerides Heartburn As much as four times less blood flow to your digestive system, which leads to decreased metabolism Decreased gut flora populations Decreased enzymatic output in your gut – as much as 20,000-fold!
Further, when your body remains in a stress-induced ‘fight-or-flight’ mode for too long, one of the most common consequences of this scenario is that your adrenal glands, faced with excessive stress and burden, become overworked and fatigued. This can lead to a number of related health conditions, including fatigue, autoimmune disorders, skin problems and more. Stress has also been linked to cancer by down-regulating immunosurveillance, potentially triggering the growth of tumors, and even activating multidrug resistance genes within cancer cells. In fact, stress, and by proxy your emotional health, is a leading factor in virtually any disease or illness you can think of.
Are You Tending to Your Emotional Health?
Keeping your stress levels under control has to be an ongoing commitment, like preparing healthy meals and exercising. Unfortunately, many fall into a vicious trap where their strategies for dealing with stress center on unhealthy activities, like watching TV, drinking alcohol, or eating junk foods; many also simply fail to address their emotional health at all, a serious mistake for your well being and physical health.
What you do for stress relief is a personal choice, as your stress management techniques must appeal to you and, more importantly, work for you. If a round of kickboxing helps you get out your frustration, then do it. If meditation is more your speed, that’s fine too. Even having a good cry now and then may be beneficial, as tears that are shed due to an emotional response, such as sadness or extreme happiness, contain a high concentration of adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) — a chemical linked to stress.
One theory of why you cry when you’re sad is that it helps your body release some of these excess stress chemicals, thereby helping you feel more calm and relaxed. Energy psychology techniques such as the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) can be very effective as well by helping you to actually reprogram your body’s reactions to the unavoidable stressors of everyday life. This is important as, generally speaking, a stressor becomes a problem when:
- Your response to it is negative
- Your feelings and emotions are inappropriate for the circumstances
- Your response lasts an excessively long time
- You’re feeling continuously overwhelmed, overpowered or overworked
When you use EFT, simple tapping with the fingertips is used to input kinetic energy onto specific meridians on your head and chest while you think about your specific problem -- whether it is a traumatic event, an addiction, pain, etc. -- and voice positive affirmations. This combination of tapping the energy meridians and voicing positive affirmation works to clear the "short-circuit" -- the emotional block -- from your body's bioenergy system, thus restoring your mind and body's balance, which is essential for optimal health and the healing of chronic stress.
How Stress Affects Your Heart and Gut Health
Crying Can Help Relieve Stress, But for Optimal Health You Need Better Stress-Relieving Tools
By Dr. Mercola
There’s serious confusion about cholesterol; whether high cholesterol levels are responsible for heart disease, and whether statins — which are cholesterol drugs — are really the appropriate solution to reduce heart disease risk.
The documentary above, Statin Nation — The Great Cholesterol Cover-Up, sheds much needed light on this topic. The film is available for free viewing for only seven days, so please share it widely as soon as possible.
As noted in the film, heart disease is the leading cause of death worldwide, the most common form of which is coronary heart disease (CHD). CHD affects the blood vessels supplying blood to your heart, causing them to narrow, thereby restricting the amount of oxygen supplied to your heart.
The conventional view is that high cholesterol is a major risk factor for this condition — even children “know” that cholesterol forms plaque and is bad for your heart.
The focus on cholesterol has created an enormous market for statins; drugs that act by blocking the enzyme in your liver that is responsible for making cholesterol.
Statins are now among the most widely prescribed drugs on the market, and are the number one profit-maker for the pharmaceutical industry, largely due to relentless and highly successful direct-to-consumer advertising campaigns.
Meanwhile, as of 2010, there were no less than 900 studies proving their adverse effects, which run the gamut from muscle problems to increased cancer risk! Besides the fact that statins are dangerous to your health, they also do not reduce your risk for heart disease, because high cholesterol does NOT increase heart disease risk...
Where Did the High Cholesterol-Heart Disease Myth Originate?
The idea that high cholesterol causes heart disease can be traced back to Rudolph Virchow (1821-1902), a German pathologist who found thickening in the arteries in people he autopsied, which he ascribed to a collection of cholesterol.
Later, Ancel Keys (1904-2004), a well-known physiologist, published his seminal paper known as the "Seven Countries Study1," which served as the basis for nearly all of the initial scientific support for the Cholesterol Theory.
The study linked the consumption of saturated fat to coronary heart disease. However, what many don’t know is that Keys selectively analyzed information from only seven countries to prove his correlation, rather than comparing all the data available at the time -- from 22 countries.
As you might suspect, the studies he excluded were those that did not fit with his hypothesis, namely those that showed a low percentage fat in their diet and a high incidence of death from CHD as well as those with a high-fat diet and low incidence of CHD. When all 22 countries are analyzed, no correlation at all can be found.
And that is what mounting research now confirms. There really is NO correlation between high cholesterol and plaque formation that leads to heart disease.
Why Do You Need Cholesterol?
Missing from the cholesterol-CHD hypothesis is the holistic understanding of how cholesterol operates inside your body, and why arterial plaques form in the first place, which is clearly described in the film. Cholesterol is actually a critical part of your body’s foundational building materials and is absolutely essential for optimal health. It’s so important that your body produces it both in your liver and in your brain.
There’s no doubt that your body needs cholesterol. In fact, we now have evidence showing that cholesterol deficiency has a detrimental impact on virtually every aspect of your health. One of the primary reasons is because cholesterol plays a critical role within your cell membranes.
Your body is composed of trillions of cells that need to interact with each other and cholesterol is one of the molecules that allow for these interactions to take place. For example, cholesterol is the precursor to bile acids, so without sufficient amounts of cholesterol, your digestive system can be adversely affected.
Cholesterol also plays an essential role in your brain, which contains about 25 percent of the cholesterol in your body. It is critical for synapse formation, i.e. the connections between your neurons, which allow you to think, learn new things, and form memories. In fact, there's reason to believe that low-fat diets and/or cholesterol-lowering drugs may cause or contribute to Alzheimer's disease. Low cholesterol levels have also been linked to violent behavior, due to adverse changes in brain chemistry.
Furthermore, you need cholesterol to produce steroid hormones, including your sex hormones. Vitamin D is also synthesized from a close relative of cholesterol: 7-dehydrocholesterol.
To further reinforce the importance of cholesterol, I want to remind you of the work of Dr. Stephanie Seneff, who works with the Weston A. Price Foundation. One of her theories is that cholesterol combines with sulfur to form cholesterol sulfate, and that this cholesterol sulfate helps thin your blood by serving as a reservoir for the electron donations you receive when walking barefoot on the earth (also called grounding). She believes that, via this blood-thinning mechanism, cholesterol sulfate may provide natural protection against heart disease. In fact, she goes so far as to hypothesize that heart disease is likely the result of cholesterol deficiency — which of course is the complete opposite of the conventional view.
Identifying Risk Factors for Heart Disease
As mentioned in the film, if you want to understand what causes heart disease, you have to look at what causes damage to your artery walls, interferes in disease processes, and causes blood clotting. When the endothelial wall is damaged, repair mechanisms are set into motion, creating a “scab.” To prevent this scab from dislodging, the endothelial wall grows over it, causing the area to become thickened. This is what is called atherosclerosis. There’s no fat (cholesterol) “clogging the pipe” at all; rather the arterial wall is thickened as a result of your body’s natural repair process. So what causes damage to your arteries?
One of the primary culprits is sugar and fructose in particular. So eating a high sugar diet is a sure-fire way to put heart disease on your list of potential health problems. Meanwhile, total cholesterol will tell you virtually nothing about your disease risk, unless it's exceptionally elevated (above 330 or so, which would be suggestive of familial hypercholesterolemia, which, in my view, would be about the only time a cholesterol-reducing drug would be appropriate).
Two ratios that are far better indicators of heart disease risk are:
- Your HDL/total cholesterol ratio: HDL percentage is a very potent heart disease risk factor. Just divide your HDL level by your total cholesterol. This percentage should ideally be above 24 percent. Below 10 percent, it's a significant indicator of risk for heart disease
- Your triglyceride/HDL ratios: This ratio should ideally be below 2
Additional risk factors for heart disease include:
- Your fasting insulin level: Any meal or snack high in carbohydrates like fructose and refined grains generates a rapid rise in blood glucose and then insulin to compensate for the rise in blood sugar. The insulin released from eating too many carbs promotes fat and makes it more difficult for your body to shed excess weight, and excess fat, particularly around your belly, is one of the major contributors to heart disease
- Your fasting blood sugar level: Studies have shown that people with a fasting blood sugar level of 100-125 mg/dl had a nearly 300 percent increase higher risk of having coronary heart disease than people with a level below 79 mg/dl
- Your iron level: Iron can be a very potent oxidative stress, so if you have excess iron levels you can damage your blood vessels and increase your risk of heart disease. Ideally, you should monitor your ferritin levels and make sure they are not much above 80 ng/ml. The simplest way to lower them if they are elevated is to donate your blood. If that is not possible you can have a therapeutic phlebotomy and that will effectively eliminate the excess iron from your body
Statin Drugs Place Millions of Americans at Risk of Serious Health Problems
It’s important to note that statins are classified as a "pregnancy Category X medication" meaning, it causes serious birth defects, and should NEVER be used by a woman who is pregnant or planning a pregnancy. If it is prescribed it is simply gross negligence and malpractice as many doctors are ignorant of this important piece of information as it is relatively recently identified.
Statins have also been shown to increase your risk of diabetes, via a number of different mechanisms. The most important one is that they increase insulin resistance, which can be extremely harmful to your health. Increased insulin resistance contributes to chronic inflammation in your body, and inflammation is the hallmark of most diseases. In fact, increased insulin resistance can lead to heart disease, which, ironically, is the primary reason for taking a cholesterol-reducing drug in the first place. It can also promote belly fat, high blood pressure, heart attacks, chronic fatigue, thyroid disruption, and diseases like Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, and cancer.
Secondly, statins increase your diabetes risk by actually raising your blood sugar. When you eat a meal that contains starches and sugar, some of the excess sugar goes to your liver, which then stores it away as cholesterol and triglycerides. Statins work by preventing your liver from making cholesterol. As a result, your liver returns the sugar to your bloodstream, which raises your blood sugar levels.
Drug-induced diabetes and genuine type 2 diabetes are not necessarily identical. If you're on a statin drug and find that your blood glucose is elevated, it's possible that what you have is just hyperglycemia — a side effect, and the result of your medication. Unfortunately, many doctors will at that point mistakenly diagnose you with "type 2 diabetes," and possibly prescribe another drug, when all you may need to do is simply discontinue the statin in order for your blood glucose levels to revert back to normal.
Statin drugs also interfere with other biological functions. Of utmost importance, statins deplete your body of CoQ10, which accounts for many of its devastating results. Therefore, if you take a statin, you MUST take supplemental CoQ10, or better, the reduced form called ubiquinol. A recent study in the European Journal of Pharmacology2showed that ubiquinol effectively rescued cells from the damage caused by the statin drug simvastatin, thereby protecting muscle cells from myopathies. Another study3 evaluated the benefits of CoQ10 and selenium supplementation for patients with statin-associated myopathy. Compared to those given a placebo, the treatment group experienced significantly less pain, decreased muscle weakness and cramps, and less fatigue.
Statins also interfere with the mevalonate pathway, which is the central pathway for the steroid management in your body.
How to Optimize Your Cholesterol Levels Naturally
The most effective way to optimize your cholesterol profile and prevent heart disease is via diet and exercise. Remember that 75 percent of your cholesterol is produced by your liver, which is influenced by your insulin levels. Therefore, if you optimize your insulin level, you will automatically optimize your cholesterol and reduce your risk of both diabetes and heart disease.
There is NO drug to cure heart disease, as the underlying cause is insulin resistance and arterial wall damage — both of which are caused by eating too many sugars, grains, and especially fructose. So, my primary recommendations for safely regulating your cholesterol and reducing your risk of heart disease include:
- Reduce, with the plan of eliminating grains and fructose from your diet. This is one of the best ways to optimize your insulin levels, which will have a positive effect on not just your cholesterol, but also reduces your risk of diabetes and heart disease, and most other chronic diseases. Use my Nutrition Plan to help you determine the ideal diet for you, and consume a good portion of your food raw.
- Get plenty of high-quality, animal-based omega 3 fats, such as krill oil, and reduce your consumption of damaged omega-6 fats (trans fats, vegetable oils) to balance out your omega-3 to omega-6 ratio.
- Include heart-healthy foods in your diet, such as olive oil, coconut and coconut oil, organic raw dairy products and eggs, avocados, raw nuts and seeds, and organic grass-fed meats.
- Optimize your vitamin D levels by getting proper sun exposure or using a safe tanning bed.
- Optimize your gut flora, as recent research suggests the bacterial balance in your intestines may play a role in your susceptibility to heart disease as well
- Exercise daily. Make sure you incorporate Peak Fitness exercises, which also optimizes your human growth hormone (HGH) production.
- Walk barefoot to ground yourself to the earth. Lack of grounding has a lot to do with the rise of modern diseases as it affects inflammatory processes in your body. Grounding thins your blood, making it less viscous. Virtually every aspect of cardiovascular disease has been correlated with elevated blood viscosity. When you ground to the earth, your zeta potential quickly rises, which means your red blood cells have more charge on their surface, which forces them apart from each other. This action causes your blood to thin and flow easier. By repelling each other, your red blood cells are also less inclined to stick together and form a clot.
- Avoid smoking or drinking alcohol excessively.
- Be sure to get plenty of good, restorative sleep.
Ninety-Nine Out of 100 People Do Not Need Statin Drugs
The odds are very high — greater than 100 to 1 — that if you're taking a statin, you don't really need it. From my review, the ONLY subgroup that might benefit are those born with a genetic defect called familial hypercholesterolemia, as this makes them resistant to traditional measures of normalizing cholesterol.
Remember, your body NEEDS cholesterol for the production of cell membranes, hormones, vitamin D and bile acids that help you to digest fat. Cholesterol also helps your brain form memories and is vital to your neurological function. There is also strong evidence that having too little cholesterol INCREASES your risk for cancer, memory loss, Parkinson's disease, hormonal imbalances, stroke, depression, suicide, and violent behavior.
Statins really have nothing to do with reducing your heart disease risk. In fact, this class of drugs can increase your heart disease risk — especially if you do not take Ubiquinol (CoQ10) along with it to mitigate the depletion of CoQ10 caused by the drug.
Knowing that high cholesterol is NOT the cause of heart disease finally frees you to take a serious look at what does cause this potentially lethal condition. And as described above, poor lifestyle choices are primarily to blame, such as too much sugar, too little exercise, lack of sun exposure and never grounding to the earth. These are all things that are within your control, and don’t cost much (if any) money to address.
By Dr. Mercola
Nearly 41 million US adults are sleeping just six hours or less each night, putting them at risk of adverse health effects (such as heart disease and obesity) and potentially fatal drowsy driving linked to lack of sleep.1
While stress is one of the most-often cited reasons why people can’t sleep, there’s another factor that could be keeping you up at night: your diet. Certain foods can significantly interfere with your sleep, including the five worst of the worst below.
What Are the Five Worst Foods for Sleep?
A drink or two before bed can make you drowsy, leading many to believe it’s actually beneficial for sleep. But while it may make you nod off quicker, research shows that drinking alcohol makes you more likely to wake during the night, leaving you feeling less rested in the morning.
The latest study found that alcohol increases slow-wave “deep” sleep during the first half of the night, but then increases sleep disruptions in the second half of the night.2
Since alcohol is a potent muscle relaxant, it can also increase your risk of snoring. Snorers -- and their bed partners -- often experience restless sleep leading to sleepiness and difficulty concentrating during the day.
Coffee, of course, is one of the most common sources of caffeine. This stimulant has a half-life of five hours, which means 25% of it will still be in your system even 10 hours later, and 12.5% 20 hours later (see the problem?). Plus, in some people caffeine is not metabolized efficiently, leaving you feeling its effects even longer after consumption. So, an afternoon cup of coffee or tea will keep some people from falling asleep at night. Be aware that some medications contain caffeine as well (for example, diet pills).
3. Dark Chocolate
Dark chocolate, though the healthiest form of chocolate from an antioxidant perspective, can contain relatively high levels of caffeine that can keep you up at night if you’re sensitive. It also contains theobromine, a compound that has caffeine-like effects.
4. Spicy Foods
Spicy foods before bedtime can give you indigestion that makes it nearly impossible to get a good night’s sleep. But even if you can eat spicy foods without discomfort, they are still linked with more time spent awake during the night and taking longer to fall asleep.3 It’s speculated that this may be due to capsaicin, an active ingredient in chili peppers, affecting sleep via changes in body temperature.
5. Unhealthy Fatty Foods
When you don’t get enough sleep, you’re more likely to crave high-fat, high-sugar foods the next day. But eating a high-fat diet also has impacts on your sleep, including leading to more fragmented sleep. In fact, an animal study revealed that eating fatty foods may lead to disrupted sleep and excessive daytime sleepiness.4
The link may be due to the brain chemical hypocretin, a neurotransmitter that helps keep you awake and also plays a role in managing appetite. Keep in mind that while you should limit your intake of unhealthy fats like those from fried foods, healthy fats (including saturated fats) play an important role in your diet and shouldn’t be eliminated.
Recent Study Gives Clues on How Diet Impacts Sleep
The link between what you eat and how well you sleep, and vice versa, is only beginning to be explored, however, a recent study evaluating the diets and sleep patterns of more than 4,500 people did find distinct dietary patterns among short and long sleepers.5
While the study was only able to generate hypotheses about dietary nutrients that may be associated with short and long sleep durations, it did yield some interesting data.
- Very short sleepers (less than 5 hours a night): Had the least food variety, drank less water and consumed fewer total carbohydrates and lycopene (an antioxidant found in fruits and vegetables).
- Short sleepers (5-6 hours): Consumed the most calories but ate less vitamin C and selenium, and drank less water. Short sleepers tended to eat more lutein and zeaxanthin than other groups.
- Normal sleepers (7-8 hours): Had the most food variety in their diet, which is generally associated with a healthier way of eating.
- Long sleepers (9 or more hours): Consumed the least calories as well as less theobromine (found in chocolate and tea), choline and total carbs. Long sleepers tended to drink more alcohol.
As for what the data means, researchers aren’t yet sure, but it could be that eating a varied diet is one key to normal, healthful sleep. If you need some help in this area, check out my nutrition plan for a step-by-step guide to optimizing your eating habits.
Sleep Tip: Stop Eating at Least Three Hours Before You Go to Bed
It is ideal to avoid eating any food three hours before bed, as this will optimize your blood sugar, insulin and leptin levels and contribute to overall good health and restful sleep. Specifically, avoiding food for at least three hours before bed will lower your blood sugar during sleep and help minimize damage from too much sugar floating around. Additionally, it will jumpstart the glycogen depletion process so you can shift to fat-burning mode.
A recent study6 is a powerful confirmation of this recommendation, as it found that the mere act of altering your typical eating habits — such as getting up in the middle of the night for a snack — causes a certain protein to desynchronize your internal food clock, which can throw you off kilter and set a vicious cycle in motion. Eating too close to bedtime, or very late at night when you'd normally be sleeping, may throw off your body's internal clock and lead to weight gain.
Routinely eating at the wrong time may not only disrupt your biological clock and interfere with your sleep, but it may also devastate vital body functions and contribute to disease.
That said, while you’ve likely heard the advice that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, some experts believe that skipping breakfast and eating your main meal at night may actually be more in-tune with your innate biological clock. I've revised my own eating schedule to eliminate breakfast and restrict the time I eat to a period of about six to seven hours each day, which is typically from noon to 6 or 7 pm.
Diet Is Only One Factor in Getting a Good Night’s Sleep
There are many variables that impact how well you sleep. I suggest you read through my full set of 33 healthy sleep guidelines for all of the details, but to start, making some adjustments to your sleeping area can go a long way to ensure uninterrupted, restful sleep.
- Cover your windows with blackout shades or drapes to ensure complete darkness. Even the tiniest bit of light in the room can disrupt your pineal gland's production of melatonin and the melatonin precursor serotonin, thereby disrupting your sleep cycle.
So close your bedroom door, get rid of night-lights, and refrain from turning on any light during the night, even when getting up to go to the bathroom. If you have to use a light, install so-called "low blue" light bulbs in your bedroom and bathroom. These emit an amber light that will not suppress melatonin production.
- Keep the temperature in your bedroom at or below 70 degrees F (21 degrees Celsius). Many people keep their homes and particularly their upstairs bedrooms too warm. Studies show that the optimal room temperature for sleep is quite cool, between 60 to 68 degrees F (15.5 to 20 C). Keeping your room cooler or hotter can lead to restless sleep.
- Check your bedroom for electro-magnetic fields (EMFs). These can also disrupt your pineal gland's production of melatonin and serotonin, and may have other negative effects as well. To do this, you need a gauss meter. You can find various models online, starting around $50 to $200. Some experts even recommend pulling your circuit breaker before bed to kill all power in your house.
- Move alarm clocks and other electrical devices away from your head. If these devices must be used, keep them as far away from your bed as possible, preferably at least three feet.
- Reduce use of light-emitting technology, such as your TV, iPad, and computer, before going to bed. These emit the type of light that will suppress melatonin production, which in turn will hamper your ability to fall asleep, as well as increase your cancer risk (melatonin helps to suppress harmful free radicals in your body and slows the production of estrogen, which can contribute to cancer). Ideally, you'll want to turn all such light-emitting gadgets off at least one hour prior to bedtime.
Poor Sleep Increases Risk of Hard-to-Treat Hypertension
Too Little Sleep May Fuel Insulin Resistance
By Dr. Mercola
The incorrect idea that high cholesterol causes heart disease has led to the demonization of entire categories of extremely healthful foods (like eggs and saturated fats), and cholesterol has been falsely blamed for just about every case of heart disease in the last 20 years.
Fat and cholesterol are commonly believed to be the worst foods you can consume. Please understand that these myths are actually harming your health.
Not only is cholesterol most likely not going to destroy your health (as you have been led to believe), but it is also not the cause of heart disease.
Chris Kresser, L.Ac., an acupuncturist and a licensed integrative medicine clinician, has investigated risk factors for heart disease and promotes the use of a relatively novel way of assessing your heart disease risk based on your LDL particle number.
He’s currently writing a book about this topic for the Paleo ancestral health community. His interest grew from losing his grandfather to heart disease several years ago. His grandfather’s case was badly mismanaged, which spurred Kresser to learn more about what really causes heart disease.
A few years later, while in graduate school studying integrative medicine, he did a semester-long research project on the relationship between cholesterol and heart disease.
Since then, he’s read about 750 peer-reviewed studies, consulted with numerous experts in the field, and has challenged everything he thought he knew about the role of cholesterol in heart disease.
Over the last several years, he’s been sharing that information on his blog, in his podcast, and in educational seminars and programs.
The Problem with the Conventional Approach, in a Nutshell
For the past 50 years, you’ve been told that eating saturated fat and high-cholesterol foods will raise cholesterol serum levels. However, research published over the past 10 or 15 years suggests that neither of those statements are true.
Furthermore, the typical cholesterol tests your doctor prescribes, which are supposed to measure your risk for heart disease, don’t actually do a very good job of predicting your risk.
You can have low or normal LDL or total cholesterol and still be at high risk from heart disease. Alternatively, you can have high or normal total or LDL cholesterol yet be at low risk. Subsequently, many are not getting enough treatment, and others are getting too much.
“We’ve learned a lot about what causes heart disease over the past 10 years,” Kresser says. “But unfortunately, that knowledge hasn’t really trickled down into the mainstream yet. So, your average general care physician, primary care nurse, or even science writer that’s writing for the mainstream media is still operating on information from the old paradigm.
The other issue is that the current dietary guidelines that are offered for how to reduce your risk for heart disease are based on this information that’s still 30 to 50 years old. And they’re clearly not working. Cardiovascular disease is still the number one killer. One out of every three deaths is due to this cardiovascular disease, and it affects about 65 million people in the U.S. alone.”
The INTERHEART study, which looked at heart disease risk factors in over 50 countries around the world, found that 90 percent of heart disease cases are completely preventable by modifying diet and lifestyle factors. As Kresser points out, we clearly need a new approach that’s based on more current evidence.
“The problem, of course, that we face is that the old paradigm is so entrenched. The idea that cholesterol and saturated fat are bad for us is so deeply engrained in our society that a lot of us don’t even question that anymore.
One of the main problems there is the massive conflicts of interest in the medical profession. We have a situation where two-thirds of medical research is sponsored by pharmaceutical companies. Eight out of nine of the doctors who are on the National Cholesterol Education program that write the guidelines for cholesterol receive money from pharmaceutical companies,” he says.
Conventional Tests are Not Accurate Predictors of Heart Disease
If you’ve had your cholesterol levels checked, your doctor most likely tested your total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, HDL cholesterol, and triglycerides. But we now know those are not accurate predictors for cardiovascular disease risk. According to Kresser, a much more accurate predictor is testing your LDL particle number. He explains:
“To use an analogy: if you imagine your bloodstream’s like a river, the LDL particles are like the boats that carry the cholesterol and fats around your body. The cholesterol and fats are like cargo in the boats. Right now doctors are usually measuring the amount of cargo or cholesterol in the LDL particles. But what we should be measuring is the number of LDL particles, or the number of boats in the river, so to speak, because that’s a much more accurate risk factor for heart disease.”
As mentioned, it’s possible to have normal total or LDL cholesterol yet have a high number of LDL particles. This is completely missed using the conventional testing. On the other hand, you may end up being prescribed a statin drug to lower your cholesterol when in fact your LDL particle number is normal, placing you in the low risk category for heart disease. (As a general rule, regardless of your LDL particle number, chances are you do NOT need a statin drug to address high cholesterol. The only people who may truly benefit from a statin drug are those with the genetic defect called familial hypercholesterolemia.)
How to Test Your LDL Particle Number
Some groups, such as the National Lipid Association, are now starting to shift the focus toward LDL particle number instead of total and LDL cholesterol, but it still has not hit mainstream. Fortunately, if you know about it, you can take control of your health and either ask your doctor for this test, or order it yourself.
There are several ways to test for your LDL particle number. Kresser recommends using the NMR LipoProfile, offered by a lab called Liposcience. The test uses FDA approved technology for testing LDL particle number, and it’s the test used in most of the scientific studies on LDL particles.
“All the different lipoproteins have a unique magnetic signature, and this test uses a nuclear magnetic resonance technique to pick up on that signature. It can correctly identify the number of particles in each case,” he explains.
It’s easy to get and all major labs offer it, including LabCorp and Quest. Most insurance policies cover the test as well. Best of all, even if your doctor were to refuse to order it, you can order it yourself via third-party intermediaries like Direct Labs, or you can order the test online, and get blood drawn locally.
In Europe and other parts of the world, LDL particle number is more commonly measured using an indirect marker, apolipoprotein B (apoB). ApoB is a protein required for the formation of the LDL particle. About 90-95% of apoB particles are LDL particles, which makes apoB a fairly accurate measure of LDL particle number. If you live in a country where the NMR profile is not available, you can use the ApoB test to roughly determine your LDL particle number, and then use triglycerides, HDL, fasting blood sugar, blood pressure and waist-to-hip ratio to determine if you have insulin resistance.
The Devil is in the Details... How Medicine Got the Wrong Idea about Fats
Saturated fat has long been demonized as a heart attack waiting to happen, and many doctors still cling to this outdated view. Ironically, saturated fat is not only healthful fat, it’s one of the most important dietary factors to support health! There’s simply no way to calculate the harm inflicted by the low-fat craze. We now know that if you avoid saturated fats, you’re asking for trouble. Not only is saturated fat the optimal fuel for your brain, it also:
Provides building blocks for cell membranes, hormones, and hormone-like substances Acts as carriers for important fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K Is required for the conversion of carotene to vitamin A, and for mineral absorption Acts as antiviral agents (caprylic acid) Helps lower cholesterol levels (palmitic and stearic acids) Modulates genetic regulation and helps prevent cancer (butyric acid)
The US Department of Agriculture's dietary guidelines1 advises you to consume less than 10 percent of calories from saturated fats. I and other nutritional experts have warned that most people actually need upwards of 50-70 percent healthful fats, including saturated fat, in their diet for optimal health. How did medicine get this so wrong?
A combination of factors is likely to blame. There were early studies showing that saturated fat raised cholesterol levels in the blood, but they were almost always short-term studies. Since then, much larger observational studies, conducted for extended periods of time have been done, completely refuting earlier short-term results. Later studies have shown absolutely NO relationship between saturated fat intake and blood cholesterol levels.
“We’re talking about some really big, well-known studies that cover tens of thousands of people,” Kresser says. “In fact, there was research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition that covered about 350,000 people in a follow-up period of five to 23 years. And there was no relationship at all between saturated fat intake and heart disease. And then a large Japanese study of about 58,000 people actually found an inverse association between saturated fat intake and strokes. So, in other words, the people who were eating the most saturated fat actually had the lowest levels of stroke.”
Another problem is that early studies did not differentiate between critically important omega-3 and less health-promoting omega-6 fats.
“There’s a study... that went back and looked at some data. Some of the early data suggested that replacing saturated fat with industrial seed oil or polyunsaturated fat would lower cholesterol and lower the risk of heart disease. But what they didn’t realize back in the ‘60s when they were doing those studies [was the difference between omega-3 and omega-6]; they thought all polyunsaturated fats were the same, so they would lump them together in the studies.
Now we understand that omega-6 has very different effects from omega-3. When you study them separately, you see that omega-6 actually doesn’t reduce the risk of heart disease and may increase the risk of heart disease when it’s studied independently of omega-3s.”
Today we have yet another complicating factor when it comes to omega-6 fats and that’s the fact that many of them now come from genetically engineered corn and soy. When you add that into the mix, the health hazards may be worse than we currently imagine.
Which Fats are Healthy?
Sources of healthful fats (and in some cases cholesterol) include:
Olives and Olive oil Coconuts and coconut oil Butter made from raw grass-fed organic milk Raw nuts, such as, almonds or pecans Organic pastured egg yolks Avocados Grass fed meats Unheated organic nut oil
Another healthful fat you want to be mindful of is animal-based omega-3. Deficiency in this essential fat can cause or contribute to very serious health problems, both mental and physical, and may be a significant underlying factor of up to 96,000 premature deaths each year. For more information about omega-3s and the best sources of this fat, please review this previous article.
High Cholesterol is NOT the Cause of Heart Disease
There are two parts to this persistent myths relating to cholesterol and heart disease:
- The idea that eating cholesterol and saturated fat raises cholesterol levels in your blood, and
- That high cholesterol in your blood is what drives the risk for heart disease
Some of the healthful fat sources listed above are also sources of dietary cholesterol, such as eggs. Contrary to early studies, which suggested eating cholesterol-rich egg yolks raises your cholesterol levels, we now know that’s actually NOT true.
“'That’s been pretty thoroughly disproven in the scientific literature,' Kresser says. 'You have between 1,100 to 1,700 milligrams of cholesterol in your body at any given time. But only 25 percent of that actually comes from your diet, and 75 percent is internally produced primarily through your liver. Why would that be? Because cholesterol is so important to the proper function of your body that your body tightly regulates its production. If you don’t eat enough cholesterol, your body will make more. It needs more cholesterol, not less.
The other thing that most people don’t know is that only free or unesterified cholesterol can be absorbed from the diet through the intestines. Most foods have esterified cholesterol that can’t actually be absorbed.'
The first thing to understand is you don’t have a cholesterol level in your blood, actually. Cholesterol is fat-soluble, and blood is mostly water. For it to be transported around the blood, cholesterol needs to be carried by a protein, specifically by a lipoprotein. These lipoproteins are classified by density. So, you have very low-density lipoprotein or VLDL, low-density lipoprotein or LDL, and high-density lipoprotein or HDL, which are the main ones.
I mentioned before the analogy that our bloodstream is like a river. Remember that the lipoproteins are like boats that carry the cholesterol and fats around the body. The cholesterol and fats are like cargo in the boats.
So, here’s the really crucial point: up until about 10 or 15 years ago, we thought that it was the concentration of cholesterol in the lipoprotein (or the amount of cargo in the boat) that was driving the risk of heart disease. But recent research indicates that it’s the number of boats or the number of LDL particles that’s really the driving factor.”
So, it’s not the amount of cholesterol that is the main risk factor for heart disease, rather it’s the number of cholesterol-carrying LDL particles. Oxidized LDL can also be a greater risk factor for heart disease. When oxidative stress is high due to poor diet, insufficient exercise and sleep, and chronic stress, or when your antioxidant capacity is low (again usually because of a poor diet), then oxidative damage can occur. Oxidized LDL is more harmful than normal non-oxidized LDL because it’s smaller and denser. This allows it to penetrate the lining of your arteries, where it will stimulate plaque formation associated with heart disease.
“The more LDL particles you have, the more likely you are to have some oxidized LDL, and they can be more atherogenic. However, oxidized LDL loses their predictive value when it’s adjusted for LDL particle number. That suggests that LDL particle number may be an even more important risk factor and may need a high number of LDL particles before oxidation becomes a big problem,” Kresser explains.
What Raises Your LDL Particle Number?
If the primary cause of heart disease is not high cholesterol, then what is? Part of the reason why statins are ineffective for heart disease prevention (besides the fact that the drug causes heart disease as a side effect) is that drugs cannot address the real cause of heart disease, which is insulin and leptin resistance, which in turn increase LDL particle number via a couple of different mechanisms. While some genetic predisposition can play a role, insulin and leptin resistance is primarily caused by a combination of factors that are epidemic in our modern lifestyle:
- A diet high in processed and refined carbohydrates, sugars/fructose, refined flours, and industrial seed oils
- Insufficient everyday physical activity. Leading a sedentary lifestyle causes biochemical changes that predispose you to insulin and leptin resistance
- Chronic sleep deprivation. Studies have shown that even one night of disturbed sleep can decrease your insulin sensitivity the next day and cause cravings and overeating
- Environmental toxins. Exposure to BPA, for example, can disrupt your brain’s regulation of weight
- Poor gut health. Studies indicate that imbalances in your gut flora (the bacteria that live in our gut) can predispose you to obesity and insulin and leptin resistance. According to Kresser, gut inflammation can even affect your cholesterol more directly.
“There are some studies that show that lipopolysaccharide, which is an endotoxin that can be found in some types of bacteria in the gut… If the intestinal barrier is permeable, which shouldn’t be, of course, some of that lipopolysaccharide can get into your bloodstream. LDL particles actually have an antimicrobial effect. So, LDL particles will increase if there is some endotoxin going into the bloodstream... causing a direct increase of LDL particles.”
The culmination of the synergistic effect of these factors will put pressure on your liver to increase production of lipoproteins, more specifically: low-density lipoproteins (LDL), (i.e. more “boats in the river”), which increases your heart disease risk.
Another way leptin resistance contributes to increased LDL particle number, and hence increased heart disease risk, is as follows: When a cell signals that more cholesterol is needed for the cell to perform its function, LDL receptor activity increases. The LDL receptor sits on the outside of cells, and its job is to act as a docking station for the LDL particles floating around in your blood. Once “docked” into the LDL receptor, the LDL particle can deliver the nutrients it carries into the cell.
However, if you’re leptin resistant, the LDL receptor doesn’t get the message. It’s not sensitive enough to hear the signal. And without LDL receptor activity, the LDL particles floating around are never encouraged to “dock” into the receptor, and this too directly increases LDL particle numbers.
Besides insulin and leptin resistance, another common cause of elevated LDL particle number is poor thyroid function. T3 hormone (which is the most active form of thyroid hormone) is required to activate the LDL receptor, which is what takes LDL out of the circulation. If you have poor thyroid function or low T3 levels, then your LDL receptor activity will be poor, and you’ll have a higher number of LDL particles. The good news is, if this is the cause for your elevated LDL particle number, then addressing your thyroid problem will reduce it.
How Intermittent Fasting Can Help You Address High Cholesterol
I’m particularly fond of coconut oil because I believe it’s a useful therapeutic agent to help you implement intermittent fasting, which is perhaps one of the most valuable stealth strategies to get healthy—largely because it can radically improve your insulin and leptin resistance. In that respect, intermittent fasting is also a powerful way to address cholesterol and LDL particle number. Kresser explains:
“Insulin resistance and leptin resistance are widespread problems... and that’s one of the main driving forces in elevated LDL particle number. The reason for that is that LDL particles carry not only cholesterol, but also triglycerides, fat-soluble vitamins, and antioxidants... If you have high triglycerides, which you often will when you have insulin or leptin resistance, then that means a given LDL particle can carry less cholesterol, because it’s stuffed full of triglycerides. Your liver will then have to make more LDL particles to carry that same given amount of cholesterol around the tissues and cells in your body.
...Intermittent fasting is one of many ways to improve insulin sensitivity and leptin sensitivity, because there are certain processes in the body that engage after you haven’t eaten for a period of time. They’re all evolutionary mechanisms that are designed to help us survive in periods of food scarcity. You have an upregulation in metabolism basically, and... your insulin and leptin sensitivity improves.
It’s a really good way for people to lose weight, which again will improve insulin and leptin sensitivity, because obesity is both a cause and an effect of leptin resistance. I think it’s a really great strategy for most people; I do use it in my practice a lot.
The only kind of caution might be in people who have pretty severe fatigue, or are suffering from some kind of chronic illness, and need to eat more often. But for most people, I think it’s great.”
Coconut oil is most beneficial during the transition period from burning sugar to burning fat, as it will not upset insulin and leptin resistance. It’s neutral, yet it is rapidly metabolized and provides a good source of energy. Fatigue can be a real challenge, so if you want to try intermittent fasting but worry about flagging energy levels, coconut oil can be a useful tool. You can even have some coconut oil during your fasting period as it will not interrupt the beneficial processes that are happening while you’re fasting. It’s mainly protein and carbohydrate that will interrupt those processes. So having a little coconut oil in the morning might help you make it through until you break your fast for your first meal. Kresser recommends putting it in a smoothie, or even adding it to your tea or black coffee, if the idea of eating the coconut oil by itself is too unappealing.
Tying It All Together
Remember, the most important test you can get to determine your heart disease risk is the NMR lipoprofile, which measures your LDL particle number. This test also has other markers that can help determine if you insulin resistance, making it doubly useful. If you have insulin or leptin resistance, you’ll have an increase in LDL particle number and specifically the number of small LDL particles. The NMR lipoprofile measures that too, and gives you an objective score called the lipoprotein insulin resistance score or LP–IR. If your LP–IR is above the recommended reference range, chances are that you have leptin and insulin resistance.
Insurance usually covers the test, but if you order it yourself from Direct Labs or Access Labs, it costs about $100. If your LDL particle number is high, Kresser recommends searching for the cause. Again, two of the major ones are insulin and leptin resistance, which the NMR test will alert you to. The third common cause is poor thyroid function. Chronic infections could also be a factor.
Once you’ve determined the cause, you need to address those. Remember, statin drugs CANNOT address insulin or leptin resistance, and they do NOT affect particle size or particle number. They ONLY suppress cholesterol production in your liver, which can make your situation worse. Kresser advises paying careful attention to the following seven factors when addressing insulin and leptin resistance:
- Diet: shifting toward the nutrient-dense-food-based diet with higher fat and lower carbohydrate intake
- Intermittent fasting may be useful
- Make sure you’re getting enough sleep
- Exercise regularly, and make sure to incorporate high intensity interval exercises, as they are particularly effective for improving insulin and leptin sensitivity
- Avoid sitting too much, as that can have a direct adverse effect on insulin and leptin sensitivity
- Minimize your exposure to environmental toxins as much as possible
- Optimize your gut health by eating fermented foods, soluble fiber that enriches the beneficial gut flora, and avoiding food toxins and things that harm your gut flora
As you can see, the things you need to do to treat your high LDL particle number are identical to what you would do to promote optimal health in general.
“To me, that just makes sense. The things that keep us healthy in one department or one area are more likely to make us healthy in another. And this is no different from that,” Kresser says.
For more information, see Kresser’s website: ChrisKresser.com. He also has an Internet radio show called Revolution Health Radio, available on his site and on iTunes, where he discusses these topics on a regular basis. His web site also offers educational programs, including a nine-week long self-guided multimedia course called The High Cholesterol Action Plan, which goes into a whole lot more detail on the subject.
The Cholesterol Myth that is Harming Your Health
To Achieve Optimal Health, Eat 50-70% of This Frequently Demonized Food