Although Big Pharma is still fighting tooth and nail to keep its hand in your pocket and millions of prescriptions for statins are still being written each year, the cholesterol train has pretty much left the station.
Over the past couple of years, study after study has debunked the cholesterol-heart disease connection. The evidence—or lack thereof—has been compelling enough that even many doctors are beginning to question whether cholesterol numbers can really predict who will get heart disease. Most doctors, however, continue to toe the party line and prescribe cholesterol-lowering drugs like Christmas candy. Why the disconnect between the evidence and their actions?
Doctors who speak out are often crucified by others. If they’re Dr. Mehmet Oz or Dr. Joseph Mercola, this might not be the end of the world. When you’re a household name and have a huge marketing machine behind you, a little controversy can be a good thing. However, when you’re just Dr. John Doe from down the street, a little controversy can wipe your practice out. So they play it safe. They wait for the newest “guidelines” from the folks who told us carbs would make us thin. And they keep doing things the same way they’ve always been done.
Saturated fat isn’t the culprit
If you’re still worried about your cholesterol, changing your diet and lifestyle can have more of an effect than any drug. Just ask my friend Stephen. After taking Lipitor for more than 5 years, he decided the benefits just didn’t outweigh the risks. He hated the side effects. And he was savvy enough about his own health to do his research. His reading convinced him that taking a statin drug was a waste of money, and an invitation to even worse health problems on down the line. He stopped taking it.
When he told his doctor what he’d done several months later, the doctor was horrified. He insisted Stephen start taking it again immediately. But Stephen was feeling better than he’d felt in years and he insisted that the doctor test his cholesterol instead.
The results were amazing. His cholesterol was lower than it had ever been, even on the cholesterol drug. His doctor asked him what he’d done to make such a “miraculous” difference. Stephen told him he’d cut out sugar, cut down on other carbs, and was exercising more. What he didn’t tell him is that he was also eating red meat several times per week for the first time in years. And eating real butter. That he was also drinking whole milk instead of 2% or skim, and eating lots of eggs.
His doctor would have had a heart attack.
Does this mean you need to start eating a high-fat diet and having four eggs for breakfast each day? Not necessarily. The evidence that these things aren’t bad for you after all is solid. But whether they’re beneficial to cholesterol levels remains to be seen. What it does mean is that, if you’re worried about your cholesterol, diet and exercise should be your first line of treatment, not drugs.
Tell Big Pharma to stick it—improve your health without their “help”
The two most powerful tools for cutting your cholesterol lie firmly in your hands: Exercise, and keeping your blood sugar in check. These two actions can have a huge impact. Those with insulin resistance, “pre-diabetes,” and full-blown diabetes are much more prone to high cholesterol levels. Regular exercise both raises “good” cholesterol levels and lowers triglycerides.
The truth is that the basic prescription for preventing—and often reversing—nearly all chronic diseases is the same across the board. Exercise daily. Get enough sleep. Cut down on carbs. Avoid processed foods. Eat real food, preferable food you’ve cooked yourself from fresh, whole ingredients. And limit how much you eat. One of our biggest problems with food isn’t what we eat, but how much we eat.
That’s a pretty broad prescription, I know. So here are some practical solutions for eating a real “healthy” diet. A REAL healthy diet not only lowers your cholesterol, it lowers your blood sugar, blood pressure, and is good for your heart and brain too.
- Cut out simple sugars wherever possible. Do away with sodas—including diet—fruit juices, and other liquid calories. These are one of the biggest factors driving our weight up, and extra pounds to higher blood sugar and heart disease. Higher blood sugar leads to higher cholesterol, among other problems.
- Cut down on simple carbs like bread, rice, and potatoes. Your body does need carbohydrate, but the place to get carbs is from non-starchy vegetables. Your body treats starchy foods just like sugar.
- Eat protein, fat, and carbs together. Not only does this keep your blood sugar from spiking or crashing, it’s more satisfying. It keeps you feeling full longer and makes you less likely to overeat—which helps keep your weight in check.
- Get plenty of sleep. Not only does lack of sleep hurt your heart and your brain, it raises your cholesterol levels too.
- Eat cinnamon every day. A half-teaspoon of cinnamon daily can lower your cholesterol by up to 26%, but Big Pharma doesn’t want you to know that.
- Lose weight. Even a few extra pounds can raise your cholesterol—and your blood sugar.
- Eat foods high in omega-3 fatty acids.
You don’t have to take drugs for the rest of your life. Whether you believe the cholesterol myth or not, changing your lifestyle and your relationship with food is the cornerstone of good health. From cholesterol to weight to heart disease, it all hinges on what goes into your mouth, and how often you get moving. It’s your health, and it’s in your hands*.
*Results may vary from person to person