Cholesterol – separating fact from myth

Popular opinion tells us cholesterol and dietary fats clog up arteries and cause heart disease. Phrases such as ‘low fat’, ‘no fat’, ‘low cholesterol’ and ‘protects the heart’ are promises we’ve seen on our foods for decades.

How did this happen?

The connection between diet and healthy hearts was first made in 1953, by University of Minnesota physiological hygiene laboratory director, Ancel Keys. His hypothesis claimed dietary fats, including cholesterol, caused heart disease, and so by avoiding these foods we could avoid developing heart disease.

To support the idea, Keys made a diagram showing the correlation of fat consumption and mortality from heart disease in six countries, which he selected from 22 of the countries from which data was available.  The diagram showed a perfect correlation: the more fat consumed – the more deaths from heart disease.

However, when all the other remaining countries were added back in to the diagram the correlation disappeared.

And this brings the diet-heart hypothesis into question.

Nowadays, doctors advise people to avoid eating fat and cholesterol. Every year in the UK, prescriptions for cholesterol lowering drugs are up 20 per cent. But, let’s just consider the fact that practising physicians often get their information from drug companies.

What exactly is cholesterol?

Cholesterol is the basic building block for all our steroid hormones, which help us manage stress, build up the body and balance blood pressure among other jobs.

Before cholesterol turns into a steroid hormone, it is converted to a hormone known as pregnenolone inside the mitochondria cells – the same place energy is produced.

However, in order to make this conversion it needs vitamin A, magnesium, copper, a thyroid hormone known as T3 and sunlight. Therefore, high cholesterol can be a marker for a lack of nutrients, thyroid issues or a need for more sunlight or light therapy.

People have differing cholesterol levels at different times of the day, during different seasons, or after surgery or treatment, following an infection or when under stress.

This is because cholesterol is a healing agent. When the body has some healing to do it produces cholesterol and sends it out to the site of the damage. Depending on the time of the day, the weather, the seasons and our exposure to environmental agents, the damage to various tissues varies.  As a result, so too does the cholesterol in the body.

What does ‘high’ cholesterol indicate?

Cholesterol is crucial for proper health, but it is often portrayed as something bad. Unfortunately, this simplistic view fails to understand cholesterol’s many functions in the body.

High cholesterol is more a marker that something is awry in the body than an issue in itself. For example, it could be an indication of vitamin and mineral deficiency.

The brain is particularly rich in cholesterol – around 25 per cent of all body cholesterol is used by the brain and its every cell and structure needs it to carry out its functions.

Cholesterol is incredibly important to your immune system. LDL, the supposedly ‘bad cholesterol’ binds to and inactivates bacterial toxins. So high cholesterol could really be an indicator that the body is trying to fight off a bacterial infection.

These are some of the primary reasons for high cholesterol, but there are others. Each person exhibiting high cholesterol may have a different reason. And, this means any treatment plan should be carefully tailored to deal with the root cause and provide the body with appropriate support.

For further information and a more comprehensive and referenced version of this article, please see

By Oliver Barnett