Are you Cardio Savvy or Cholesterol PHOBIC?

by John Sherman, ND

Despite conventional wisdom to the contrary, elevated serum cholesterol is not the one-size-fits-all cause of cardiovascular disease and heart attacks. Although we know better now, most doctors and cardiologists persist in trying to drop peoples’ cholesterol as low as possible based on public brainwashing information from the 1970s that said all cholesterol is harmful.

Clinging to Disproven Theories
People equate high cholesterol with heart disease so much that blood cholesterol is one of the few laboratory tests of which everyone seems to know their own serum level results. Because of continued cholesterol phobia, fats in our diet are still getting bad press in commercials, cooking shows, and food labeling. The media still tell the public that fat makes you fat and clogs your arteries. What many don’t realize is that cholesterol is a necessary component of Vitamin D, sex hormones, and bile acids. And since our brains are 60% fat, a low-fat diet can lead to poor brain function.

Statins Aren’t the Answer
The strange truth is that most people who have had a heart attack show normal serum cholesterol readings(1). Results of six major
cardiovascular studies have been amazingly consistent: aggressive cholesterol lowering does not eliminate cardiovascular disease, and only reduces risk on average by 26%. A national study in 2009 at UCLA showed that 75% of those hospitalized for heart attacks, had normal LDL cholesterol levels under 130, and nearly half were considered at optimal LDL levels, less than 100(1). Th CDC reports that 78.1 million Americans should be taking statins, a whopping 36% of the adult population over 21, to lower cholesterol(2). Approximately half of this 78.1 million are taking statins, and yet, the rate of coronary artery disease continues to be the cause of 25% of all deaths in the U.S.(3). Clearly the cholesterol emphasis in prevention of heart attacks is overrated. Cholesterol is associated with heart disease and plaquing, but is not the underlying cause.

All the Old Culprits and a Few New Ones
What’s causing the other 74% residual risk of heart disease? In a word, inflammation is the primary cause of damage to arterial lining of our vessels, something called endothelial dysfunction. There are many factors which may contribute to endothelial dysfunction, including:
• smoking
• lack of exercise
• uncontrolled blood sugar
• high blood pressure
• high dietary omega 6 to omega 3 ratio
• elevated serum homocysteine and/or C-reactive protein levels

Other factors are insufficient Vitamin D or Vitamin K, low serum CoQ10 levels, and low nitric oxide levels(4). There are very few factors involved with the progression of endothelial dysfunction into atherosclerotic plaquing that we can’t control with diet, supplements, and lifestyle changes.

Top Five Factors in Reducing Heart Disease (and none involve lowering cholesterol!)
A large Harvard research study of 84,129 women found five factors that were found to significantly lower the risk of heart disease(5). In fact, 82% of all coronary events were attributable to not adhering to these five factors. Note that cholesterol is not mentioned at all in the five factors!
• Not smoking
• Drinking alcohol in moderation
• Moderate to vigorous exercise for at least 30 minutes on average daily
• Maintaining a healthy weight (BMI less than 25)
• Eating a low glycemic (low sugar and refined carbs) diet with plenty of fiber and omega 3 oils

Additional Risk Factors, Same Lifestyle Changes
Another large global study of over 30,000 men and women in 52 different countries showed nine main attributable factors involved with 90% of heart attacks in men, and 94% in women, without mention of cholesterol(6). These include similar factors as the Harvard study, while adding risk factors such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and inadequate consumption of fruits and vegetables(6).

A few simple changes in our diet and lifestyle, can have a dramatic effect on our longevity, well-being, and quality of life, for our entire lifespan. Check back next month when I discuss each supplement and dietary factors that Dr. Wright and I recommend for reducing arterial plaque.

In addition to his long-term practice at Tahoma Clinic under the direction of Jonathan V. Wright, MD, John Sherman served as Clinic Director for Bastyr University in Kenmore, Washington, and as associate professor for both the National University of Natural Medicine and Bastyr University. He authored the classic naturopathic textbook The Complete Botanical Prescriber and is co-author of Alternative Medicine: The Definitive Guide. Dr. Sherman sees patients with diverse health issues, including bio-identical hormone therapy (for men and women), cardiovascular disease, thyroid and hormone balance, auto-immune challenges, chronic fatigue, immune system support, detoxification of the body, individualized nutritional programs. Learn more at or call 206.812.9988.

(5)Primary prevention of coronary heart disease in women through diet and lifestyle. NEJM 343, No. 1, (2000):16-21
(6)Effect of potentially modifiable risk factors associated with myocardial infarction in 52 countries. The Lancet, volume 364, Sep’04, No. 9438 p937-952
(7)Dietary linolenic acid is inversely associated with calicified atherosclerosis plaque in coronary arteries: the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute Family Heart Study. Circulation. 2005 Jun 7;111(22):2921-6
(8)Aged garlic extract with supplement predicts lack of progression in coronary atherosclerosis. Int J Cardiol.2013 Oct 3;168(3):2310-4
(9)Pomegranate juice consumption for 3 years by patients with carotid artery stenosis reduces carotid intima-thickness, blood pressure, and LDL oxidation. Clin Nutr. 2004 Jun 23(3):423-33