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When you’ve heard for decades that LDL cholesterol - called the bad cholesterol - can kill you if your cholesterol levels are high enough, you might be tempted to think I’m nuts for telling you it can actually help you live longer.
But here’s the thing:
A new analysis of earlier studies on people over 60, with high levels of LDL, show that they live longer and aren’t at risk for heart disease.
Specifically, a Science Daily report on the study says:
“A University of South Florida professor and an international team of experts have found that older people with high levels of a certain type of cholesterol, known as low-density lipoprotein (LDL-C), live as long, and often longer, than their peers with low levels of this same cholesterol.
The findings, which came after analyzing past studies involving more than 68,000 participants over 60 years of age, call into question the 'cholesterol hypothesis,' which previously suggested people with high cholesterol are more at risk of dying and would need statin drugs to lower their cholesterol.”
Wouldn’t it have been nice to know that in the first place?
Before you focused your diet on low-fat foods that are usually tasteless and pumped up with carbs or sweeteners in a vain attempt make them a little more palatable - and which may have helped push you into insulin resistance or even full-blown Type 2 diabetes.
Or before your doctor, in response to your cholesterol levels put you on statins, which come with their own risky side effects and minimal benefits.
Before I tell you what the real culprits of cardiovascular risk are, let me briefly walk you through the basics of LDL cholesterol.
What LDL Cholesterol Actually Is
Understand that LDL isn’t really cholesterol; rather, it’s a lipoprotein that carries cholesterol throughout your body to the cells that require it for your health. In other words, the LDL is a transport vehicle. In addition to cholesterol, LDL also carries triglycerides, vitamin E, and other nutrients to bring energy and protect your cells.
The reason cholesterol needs to be transported is because it’s what’s called hydrophobic - on its own, it doesn’t mix well with the watery environment in your body. But it’s got to get to your cells intact somehow, right? That’s where lipoprotein comes in.
Though LDL is characterized as “bad”, in truth it’s an essential carrier of cholesterol from the liver through your vascular system to your cells.
Besides LDL, you also have the so-called good cholesterol HDL (high-density lipoprotein). HDL cholesterol, too, is really a carrier. HDL cholesterol’s journey is the reverse of LDL; that is, it carries cholesterol from your vascular system to your liver for recycling.
You can see how LDL and HDL are simply exchangers: they shuttle fats, including cholesterol, back and forth in your body. There’s nothing inherently good or bad about them.
The Real Cardiovascular Culprits
So if LDL isn’t the bad guy, potentially shortening your life by putting you at risk for heart attacks and strokes, then what is?
There are two main culprits:
Let’s dive into these two conditions.
Chronically high insulin can cause something called metabolic syndrome, which is a cluster of conditions that occur together: high blood pressure, belly fat, high blood sugar, and elevated cholesterol. Metabolic syndrome puts you at risk not only for cardiovascular disease but also type 2 diabetes, kidney disease, and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.
Insulin’s main purpose is to lower your blood sugar and keep it in balance. Your body also uses it to lower your triglyceride levels. When your cells become insulin resistant because of a continuous flood of insulin in response to elevated blood sugar, it means your body does not use insulin efficiently, putting you at risk of the same diseases as does metabolic syndrome. In fact, there is potentially a link between the two conditions.
Now, what does this have to do with LDL (low-density lipoprotein)?
LDL To The Rescue!
Let’s see where LDL fits into all this.
Remember I said one of low-density lipoprotein’s (LDL) roles is to transport materials that protect your cells?
Well, LDL’s healing role is to help repair damage to cell membranes by acting as a type of bandage for the wounds that occur in your arteries from high insulin and insulin resistance.
When these two conditions cause damage, plaques containing LDL form in response. When this repeatedly happens - when your arteries suffer multiple wounds - eventually your arteries will calcify, putting you at risk of a heart attack or stroke. Calcium is also found in plaques, but it’s not the bad guy either. Like LDL, it’s there to help heal damage.
High LDL levels are often caused by this healing response, yet over time became wrongly associated as a high-risk factor of cardiovascular disease. In other words, though LDL is found at the crime scene, it’s not the criminal.
Okay, let’s eliminate high LDL levels as an indication of potential cardiovascular disease that can shorten your life. But you still want to know if you're at risk, right?
A test that will give you a far better assessment of your risk for cardiovascular disease than a cholesterol test is the coronary artery calcification test - it helps to predict longevity. Plus, the American College of Cardiology states,
“Checking for calcium build-up in the heart’s arteries is the best way to identify patients at increased risk for heart disease, based on a recent study that compared the top three tests used to predict cardiovascular risk.”
If you want to better assess your risk, ask your doctor about having this test done.
LDL As A Longevity Factor
When you truly understand that LDL is a healer, not a villain, you’ll notice yourself feeling less anxious about your cholesterol test results. You’ll notice having this information will reassure you that a high LDL cholesterol level doesn’t automatically mean you’re doomed to death by heart attack or stroke.
Don’t get me wrong; a high level of healing LDL isn’t some magic potion. It won’t turn a bad diet into a good one or reverse the side effects of years of metabolic syndrome or insulin resistance.
But now that you know high LDL levels can be a result of your body’s own healing process, and can actually support you to live longer, I hope you’ll feel more confident about your health.
Because in the end, your health is what matters most, isn’t it?