By Kelley Herring
For decades you’ve heard the message that it is important to “lower your cholesterol”.
Unfortunately, this advice is not only unfounded, unnecessary and unwise… it could be deadly!
In today’s article you’ll discover:
Why you NEED cholesterol (and the vital roles it plays in your health)
The unique – and surprising – roles cholesterol plays in the immune system
Why having HIGH LDL cholesterol levels strengthens your immune system and protects you from infections… including COVID!
You will also find out why reducing your cholesterol level – especially with cholesterol-lowering stating drugs – could actually cause adverse health consequences and make you MUCH more susceptible to an infectious illness.
Plus, we reveal the diet that produces a specific type of healthy cholesterol that PROTECTS you from chronic and infectious disease and promotes healthy longevity.
Cholesterol is Vital to Your Health
Despite its undeserved villainous reputation, cholesterol is vital to your body.
It is essential for brain function and the neurotransmitters that affect mood and thought. It is required to build nerve tissue and insulates the nerves that transmit electrical impulses through your body. It helps you digest fat-soluble antioxidant vitamins like A, D, E and K. And it is a necessary “ingredient” to produce sex hormones, including estrogen, progesterone and testosterone.1,2,3,4,5
Given these myriad functions, it is no wonder that low cholesterol levels are associated with aggression, depression and a flagging libido.6,7,8
Dr. Yeon-Kyun Shin, a biophysics professor in the department of biochemistry, biophysics and molecular biology at Iowa State says:
“If you deprive cholesterol from the brain, you directly affect the machinery that triggers the release of neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters affect the data-processing and memory functions. In other words – how smart you are and how well you remember things.”
And that’s not all…
Cholesterol also plays a very important role in your immune system…
LDL Cholesterol: “Molecular Sponge” for Infectious Invaders
LDL cholesterol, in particular, plays an important role in your body’s defense against infectious invaders.
When pathogenic “gram-negative” bacteria invade your body, they release compounds called lipopolysaccharides (LPS). As your immune system recognizes these tiny endotoxins, a strong inflammatory response is produced.9 This response helps to protect you… but high levels of inflammation can also be harmful.
And that’s where cholesterol comes in…
LDL cholesterol binds to these endotoxins, effectively protecting the body from the inflammatory trigger.10,11 In fact, LDL is so adept at acting as a “molecular sponge” for endotoxins, it almost completely inactivates Staphylococcus aureus α-toxin – a pathogen that can damage a wide variety of cells.12
An animal study, published in QJM: An International Journal of Medicine, found that increased levels of LDL cholesterol were highly protective against endotoxin-related inflammation.
In fact, mice with high LDL levels were eight times more resistant to endotoxins. These mice experienced a significant decrease in overall mortality when injected with harmful gram-negative bacteria. Conversely, the mice with the lowest LDL experienced increased inflammation and mortality, when injected.
Low Cholesterol Increases the Risk of Infection (Including COVID!)
You might wonder if this unique “protection mechanism” of high LDL level translates to human studies, so let’s take a look at the research:
In a study of hospitalized patients with various infectious diseases, those with the lowest LDL-C had the highest risk of developing sepsis (a life-threatening condition caused by a severe infection). What’s more – the risk was highest among the patients taking a statin – the class of drugs designed to reduce cholesterol levels!13
In a meta-analysis of 19 studies, which included almost 70,000 deaths, researchers found an inverse association between cholesterol levels and mortality from infectious respiratory and gastrointestinal diseases.14
In a 15-year follow-up of more than 120,000 adults, researchers found a strong, inverse association between initial cholesterol and the risk of being admitted to the hospital later in life due to an infection.15
In patients with severe COVID infection, plasma levels of HDL and LDL cholesterol are reduced and correlate with the severity of the disease.16 The lower the cholesterol, the more severe the disease.
683 patients hospitalized for Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS) due to COVID-19 were evaluated. Researchers found the patients treated with a statin had higher levels of inflammatory IL-18 and higher mortality rates than those patients not taking a statin.17,18
Dr. Mark R. Goldstein, MD, FACP, lead author of the paper entitled “Are certain drugs associated with enhanced mortality in COVID-19?” states:
“Clinicians need to decide … if statin treatment should be halted during the pandemic, particularly if statins are being used for the primary prevention of cardiovascular disease. Attention to this might save countless lives.”19
In addition to protecting against lethal pathogen-induced immune reactions, high total cholesterol may protect the immune system in another way…
Research also shows that men with low cholesterol have significantly fewer lymphocytes, T cells, helper T-cells and CD8+ cells (these are all critical immune cells) than men with high cholesterol.20
Research also shows that people with higher cholesterol have immune cells that are health, with higher motility and greater ability to engulf invaders than those found in people with lower cholesterol levels.21
High cholesterol actually improves your body’s immune system, helping to increase the number and activity of your immune cells!
Do Statins Improve Heart Disease Outcomes?
Now let’s get back to those cholesterol-lowering statins…
There is no doubt these drugs do a good job at reducing cholesterol. However, at least 20 trials have been unable to prove that these drugs lower mortality rates!22 And if you read the fine print on the ads for Lipitor, the drug manufacturer will tell you the same thing:
“Lipitor has not been shown to prevent heart disease or heart attacks.”
In other words, all risk… and NO benefit.
Like all pharmaceuticals, statins come with a long potential list of serious side effects.23
As we discover more about the human body, we learn that it’s not the amount of cholesterol you have, but rather the health of your cholesterol…
The Diet to Optimize Your Cholesterol for Better Health
The reason? These ancestral “functional” foods are excellent sources of vital saturated fats that help your body build healthy cholesterol.
So, what does “healthy cholesterol” mean…
Healthy cholesterol is made of large, fluffy “beach ball” particles. Because of their large size, this type of cholesterol particle is not linked to increased risk for cardiovascular disease. On the contrary – people with large cholesterol particles are at even lower risk of heart disease than people with low total cholesterol!24,25
Along with large particles of cholesterol, you also want to protect your cholesterol from oxidation (damage caused by free radicals). Cholesterol is oxidized primarily by consuming a diet with excess sugar and omega-6 fats – like those found in seed and industrial oils (canola, corn, soy, etc).
To improve the health of your cholesterol (and therefore your immune system), follow the wisdom of your ancestors:
Avoid vegetable oils, and other foods rich in inflammatory omega-6 fats
Keep your blood sugar stable with a low-carb or ketogenic diet
Drink clean water, get sound sleep, regular sunshine, and move your body
And beware of pharmaceuticals, which often have irreversible, unintended consequences!
Read more of Kelley Herring’s Health & Wellness articles on our Discover Blog.
Ed Note: Need some kitchen inspiration? Grab Kelley’s free guide – Instant Pot Keto Dinners – made exclusively with Paleo-and-Keto ingredients, for quick and delicious meals that taste just as good – of not better – than your restaurant favorites. Get your free guide here.
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