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How High Cholesterol Can Protect You from COVID (and Other Serious Infections)

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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…

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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

That’s right!

High cholesterol actually improves your body’s immune system, helping to increase the number and activity of your immune cells!

immunity, animal based diet

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 good news is that improving the health of your cholesterol is as easy as enjoying grass-fed beef, pastured butter, eggs, bacon and seafood!

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:

  • Enjoy healthy ancestral sources of animal fats and protein

  • Avoid vegetable oils, and other foods rich in inflammatory omega-6 fats

  • Enjoy wild seafood and clean-sourced fish oil to optimize your omega6/omega3 ratio

  • 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.

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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.


1 Ravnskov U. High cholesterol may protect against infections and atherosclerosis. QJM. 2003 Dec;96(12):927‐34. doi: 10.1093/qjmed/hcg150. PMID: 14631060.

2 Ravnskov U, de Lorgeril M, Diamond DM, Hama R, Hamazaki T, Hammarskjöld B, Hynes N, Kendrick M, Langsjoen PH, Mascitelli L, McCully KS, Okuyama H, Rosch PJ, Schersten T, Sultan S, Sundberg R. LDL‐C does not cause cardiovascular disease: a comprehensive review of the current literature. Expert Rev Clin Pharmacol. 2018 Oct;11(10):959‐970. doi:
10.1080/17512433.2018.1519391. Epub 2018 Oct 11. PMID: 30198808.

3 Du J, Zhu M, Bao H, Li B, Dong Y, Xiao C, Zhang GY, Henter I, Rudorfer M, Vitiello B. The Role of Nutrients in Protecting Mitochondrial Function and Neurotransmitter Signaling: Implications for the Treatment of Depression, PTSD, and Suicidal Behaviors. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2016 Nov 17;56(15):2560‐2578. doi: 10.1080/10408398.2013.876960. PMID: 25365455; PMCID: PMC4417658.

4 Payne AH, Hales DB. Overview of steroidogenic enzymes in the pathway from cholesterol to active steroid hormones. Endocr Rev. 2004 Dec;25(6):947‐70. doi: 10.1210/er.2003‐0030. PMID: 15583024.

5 Krumholz HM, Seeman TE, Merrill SS, Mendes de Leon CF, Vaccarino V, Silverman DI, Tsukahara R, Ostfeld AM, Berkman LF. Lack of association between cholesterol and coronary heart disease mortality and morbidity and all‐cause mortality in persons older than 70 years. JAMA. 1994 Nov 2;272(17):1335‐40. PMID: 7772105.

6 Ernst E, Saradeth T, Seidl S, Resch KL, Frischenschlager O. Cholesterol and depression. Arch Intern Med. 1994 May
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7 Han KT, Kim SJ. Are serum cholesterol levels associated with cognitive impairment and depression in elderly individuals without dementia?: A retrospective cohort study in South Korea. Int J Geriatr Psychiatry. 2021 Jan;36(1):163‐173. doi:
10.1002/gps.5410. Epub 2020 Sep 10. PMID: 32830355.

8 de Graaf L, Brouwers AH, Diemont WL. Is decreased libido associated with the use of HMG‐CoA‐reductase inhibitors? BrJ Clin Pharmacol. 2004 Sep;58(3):326‐8. doi: 10.1111/j.1365‐2125.2004.02128.x. PMID: 15327593; PMCID: PMC1884568.

9 Bhakdi S, Tranum‐Jensen J, Utermann G, Füssle R. Binding and partial inactivation of Staphylococcus aureus a‐toxin by human plasma low density lipoprotein. J Biol Chem 1983; 258:5899–904.

10 Weinstock C, Ullrich H, Hohe R, Berg A, Baumstark MW, Frey I, Northoff H, Flegel WA. Low density lipoproteins inhibit endotoxin activation of monocytes. Arterioscler Thromb Vasc Biol 1992; 12:341–7.

11 Ravnskov U, McCully KS. Infections may be causal in the pathogenesis of atherosclerosis. Am J Med Sci 2012;344:391‐4. doi: 10.1097/MAJ.0b013e31824ba6e0

12 Bhakdi S, Tranum‐Jensen J, Utermann G, Füssle R. Binding and partial inactivation of Staphylococcus aureus a‐toxin by human plasma low density lipoprotein. J Biol Chem 1983; 258:5899–904.

13 Guirgis FW, Donnelly JP, Dodani S et al. Cholesterol levels and long‐term rates of community‐acquired sepsis. Crit Care. 2016;20:408

14 Jacobs D, Blackburn H, Higgins M, Reed D, Iso H, McMillan G, Neaton J, Nelson J, Potter J, Rifkind B. Report of the conference on low blood cholesterol: Mortality associations. Circulation 1992; 86:1046–60.

15 Iribarren C, Jacobs DR Jr, Sidney S, Claxton AJ, Feingold KR. Cohort study of serum total cholesterol and in‐hospital incidence of infectious diseases. Epidemiol Infect 1998; 121:335–47.

16 Hu X., Chen D., Wu L. Low serum cholesterol level among patients with COVID‐19 infection in Wenzhou, China. Lancet. 2020;395:497–506. doi: 10.2139/ssrn.3544826.

17 Rogers AJ, Guan J, Trtchounian A, Hunninghake GM, Kaimal R, Desai M, Kozikowski LA, DeSouza L, Mogan S, Liu KD, Matthay MA, Steingrub J, Wheeler A, Yoon JH, Nakahira K, Choi AM, Baron RM. Association of Elevated Plasma Interleukin‐18 Level With Increased Mortality in a Clinical Trial of Statin Treatment for Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome. Crit Care Med. 2019 Aug;47(8):1089‐1096. doi: 10.1097/CCM.0000000000003816. PMID: 31206358; PMCID: PMC6629502. Med. 2019 Aug;47(8):1089‐1096. doi: 10.1097/CCM.0000000000003816. PMID: 31206358; PMCID: PMC6629502.

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21 Losche W, Krause S, Pohl A, Pohl C, Liebrenz A, Schauer I, Ruhling K, Till U. Functional behavior of mononuclear blood cells from patients with hypercholesterolemia. Thromb Res 1992; 65:337–42.

22 Ravnskov U, de Lorgeril M, Diamond DM et al. LDL‐C does not cause cardiovascular disease: a comprehensive review of the current literature. Exp Rev Clin Pharm. 2018;11:959–970.

23 Diamond DM, Ravnskov U. How statistical deception created the appearance that statins are safe and effective in primary and secondary prevention of cardiovascular disease. Exp Rev Clin Pharmacol. 2015;8:201–210. doi:10.1586/17512433.2015.1012494

24 Forsythe CE, Phinney SD, Feinman RD, Volk BM, Freidenreich D, Quann E, Ballard K, Puglisi MJ, Maresh CM, Kraemer WJ, Bibus DM, Fernandez ML, Volek JS. Limited effect of dietary saturated fat on plasma saturated fat in the context of a low carbohydrate diet. Lipids. 2010 Oct;45(10):947‐62. doi: 10.1007/s11745‐010‐3467‐3. Epub 2010 Sep 7. PMID:20820932; PMCID: PMC2974193.

25 Davidson MH, Ballantyne CM, Jacobson TA, Bittner VA, Braun LT, Brown AS, Brown WV, Cromwell WC, Goldberg RB, McKenney JM, Remaley AT, Sniderman AD, Toth PP, Tsimikas S, Ziajka PE, Maki KC, Dicklin MR. Clinical utility of inflammatory markers and advanced lipoprotein testing: advice from an expert panel of lipid specialists. J Clin Lipidol. 2011 Sep‐Oct;5(5):338‐67. doi: 10.1016/j.jacl.2011.07.005. PMID: 21981835.