The benefits of high cholesterol

People with high cholesterol live the longest.

This statement seems so incredible that it takes a long time to clear one´s brainwashed mind to fully understand its importance. Yet the fact that people with high cholesterol live the longest emerges clearly from many scientific papers.1 But let us take a look at heart mortality,the risk of dying from a heart attack if cholesterol is high.

Consider for instance the finding by Dr.Harlan Krumholz of the Department of Cardiovascular Medicine at Yale University, who reported that old people with low cholesterol died twice as often from aheart attack as did old people with a high cholesterol.2 Supporters of the cholesterol campaign consistently ignore his observation, or consider it as a rare exception, the result of chance among a huge number of studies finding the opposite.

But it is not an exception; there are now a large number of findings that contradict the lipid hypothesis. To be more specific, almost all studies of old people have shown that high cholesterol is not a risk fact for coronary heart disease. This was the result of my search in the Medline database for studies addressing that question.3 Eleven studies of old people came up with that result, and a further seven found that high cholesterol did not predict all-cause mortality either, and more such studies have been published since then.

I have mentioned it before, but it is worth repeating, that more than 90 percent of those who die from a heart attack or a stroke have passed the age of 65. You may also recall that high cholesterol is not a risk factor for women, nor for a number of other population groups.

But there is more comfort for those who have high cholesterol. At least fifteen studies found that total mortality was inversely associated with either total or LDL-cholesterol, or both. This means that it is actually much better to have high than to have low cholesterol if you want to live to be very old.

Many studies have found that low cholesterol in certain respects is worse than high cholesterol. For instance, in nineteen large studies of more than 68,000 deaths, reviewed by David R. Jacobs and his co-workers from the Division of Epidemiologyat the University of Minnesota, low cholesterol predicted an increased risk of dying from gastrointestinal and respiratory diseases.Most gastrointestinal and respiratory diseases have an infectious origin. Therefore, a relevant question is whether it is the infection that lowers cholesterol or the low cholesterol that predisposesto infection? You have probably already guessed what the directors of the cholesterol campaign have said, but is it true?

To answer that question David Jacobs´ group followed more than 100,000 healthy individuals in the San Francisco area for fifteen years. At the end of the study those who had low cholesterol at the start of the study had been admitted more often to hospital because of an infectious disease of the respiratory system or because of another type of infection.5,6  This finding cannot be explained away with the argument that the infection had caused cholesterol to go down, because how could low cholesterol, recorded when these people had no evidence of infection, be caused by a disease they had not yet encountered? Isn´t it much more likely that low cholesterol in some way made them more vulnerable to infection, or that high cholesterol protected those who did not become infected? Much evidence exists to support that interpretation.

Young, unmarried men with a previous sexually transmitted disease or liver disease run a much greater risk of becoming infected with HIV virus than other people.7

Similar results came from a study of the MRFIT screenees. Sixteen years later four times more among those with the lowest cholesterol had died from AIDS compared with those who had the highest.8

Heart disease may lead to a weakening of the heart muscle. A weak heart means that less blood and therefore less oxygen is delivered to the arteries. To compensate for the decreased power, the heart beat goes up, but in severe heart failure this is not sufficient. Such patients become short of breath because too little oxygen is delivered to the tissues, the pressure in their veins increases because the heart cannot deliver the blood away from the heart with sufficient power, and they become edematous, meaning that fluid accumulates in the legs and in serious cases also in the lungs and other parts of the body. This condition is called congestive or chronic heart failure.

There are many indications that bacteria or other microorganisms play an important role in chronic heart failure, and also that the risk of heart failure is much greater in people with low cholesterol.913

Furthermore, children born with very high cholesterol, so-called familial hypercholesterolemia, are protected against infection. But if inborn high cholesterol protects against infections, inborn low cholesterol should have the opposite effect. Indeed, this seems to be true.

Children with the Smith-Lemli-Opitz syndrome have very low cholesterol because the enzyme that is necessary for the last step in the body’s synthesisof cholesterol does not function properly. Most children with this syndrome are either stillborn or they die early because of serious malformations of the brain .Those who survive are imbecile, they have extremely low cholesterol, and they suffer from frequent and severe infections. However, if their diet is supplemented with pure cholesterol or extra eggs, their cholesterol goes up and their bouts of infection become less serious and less frequent.14

There is no contradictory observation that can´t beexplained away by the believers. One of the most striking aberrations appearedin two recent studies from the US. The first one came from the medical departmentat the University of California in LA.15 A total of 137,000 patientsfrom 541 hospitals in the US had been admitted because of an acute heart attack. In all of them, their cholesterol was analysed within the first 24 hours of admission. To their surprise, the authors found that their cholesterol was lower than normal when compared with the average. To be precise, their mean total cholesterol was 174 (4.46 mmol/l) and the ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol was also much lower than normal.

It is not possible to explain away the result by using the argument that it was a result of chance, considering that this is the largest study of the cholesterol levels of heart patients, which has ever been published. The researchers were of course surprised. One explanation could be the well-known fact that cholesterol goes down in patients with an acute myocardial infarction, but they rejected it, because this happens first after two-three days and the reduction is only fifteen percent at most.16,17

Did the authors, three of whom were supported by eight drug companies, realize that they had stumbled upon something important? That high cholesterol may not be the cause of heart disease?
Of course not. What they concluded was that cholesterol must be reduced even further.

A few months later a research group from Henry Ford Heart and Vascular Institute in Detroit came up with a similar result.18Again, LDL cholesterol measured within the first 24 hours of admission was lower than normal, not higher. To be precise, in half of the 500 patients LDL-cholesterol was lower than 105 (2.69 mmol/l). They thought that something had gone wrong and were convinced that those whose LDL was below 105 had a much better chance to survive than those whose LDL was higher, because this is what all of us have been told by the American Heart Association and the drug companies repeatedly.

Three years later it appeared that among the half of those with the lowest LDL-cholesterol  twenty-six patients had died, but only twelve among those with the highest LDL-cholesterol. The authors considered their finding very salient. They warned their readers against feeling a false sense of security in patients with low LDL. Although more of those with low LDL were on statin treatment, they wrote , ”these patients may in fact need more aggressive risk modification.”


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