‘The great cholesterol myth’

Heart disease is the number one killer across the United States, and one of the risk factors that often makes the disease so deadly is high cholesterol.

However, one doctor says that’s all a myth.  Dr. Jonny Bowden, author of The Great Cholesterol Myth, spoke with Dr. Manny Alvarez, senior managing health editor of FoxNews.com, about how lowering your cholesterol may not necessarily prevent heart disease.

“It’s not even really a good predictor of heart disease,” Bowden said.  “Half the people who are admitted to hospitals in America with cardiovascular disease have normal cholesterol – and half the people with elevated cholesterol have normal hearts.”

Bowden doesn’t necessarily think cholesterol plays no role whatsoever in the development of heart disease, but it actually has taken our attention away from other important factors that contribute to cardiovascular problems – such as inflammation, oxidative damage, stress and sugar in the diet.

“Those are the things we really believe cause heart disease, and cholesterol is a pretty minor player – but we put all our efforts into lowering it,” Bowden said.

Cholesterol used to be measured with just one number.  Now, doctors know there are two main types of cholesterol – HDL and LDL – and there are five different kinds of each.

“They behave quite differently in the body,” Bowden said of LDL and HDL.  “LDL comes in two big flavors: LDL-A and LDL-B.  LDL-A looks like a big cotton ball; it can’t do any damage. It can’t get caught in the arteries.  LDL-B is a bad guy – but most people don’t know which one they have.”

With so much focus on cholesterol, Bowden said statins have become a problem as well.  He said the medication is often over-prescribed for populations in which they show no benefit.  Women especially shouldn’t be taking statins, because there is no evidence that a woman has ever been saved from a heart attack by using statins.

Something even scarier for Bowden is that doctors are now considering prescribing statins to children.

“They have never been tested on children, and cholesterol is imperative for body function,” Bowden said.  “Statins have side effects, and they need to be taken seriously.”

According to Bowden, the best way to combat high cholesterol is to eat plenty of whole foods – full of antioxidants and anti-inflammatories.  He encouraged eating blueberries, kale, onions, peppers and wild salmon loaded with omega-3s.

“Then there is curcumin; I am nuts about this,” Bowden said.  “…This is the stuff that makes Indian food yellow – turmeric.  It has anti-inflammation; it has antioxidants; it’s good for the liver.”

Apart from finding the right foods to eat, Bowden advocates for a healthy lifestyle – free of stress.

“Lower stress in your life, which is a huge contributor to heart disease – probably way more than cholesterol,” Bowden said.  “Lower the stress, lower the toxins in your life, including toxic relationships and eat less sugar, because the problem isn’t with fat – it’s with sugar in the diet.”