What if I told you the heart disease facts that you believe are actually wrong? (Before I begin- a cautionary note: what I propose here is purely scientific.)

First: What is heart disease?

“Heart and blood vessel disease… is a condition that develops when a substance called plaque builds up in the walls of the arteries. This buildup narrows the arteries, making it harder for blood to flow through. If a blood clot forms, it can stop the blood flow. This can cause a heart attack or stroke.” -As defined by the AHA

The common knowledge is that cholesterol is linked to heart disease because the cholesterol you consume becomes the plague in your arteries. Do we agree?

OK. So now we have a hypothesis: Cholesterol causes heart disease.

Heart Disease FactsCredit: TIME Magazine

So now we have to define two things before actually finding out whether or not this is true.

What is cholesterol and how is it metabolized in the body?

If we know what cholesterol is, we can find exactly what it does to the arteries. If we know how cholesterol is metabolized, we can find out why it causes heart disease.

When you are diagnosed with high cholesterol, what does this mean? What exactly do the doctors measure with this statistic?

You should be familiar with HDL (High-density lipoprotein) and LDL (Low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol- HDL is known as the “Good Cholesterol” while LDL is known as the “Bad Cholesterol”. Typically these are what your doctor is measuring- the lipoproteins are being measured. Lipoproteins are carriers of fat (or cholesterol). Therefore what your doctor is measuring are the CARRIERS, not the actual cholesterol itself. These lipoproteins transport fat-soluble vitamins like Vitamins A, D and E.

Now that we have that cleared up, what do high levels of cholesterol mean?

First, keep in mind that every single cell in your body makes cholesterol because it is an essential nutrient. It is not just absorbed by dietary means. Let’s take a look at how cholesterol is produced in your body. (I’m still assuming that you believe that cholesterol in foods will become the cholesterol in your blood.) Now, about 80% of all cholesterol is produced in the body. The liver is the main organ for producing this cholesterol.

So when you have high levels of cholesterol, this means you have a lot of lipoproteins, which carry fat-soluble vitamins and minerals.

How exactly is this bad? How is this cholesterol metabolized that result in a higher risk for heart disease?

Well, lipoproteins are highly oxidative which means that they are “falling apart” in the bloodstream, becoming toxic. The accumulation of these toxic lipoproteins is what causes the atherosclerotic plague that causes heart disease.  

So these high LDL levels don’t cause heart disease. The breakdown of these LDL’s is what causes heart disease. Well to our knowledge, it is small and dense LDL particles that are the best indicators of heart disease because these particles are already partly oxidized. Again, remember that oxidation is bad. So if your LDL particles are large and fluffy, this means that your risk is a lot smaller because less oxidative damage has occurred.

Thus, we should keep in mind that it the size of your LDL particles is also an important factor that is commonly overlooked.

Now, let’s take a look back at our hypothesis: Cholesterol causes heart disease.

Based on the science that you just read, cholesterol does not necessarily cause heart disease.

Here, let’s recap why. First: when you get your cholesterol measured, you are really measuring carrier lipoproteins. Basically the "cholesterol" we get measured is not what we really think it is. Second: it is not the lipoproteins themselves that cause heart disease. It is the oxidative damage of these lipoproteins that ends up causing the dangerous plaques.

I hope you learned a lot from this. This article should help to clear up some misconceptions. Cholesterol is unfairly demonized in the health industry and has become hyped up as something horrible, when it is really an essential nutrient.