“What we’re all taught about cholesterol, starting in grade school and continuing all the way up through graduate medical training, is better described as a fallacy because these teachings are based on unsound, flawed, and illogical arguments. You could also just call it a big fat lie.” Catherine Shanahan, M.D.


For as long as I can remember, high cholesterol has always been associated with heart disease. Eat fat and you were in for a major health disaster. 

But “Nature doesn’t make bad fats”, writes Catherine Shanahan, M.D. and author of Deep Nutrition. Good fats (butter, lard, olive oil, etc), and those derived from sustainably raised animal products, are among the best foods you can eat and have been consumed since the beginning of time by some of the healthiest and most robust people on the planet.

So how is it that we’ve come to believe high cholesterol is so bad that the majority of the over-50 population are freaked about their numbers and now on cholesterol lowering drugs?

And, even worse, if you, like most I know, are doing all you can to bring your numbers down, it’s time to reassess. Because getting them too low can be a formula for disaster.


Follow the Money


“The American Heart Association Started Calling Cholesterol Bad When Companies Using Vegetable Oils Started Making Donations”. Catherine Shanahan, M.D.


It all dates back to 1.) some heavily debated research that correlated high cholesterol with heart disease while ignoring other significant influences, and 2.) the funding of nonprofits, and the deals brokered behind the scenes to ensure the sources of funding were sustained.

In this case it is speculated that the American Heart Association expanded its focus on donors from doctors, its original supporters, to the big guns with deep pockets (the food industry). Here was a group hungry to profit from their margarines, butter substitutes, and “low-fat” products and happy to have an influential partner on board.

In the years to follow, consumption of butter plummeted. The fake stuff thrived. And heart disease became the leading cause of death in the US today. 


No Cholesterol. No You.


“The campaign stating that cholesterol is harmful is the greatest medical scandal in modern time. This is my conclusion after having studied the scientific background in detail for more than 30 years.” Uffe Ravnskov, M.D.


“Cholesterol is a foundational element of human health and biology and in blocking it we accelerate aging on many levels”, says Zach Bush, M.D. 

Cholesterol gives cell membranes their integrity and strength. Without it we would be soft, flabby and worm-like, Writes George V. Mann, M.D. in his “Physician’s Guide”.

The body uses cholesterol to make your hormones – the adrenal hormones (involved in sugar metabolism, fluid balance, the maintenance of blood pressure) and the male and female sex hormones testosterone and estrogen. 

It also joins forces with the sun to build your vitamin D, and is essential for the liver and intestines to function properly.  


Brain & Muscle Building


Your brain is the largest user of the stuff and needs cholesterol to provide for the communication of neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin.

It’s also a protective mechanism against neurological syndromes, such as Alzheimer’s disease, Huntington’s disease, and Parkinson’s disease (PD), and helps to guard against cognitive deficits typical of old age. And if you happen to care about optomizing your brain power, it supports that as well so your thoughts and memories don’t run into roadblocks writes, Dr, Daniel Amen, M.D. 

And then there’s your muscle which, if your not careful, can diminish with age. If you care about these and keeping them strong, cholesterol also plays a role in muscle repair and growth.


Immune Support


Next on the list and surprisingly, cholesterol is also a player in your immune function. LDL is an anti-inflammatory that partners with your immune system to inactivate pathogenic microorganisms and their toxic products.

This may explain why people with low cholesterol suffer more often from infections than people with high cholesterol and also why people with high LDL-cholesterol live the longest. writes Uffe Ravnskov, M.D. who studied the stuff and has written extensively on it for upwards of 30 years. 

And finally, a hint at how it might land on your artery walls . . . Cholesterol is used by your body to patch up arterial walls that have been damaged by trauma, toxins, cigarette smoke, and/or poor nutrition. Think of it as plaster over the cracks. 


Too Little?


Once you get your arms around the many roles cholesterol plays in your body, you might begin to question how it’s been so demonized for all these years. You might even get a sense of the downside when your cholesterol levels drop too low.

Lacking cholesterol, writes Dr. Shanahan, makes your cells less resilient. . . “impairs growth, digestion, reproduction, injury repair, adaptation to stress, and fighting off infections.”

Dr. Mark Hyman also warns of the damaging consequences  of cholesterol levels that are too low, citing conditions like: “muscle damage, brain damage, memory issues, Parkinson’s-like symptoms, and muscle aches and pains”

A new large-scale study appearing in the journal Neurology indicates that too little LDL cholesterol may increase the risk of bleeding stroke in both men and women.

And the most mind blowing: It seems that people with higher levels of the stuff live longer.

Even our goverment agencies who set policy have begun to fess up, withdrawing the longstanding dietary guidelines about avoiding high cholesterol foods. The new mantra: “Oops. It’s not a problem after all.”


How it Works


When we eat fat, writes George V. Mann, M.D.  “. . . it doesn’t just start clogging your arteries like grease down the drain will. If that were the case, we’d all die within a few days of eating anything.” 

The body controls the amount of cholesterol within you as well as its delivery to the organs that need it. This includes your brain, (which is 60% fat), skin, nerves, hormones, and the membrane structure of each of the 100 trillion cells in your body.

It’s when this delivery system breaks down that things go south. 


HDL LDL – The Little Understood Carriers


Cholesterol travels through the bloodstream back and forth between the liver and your cells. But since water and oil don’t mix, neither do cholesterol (a waxy fatty substance) and blood (water based). So it would get a little messy if cholesterol were just floating around in your bloodstream.

To adjust for this your body packages cholesterol (and other important nutrients) into a package called a “lipoprotein”: LDL (low density lipoprotein), HDL (high density lipoprotein), among others. 

Shanahan helps us to visualize this by equating lipoproteins to M&Ms. The coating (like the candy shell of an M&M) envelops the cholesterol so it can neatly travel through the bloodstream to its appointed destination.  

LDL carries cholesterol, vitamins, and other nutrients out from your liver to your cells. 

HDL brings the unused cholesterol and toxins back from the cells to the liver where it is excreted. All neat and clean. That is until the M&Ms (lipoproteins) get trashed, the carrier crusts broken, and their contents (cholesterol) spilled into the bloodstream.

So the question becomes: What causes the breakdown?


A Complex Multi-Pathway Event


“Cholesterol in and of itself is NOT the cause of cardiovascular disease.” That’s why their “studies” never end – they are trying to prove something that is wrong, which is impossible.“ Dr. Mann


Going back to a time B.S. (Before Statins), the general understanding among physicians was that heart disease was a “complex multi-pathway physiologic event” caused by an excess of toxins in the body, says Dr. Zach Bush.

In the 80s, however, with the development of statin drugs, a new story emerged – one that targeted cholesterol as the single most cause of heart disease. 

And statins became the unquestioned cure. 


Inflammation – The Root of it All


Years of research, however, have called out a deeper problem, shifting the sole focus from cholesterol (which actually serves as a repair mechanism) to something called “inflammation” – the root cause of it all.  

It’s not the cholesterol per se. It’s what can happen to it when the body’s inflamed. Think chronic stress, toxins, cigarette smoke, excessive alcohol, obesity, infection, and poor nutrition. 


Industrial Food


And perhaps of all things inflammatory, the worst offender is our industrial food system. Here you’ll find the two most inflammatory substances in virtually every processed food you pick up at your local grocery.

  1. Seed Oils – safflower, canola, peanut, soy, corn, cottonseed, hydrogenated, refined palm oil.
  2. Sugar – Sugar drives good cholesterol down and increases small dangerous cholesterol particles, writes Dr. Mark Hyman.

Seed oils when processed become unstable and prone to break down (oxidize) the lipid particles carrying the cholesterol circulating in your blood. 

Inflammation ensues. Vessels become damaged. The body sends in the forces (cholesterol) to patch up the damage, and the cholesterol builds.


Numbers for You to Know


If you have concerns about cardiovascular disease and want to dig deeper, here are some tests and indicators to help.  

LDL-P – Whether your LDL number is high or low may or may not be the problem, writes Shanahan. What matters more is the size of your LDL particles (The lipoprotein carrier). 

Larger LDL particles are healthier particles. Small dense LDL Particles are more likely to be the problem. Less than 1,000 is considered optimal. More than 2,000 can mean trouble. (Note: this can be obtained in a blood test called the NMR Lipid Profile which provides particle size and particle number.)

Homocysteine – If high this indicates an increased risk for heart disease and dementia and points to a deficiency in folic acid and the B vitamins B6 and B12. Dr. Hyman recommends supplementing with folic acid (as folate). Optimum levels should be between 6-8

Triglycerides – Triglycerides pose a 70% increased risk – independent of cholesterol. Triglycerides are produced predominantly from dietary carbs – NOT from dietary fat. Triglyceride levels should be less than 100. To get these down, diminish your sugar/carb intake.

C-Reactive Protein (CRP) – CRP measures inflammation in the body. Optimal is less than 1.

Ratio of total cholesterol to HDL – Optimal is less than 3.0

Ratio of triglycerides to HDL – Should be no greater than 4

Lipid peroxides/TBARS test – Measures Oxidized LDL in the blood.

Fasting Blood Sugar – This is to test your glucose levels – 89 or higher indicates prediabetes and a route to full-blown diabetes. Essentially this means your cell membranes have become too rigid to take in glucose as they normally would. 

Blood Pressure – higher than 130 over 80 (while relaxed) can indicate abnormal endothelial function of your vascular walls. 

Erectile dysfunction –  If that’s not working it’s an indicator that your vessels are not happy either.


Who’s Managing Your Health?


If we were eating properly and getting good, natural fats in our diet, there would be no cholesterol problem. It is the man-made, chemically altered fats, and the overly high-carbohydrate diet, that cause the problems. Mann


If you’ve read this far, congratulations! You’re obviously interested in taking charge of your health.

And when it comes to your health, ultimately, it’s up to you. 

When/if you turn your health over to another – even your GP, you’re at another’s mercy. And our current medical system (unlike “Functional Medicine” practitioners which is my affiliation as a coach) is still chasing symptoms with drugs and neglecting the root cause of disease. Which is why today the majority of our population lives with chronic health conditions.

Finding the way back to health is a journey for each of us, driven by curiosity, exploration, education, and persistence.

The body’s a healing machine. Give it what it needs and everything will begin to change – for the better.



As always, sending love,

 Share you thoughts and comments below. I love hearing for you!

Questions? Concerns? Email me at elaine@elainepauly.com


Disclaimer – I am not a physician or medical professional. I’m a coach, certified in Functional Medicine and Holistic Health. My goal is to arm you with the information you need to help you find your way to a healthier/happier life. The information I provide is for educational and informational purposes only, and does not constitute medical advice or establish any patient-client relationships.