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High cholesterol levels have long been directly linked to heart disease. But as more research into cholesterol and its relation to heart disease is conducted, some doctors are shifting their views on the relationship between the two.
Statistics from the American Heart Association indicate that 75 million Americans currently suffer from heart disease. And even though one-quarter of the population takes cholesterol-lowering medication and have reduced the fat content of their diets, the AHA estimates that more Americans will die of heart disease than ever before.
More revelations are coming to the forefront regarding cholesterol and heart disease. New research has shown that statin drugs are ineffective at reducing mortality rates in most populations. Furthermore, according to the Framingham Heart Study, which is the longest-running and most comprehensive study on heart disease to date, it was demonstrated that cholesterol intake in the diet had no correlation with heart disease. The study found that men and women with above average cholesterol levels had nearly identical rates of heart disease compared to those with below average cholesterol rates.
Another potential eye opener is that, in addition to cholesterol not affecting heart disease risk, eating high-cholesterol foods does not elevate blood-cholesterol levels as doctors once thought. Ancel Keys, who is considered the "father" of the theory that cholesterol contributes to heart disease, now says that there's no connection between cholesterol in food and cholesterol in the blood.
If not cholesterol levels and the foods one eats, what, then is responsible for heart disease? Many medical professionals and researchers now believe the primary causes of heart disease are inflammation and oxidative stress.
According to Dr. Dwight Lundell, a heart surgeon and author of the book, "The Great Cholesterol Lie," foods like refined sugars and vegetable oils used to preserve processed foods may lead to the inflammation that ultimately causes heart disease. Inflammation is the body's immune response to a foreign invader. Foods high in sugar and saturated fat can exacerbate inflammation. Bacteria and other unwanted substances in the body also contribute to inflammation.
To combat inflammation, people can adopt a healthy eating style. Fatty fish, whole grains, leafy greens, fiber, and nuts can help reduce inflammation.
Exercise also can reduce inflammation. Research from Mark Hamer, PhD, an epidemiologist at University College London, found that, regardless of BMI or weight, study participants who completed 2.5 hours of moderate exercise each week — about 20 minutes a day — lowered their markers of inflammation by at least 12 percent.
When a person exercises, muscle tissue releases a protein molecule called cytokine, which likely prompts an inflammation drop. Just about any type of workout that raises heart rate is effective in helping with inflammation.
The public may have been misinformed about just how vital it is to reduce cholesterol levels. Contrary to popular belief, high cholesterol may not have the same connection to heart disease as doctors once thought. In fact, inflammation may be the bigger component in heart disease risk.