We have all seen or heard horror stories around today’s “factory farms.” It is sometimes to hear or see it and go on eating business as usual.  We want changes to be made and at the same time, we know we need to get back to eating more vegetables and less processed foods. As a result, some of us choose to forego meat completely and opt for a totally plant-based diet (though the plant horror stories pour in daily as well! Even organic plants are increasing grown from GMO or compromised seeds or in soil that has contaminants so the need to be vigilant remains with all food purchases today.)

Going vegetarian has only become possible as a healthy lifestyle choice very recently.  In fact, there has never been a successful vegetarian society on record: every culture, tribe, or race has eaten some form of animal protein, whether it is game, fish, or insects. That’s because there are certain nutritional components such as vitamin B12 and essential fatty acids that our bodies require in order to function and until recently, these could not be acquired in supplement form.

Now it is possible to access these nutrients through pills, though research suggests that they may not be absorbed or applied as effectively as if we took them in directly from nature. Some choose the vegetarian lifestyle because they believe it’s healthier: they say it makes them feel better or have more energy — and it is certainly preferable in that regard to consuming processed food and empty calories. (We’ll talk more about the health benefits and risks shortly.)

Others make the choice as a means of affecting change or voicing discontent with today’s food practices, though many food insiders suggest that trying to change the system by removing your money from it is not the most effective strategy. Instead, they argue that more powerful change can be made by supporting sustainable and humane food practices like raising grass-fed beef, producing raw milk and giving your money to local family farms.

Almost every health guru is telling us to eat mostly plants these days and eating 50% of our calories from vegetables or having 9-13 servings of vegetables a day is becoming increasingly common as an eating goal, whether you are vegetarian or not. But there are key health differences and implications between eating ‘mostly’ plants and eating ‘only’ plants. Regardless of the reason you or your loved one chooses a vegetarian diet, there are some important health factors you need to take into consideration to ensure you thrive — and survive — on your plant-based plan.

Vegetarians and Cholesterol
Many vegetarians I know are confounded by the fact that they have high cholesterol, convincing themselves that it must be genetic. While the first thing I would say is that many studies show that people with high cholesterol live longer than people with low cholesterol and 75% of those who suffer heart attacks have “normal” cholesterol so don’t stress yet, they can’t figure out why and they are afraid that they are at heart health risk.

(Cholesterol tests are not an accurate reflection of your heart health risk; if you want to know what actually does predict your heart health risk, you’ll want to read my article on the one test your doctor isn’t doing.)

What they don’t realize is that we need cholesterol; it plays several absolutely essential roles in a healthy functional body. While a popular advertisement suggests that we run on coffee drinks, in truth, our bodies run on cholesterol. Cholesterol keeps cell membranes from falling apart and plays an integral part in cellular repair. It builds brain and nerve tissue, supports the immune system, and maintains neurotransmitter and brain function.

Cholesterol is also a vital pre-cursor to many major hormones including testosterone, progesterone, estrogen, cortisol, and dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA). Cholesterol helps regulate mood, is required for synthesis of vitamin D and helps us digest fat-soluble vitamins such as A,D,E and K. We could not live without cholesterol!

The body manufactures about 75% of the cholesterol it needs; the rest we must take in from foods. Without adequate dietary cholesterol, the body may divert cholesterol to where it is needed most: cellular repair and healthy function in key areas, especially the brain. When this happens, there may not be enough left for use in hormone synthesis, which can cause hormonal imbalance or other concerns.

This is why some people (especially but not limited to women going through perimenopause) who do not eat enough cholesterol may experience more severe hormonal reactions and symptoms.

In fact, the body has a built-in mechanism to increase its cholesterol production to override a severe shortage. When cholesterol is not being consumed in appropriate levels, the liver will step in and actually overproduce cholesterol. If you were to be tested at that time, your cholesterol levels could be considered high, even though you would actually be cholesterol deficient.

If you don’t eat much cholesterol, or you’re on a low-fat diet, that could be the case for you. (But hopefully you know by now that low fat is NOT the answer – not for health or for weight loss.)

We have to eat cholesterol or our bodies will produce it for us. Eating foods high in cholesterol won’t raise your cholesterol. That’s because if you eat cholesterol, your body will just produce less: it’s one of life’s perfect balancing mechanisms. While we can make up to 75% and we need to eat the rest to survive,  if we eat more than 25%, the body just produces less and brings us back into alignment naturally.

We can get the cholesterol we need by eating a typical diet including meat and/or fish. If you are vegetarian you can get cholesterol from egg yolks (one of nature’s super foods), butter, cream or cheese. The problem arises for vegans as plants only contain trace amounts and not nearly the level needed to support healthy brain and cell function.

While plant products such as flax seeds and peanuts contain phytosterols, which are cholesterol-like compounds, research suggests that these compounds actually compete with cholesterol for absorption in the intestines. This poses a health challenge for vegans as there is no adequate non-animal source of cholesterol; flax is the next best alternative. Vegans will have to use all their available cholesterol for cell and brain function and there may not be enough left over for hormonal balance and other functions.

Before we leave cholesterol, there are three foods that actually WILL raise your cholesterol. If you think you eat healthy and yet your cholesterol levels are high, you likely have inflammation and sending in cholesterol is the body’s way of dealing with that. (If you want to learn more about the three foods that will raise your cholesterol and cause health problems, you can read my article on three foods that raise your cholesterol here.)

Vegetarians and Homocysteine
One marker that unlike cholesterol has been directly linked heart health is high homocysteine levels. High homocysteine is a reliable risk factor for heart attack, stroke, diabetes, cancer, neurological conditions such as Alzheimer and Parkinson’s, thyroid concerns, infertility, depression, digestive disorders and chronic pain.

High levels of homocysteine impact your body in a number of harmful ways including accelerating aging and depressing your immune system but it’s rarely tested for because it’s expensive and there isn’t a prescription available to treat it.

Studies have shown that many vegans and vegetarians have high homocysteine levels. One study showed vegans to have 50% higher homocysteine levels and vegetarians to have 30% higher homocysteine levels than their omnivore counterparts. This is because their bodies lack the B12 required for conversion processes that must occur since B12 is typically found in animal protein.

Vegetarians were found to have 37% less (and vegans 59% less) B12 than the omnivore group, enough to constitute clinical deficiency in 78% of the vegans and 26% of the vegetarians. The study also showed that people eating vegan and vegetarian diets lacked the essential amino acid methionine because the levels in plants are lower than those found in meat. Vegetarians and especially vegans need to look to add B12 to their diets through injections, sublingual (under tongue) or spray B12 supplements.

(To learn more about what homocysteine is, how it works, the conversion process mentioned briefly above and why homocysteine is so important, see my article on homocysteine.)

Vegetarians and Depression
A recent study showed that vegetarians were more likely to face anxiety, depression or mental disorders than the general population. When they adjusted for age,  gender and education, within comparable groups they saw a 2 to 3 fold increase in incidence rates.

We already learned that cholesterol runs the brain and regulates your mood, so a shortage will have an impact on brain function. In addition we learned of the important of cholesterol in hormonal balance. If your hormones are out of whack, mood swings and depression can occur.

We also know that omega 3 essential fatty acids are critical to brain function and balance. Many studies have shown improvements in mood through omega 3 supplementation. Because these fatty acids are essential, our bodies cannot make them; we must eat them. Fish oil capsules are a great way to get the required dose, but for vegetarians and vegans, it is much harder.

There are 3 essential fatty acids: ALA, EPA, and DHA. The challenge to vegetarians is that you cannot get EPA or DHA from plants. (An algae-based DHA product is now  available but there are questions as to whether or not it is absorbed or utilized fully effectively, though something is always better than nothing!) ALA can be ingested from plant sources such as flaxseed, chia and hemp. While these seeds offer the greatest concentrations, they each pose another challenge. Hemp is not always easy to acquire or work with.

Flaxseed competes with cholesterol receptor sites and needs to be ground in order to be digested. While best fresh, flax seeds can be ground in advance and stored in the freezer, but there is some evidence that after age 45, we don’t absorb the oil by-product as well. Purchasing flaxseed oil is an option but it cannot be heated or it will damage the ALA and drinking it straight can be a challenge.

Lastly chia seeds have an omega 6-3 ratio of 3-1. We need to be eating omega 3 and omega 6 oils in a ratio of 1:1. In todays world, that ratio can sometimes be off by 1-20 or even 1-50 with all the omega 6 oils and oil products we consume. So while chia can help, it also adds to the omega 6-3 imbalance burden (though again, for some vegetarians, this may well be necessary and worthwhile.)

You can also get ALA from walnuts and pumpkin seeds, though in much smaller doses. Soy and canola also contain small amounts of ALA, but given the negative health impacts, they are best avoided.

Even if you eat enough ALA, the then body has to convert it to EPA and DHA. If you eat enough and you are very healthy, that may work fine. But some people will struggle converting ALA efficiently and if you have other issues going on that impact your ability to convert effectively, your body — and your brain — will be affected because it will not be able to convert enough to keep you healthy and mentally strong.

To learn more, you can read about my article on omega 3s.

Vegetarians and Soy
I am working on a full article on soy, coming soon. But for now I just want to mention soy briefly here because many vegetarians use soy as a protein alternative. Fermented soy foods such as miso, tempeh, natto, and traditionally fermented soy sauce have long been a nutritional staple in many cultures and they offer tremendous health benefits.

However, unfermented soy is no longer grown or processed in a way that affords us health benefits. Soy is an endocrine disruptor, which we discussed in the prostate and breast health article. It takes up the estrogen receptor sites, blocking estrogen from getting into cells and leaving it circulating throughout the blood stream. This excess estrogen can lead to hormonal imbalance, development of breasts in boys and men, and prostate and breast cancer concerns as well as thyroid problems, to name but a few of its many health concerns.

Soy milk, soy cheese, tofu, soybean oil, and many commercial artificially created soy sauce varieties are not health foods but rather pose health risks; they should be minimized.  If you’re looking to use soy, stick with fermented soy products.

Vegetarians and Diabetes
Contrary to what we might think of living a healthy plant lifestyle, vegetarians actually struggle with diabetes. The largely vegetarian country of India now faces the highest incidence level in the world and it is continually rising. That’s because in India, as the middle and upper classes have emerged, sedentary jobs are on the rise and Western food habits have invaded. Long known to be lovers of sweets, Indians love the sugar that is now plentiful, as well as the fried and processed foods we eat in the West, which may be vegetable-based but are no less healthy.

While some people lose weight on a vegetarian diet, others gain weight as they seek to satiate themselves with bread and pasta and empty carbohydrates that covert quickly into sugar. They also tend to gain weight in the more dangerous place, the abdomen.  They may lack enough healthy fat in their diets and so their bodies seek to store more.

It’s important to combine healthy fat and protein with vegetables so vegetarians need to look for good fat sources such as olive and flaxseed oils, avocados, and coconut oil and be sure they are getting adequate protein from other sources such as quinoa. (For more information on diabetes and why food combining is so important, see my article on The Diabetes Myth.)

Some people thrive on a vegetarian diet: they look good and they feel good. Others grow very thin, frail and weak: when you see them they look pale and move slowly. I read a study awhile back that stated that only about one-third of the population could be successful on a vegetarian diet.  That study assumed that you aggressively supplemented for missing nutrients and ate all the varied nuts, seeds, legumes and other foods needed to round out a balanced nutritional profile.

Taking all of that into account, they found that still only about a third of us could be healthy on a vegetarian diet. So if you have chosen a vegetarian lifestyle for any reason, you need to pay close attention to your body and listen to what those close to you see and share with you. I cannot tell you how many former vegetarians have told me their lives changed the day they went back to eating small amounts of animal protein. That may not be you but I have personally observed strong healthy adults turn into overweight or abnormally thin versions of their former selves on vegetarian diets.

I’ve tried to go vegetarian and for me, I did not thrive. But it works for many people I know. Just not all.  If you look and feel great and you are able to procure all the micronutrients that you need, then you may be among the third of the population who will do fine on a vegetarian diet. But be wary of persuading your family, friends or co-workers to join you because what works for you may well not work for them (especially children).

If you begin to see your body shift over time that you don’t like, or if you’re not willing to devote the time and energy it takes to plan your diet thoroughly, then you may want to consider making some changes that will enable you to support your morality along with your health.

Whether you go vegetarian or not, we can all benefit from more a more plant-centric diet and from avoiding processed foods. That’s common ground we can all agree on!

To your wellness and health: your true wealth!


Author: Inger Pols is the Editor of the New England Health Advisory and Author/Creator, Finally Make It Happen, the proven process to get what you want. Get a free special report on The Truth About Sugar: It’s Not All Equal. Learn more about Inger and receive her free bestselling ebook What Your Doctor Isn’t Telling You.

Article Photo: courtesy of Apolonia | FreeDigitalPhotos.net


Despite popular belief that it’s the cholesterol in your food that influences cholesterol in the bloodstream, that has not been proven to be the case. Your body makes 75% of the cholesterol it needs to survive for healthy brain and cell function. The other 25% it MUST take in from the food you eat.

When you eat more cholesterol in your diet, the body simply adjusts its cholesterol production downward to compensate. Research confirms that eating cholesterol-rich foods does not increase your cholesterol levels; the body is an adaptive, reactive mechanism which responds to changing conditions and balances appropriately.

(There are foods that will raise your cholesterol in an unhealthy way and we’ll talk about that later.)

We need cholesterol because it keeps cell membranes from falling apart and plays an integral part in cellular repair. It builds brain and nerve tissue, supports the immune system, and maintains neurotransmitter and brain function.

Cholesterol is also a vital pre-cursor to many major hormones including testosterone, progesterone, estrogen, cortisol, and dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA). Cholesterol helps regulate mood, is required for synthesis of vitamin D and helps us digest fat-soluble vitamins such as A,D,E and K. We could not live without cholesterol!

If you don’t eat cholesterol, your body will go into crisis mode and start making the extra cholesterol it needs to survive and thrive. When you are tested, your cholesterol will be high, even though you are actually cholesterol deficient.

Let’s take a quick look briefly at the body’s inflammatory process to better understand what cholesterol does. Bear with me while we talk a little science.

When you cut yourself, the damaged tissue releases chemicals to start the inflammation process. Blood vessels constrict to slow down bleeding, blood thickens so it can clot and cells multiply to repair damage and facilitate healing while the immune system calls on cells and chemicals to protect against viruses and bacteria from attacking the cut.

This is very similar to what occurs within the arteries. As damage occurs from oxidizing fats and nutrient imbalances, chemicals are released to begin the inflammatory process. Arteries constrict, blood begins to clot, the immune system sends help, and nearby cells are told to multiply. As this process occurs over and over again in the artery lining, scars called plaque form. Over time, blood thickening and artery constriction combine to make a heart attack or high blood pressure more likely.

So remember the first step after trauma: chemicals are released to begin inflammation and start the healing process. Enter cholesterol, whose primary function is cell repair. Cholesterol is sent to help repair the damaged tissue in the artery linings and elsewhere: it is actually helping your body heal and keep you alive!

Now if the inflammatory process is occurring repeatedly, cholesterol is continually being manufactured or recycled in order to facilitate the healing process. When tested, your cholesterol levels will seem high.

But your body needs that cholesterol to heal, and your body is manufacturing the exact level of cholesterol it needs for brain and cell function along with that healing.

What effect do you think forcing cholesterol levels down artificially with a drug like a statin would have on the body? And if eating cholesterol-rich foods doesn’t increase your cholesterol levels, what does?

We just learned that cholesterol steps in to help cells heal, it is released upon infection or inflammation. It is also a precursor for stress hormones.

Whenever you the body is fighting an infection, whether it is an environmental allergy like pollen, a food allergy like gluten, or a bacterial or viral infection, you will find high cholesterol levels. If the body is under stress, cholesterol, which is needed to make stress hormones like cortisol, will be high. If the stress is short-lived, cholesterol will later drop: if you live a life of constant stress, you will see chronic low-grade inflammation, and consistently higher cholesterol levels as well.

Take the cholesterol away and leave the other concerns like infections and bad food choices and your body’s ability to heal is compromised. Take the cholesterol away but leave the stress triggers and you interfere with the body’s ability produce stress hormones, which can lead to serious health concerns.

Cholesterol is actually protective in these cases and higher levels are actually beneficial to the body’s health and well-being. We’ll cover this further in a future article, but I want to help you begin to see (because I realize this is a whole new way of thinking about cholesterol and understanding its role in your body for most people so it may take some time to really register) that cholesterol and yes sometimes high levels cholesterol levels are not only necessary, they can actually be beneficial.

Several studies have shown that people with high cholesterol actually live longer than people with low cholesterol. And 75% of people hospitalized for a heart attack had “normal” cholesterol. Perhaps you can begin to see why high cholesterol may not be a bad thing, especially since it hasn’t been directly linked to heart attacks or strokes.

As we saw when we looked at the inflammatory process in the body, cholesterol is  present whenever there is inflammation in the body. The inflammation that occurs from a stressful moment, and infection or an allergy is part of the body’s natural healing process occurring as nature intends it and that’s a good thing.

Sometimes, however, there is inflammation that occurs that is not necessary or desirable; it is self-induced from food choices that are not natural for our bodies. In today’s world, we bombard our body with artificial chemicals and nutrient imbalances that the body never had to deal with before. And we do it over and over and over, each and every day.

Eating cholesterol rich foods doesn’t raise cholesterol. But there are some foods that do. And that is a topic for another article you can read for free at www.nehealthadvisory.com

To your wellness and health: your true wealth!


Author: Inger Pols is the Editor of the New England Health Advisory and Author/Creator, Finally Make It Happen, the proven process to get what you want. Get a free special report on The Truth About Sugar: It’s Not All Equal. Learn more about Inger and receive her free bestselling ebook What Your Doctor Isn’t Telling You.

Article Photo: courtesy of Stuart Miles | FreeDigitalPhotos.net


A friend of mine called me recently and said she’d read an article about a really important test to assess your wellness and she was concerned because she had gone through her records and her doctor had never given her that test. She wondered if she should demand it or change doctors or what she should do.

When she told me the article was about homocysteine, I knew she had read that high levels of homocysteine in the blood are reliable risk factors for heart attack, stroke, diabetes, cancer, neurological conditions such as Alzheiner’s and Parkinson’s, thyroid concerns, infertility, depression, digestive disorders and chronic pain.

High levels of homocysteine impact your body in a number of harmful ways including accelerating aging and depressing your immune system so I could see why it caught her attention, even though many of us know little if anything about it. And I also understood why she had not been tested, as most doctors do not test for homocysteine levels for several reasons.

Bear with me for a moment while we go into some science and let’s look at what homocysteine is and why it matters.

Homocysteine is an intermediary amino acid. Amino acids are the building blocks of protein and those proteins control virtually all cellular process as well as catalyze most reactions in living cells. There are 20 essential amino acids that the body requires to function: 10 of which the body can make, and 10 of which must come from our diets.

Homocysteine is not one of those essential 20, but rather it is made from another amino acid called methionine, which is one of the essential amino acids we must get from food.

We get methionine from protein-rich foods such as fish and eggs and sunflower seeds.

During what’s called the methionine cycle, methionine is converted to a substance known as S-adenosylmethionine (SAMe). SAMe performs an important function in its ability to donate methyl groups as needed during chemical processes throughout the body. When SAMe donates its methyl group, homocysteine is synthesized. Scientists would say the SAMe has been methylated which means it has lost a methyl group. This is important because the methylation process regulates gene expression, protein function and RNA metabolism.

All homocysteine in the body is created during this methionine cycle and most of it ends up bound to plasma and stored. But it can be released into the bloodstream when there are changes in the body’s biochemistry that are not ideal, so high levels of homocysteine are linked to a variety of specific health problems.

Once homocysteine is released in the blood, one of two things can happen to metabolize it. First, it can be remethylated back into methionine. This process requires folic acid (folate), vitamin B12, vitamin B2, zinc, magnesium and TMG (or trimethylglycine) from choline. Most of the body’s homocysteine goes this route, known as the remethylation pathway, which creates more SAMe to support further healthy methylation..

The other possible option for the homocysteine is that it can be utilized to create cysteine which is then converted into glutathione, a powerful antioxidant. When the body is under oxidative stress, this conversion process, known as the transsulfuration pathway because it produces sulfate byproducts, can be accelerated. The sulfate products are normally flushed from the body through urination. This pathway requires B6, B2, and zinc for proper function.

Both SAMe and glutathione benefit the body in important ways (glutathione is an anti-aging, antioxidant, detoxifying agent and SAMe has been shown to effectively treat depression, osteoarthritis, and liver disease and it affects our cells’ ability to grow and function properly) so we want our bodies to be able to convert homocysteine efficiently. When the conversion process goes awry, homocysteine levels will increase.

High homocysteine levels have been shown to increase free radical oxidation in the body, and the damage that goes along with them. This can accelerate aging. High homocysteine levels can also damage artery walls in one of several ways: it can contribute to atherosclerosis, or thickening of the artery walls; it can increase the likelihood of your blood clotting, potentially leading to a stroke; and it can lower the nitric oxide in your blood. Nitric oxide plays a critical role in healthy and flexible artery wall maintenance.

High homocysteine levels also impact your immune system, since weakened conversion processes to glutathione means less glutathione will be present and less antioxidant protection will be available to the body.  And high homocysteine levels promote higher levels of two chemicals the body uses to promote inflammation, arachidoic acid and prostaglandin E2 (PGE2). As we learned in the cholesterol article, inflammation is a necessary and healthy part of our normal body function. But chronic inflammation can cause permanent damage to systems and tissues such as nerves, joints, and arteries and can also result in chronic pain.

Because of the inflammatory concern and the impact on antioxidation, some argue homocysteine is a marker for a higher risk of most every chronic condition, including cancer. At a minimum, when homocysteine levels are high, we know that something is wrong inside the body and some important process is not functioning as it should. If homocysteine is such an important indicator, why aren’t we hearing more about it?

There are a number of reasons. First, the test is relatively expensive and is rarely covered by insurance. As a result, it’s not readily available. Another reason is that there are currently no patented drugs for lowering homocysteine levels, so pharmaceutical companies have no interested in contributing to the marketing, which is how most medical conditions gain attention in today’s world. Another reason not to test would be that some doctors might not know what to tell their patients if the test came back high; without a drug to prescribe the only answer would be to change your diet, something not every physician is comfortable tackling in a brief office visit.

If your doctor decides to test you, which typically only occurs with cardiologists working with high risk heart patients, you’ll want to see a score of below 8.9 units. (obviously, the lower, the better). In between 9 and 19.9 units, your risk will increase from significant to extremely high, in correlation with the increase, of dying a premature death from a chronic condition or degenerative disease. Over 20 units, you’re at risk of heart attack or stroke, right now.

Whether you are tested or not, if you would like to improve your homocysteine levels, the prescription is clear: change your diet and your lifestyle. Eat mainly healthy fats and oils like omega 3s and avoid bad fats like trans fats. Increase your consumption of vegetables: shoot for half of your calories from vegetables, especially dark leafy green ones! Make sure your protein sources are high quality ones like organic eggs, wild fish, legumes, and small amounts of nuts and seeds.

Look to ensure your diet is rich with folate, vitamins B12, B6, B2, zinc and magnesium. (If you eat as above, it should be. If not supplement with a whole food supplement.) A greens superfood powder or pill may also be helpful if you find your diet lacking. And reduce stress, a known pro-inflammatory.

A special note to vegetarians and vegans: while generally it is stated that high homocysteine levels result from a diet too heavy in meat and too light in vegetables, studies have actually shown that many vegans and vegetarians have high homocysteine levels. One study showed vegans to have 50% higher homocysteine levels and vegetarians to have 30% higher homocysteine levels than their omnivore counterparts. This is because their bodies lack the B12 required for the conversion processes. (B12 is typically found in animal protein.)

Vegetarians were found to have 37% less (and vegans 59% less) B12 than the omnivore group, enough to constitute clinical deficiency in 78% of the vegans and 26% of the vegetarians. The study also showed that people eating vegan and vegetarian diets lacked the essential amino acid methionine because the levels in plants are lower than those found in meat. Vegetarians  and especially vegans need to look to add B12 to their diets through injections, sublingual (under tongue) or spray B12 supplements.

Homocysteine may not yet be fully understood, but its importance is definitely being recognized. If you are a high risk for heart concerns, you may want to push for a homocysteine test. But because the prescription will be to change your diet, you may want to consider making some of those changes, whether you are tested or not.
To your wellness and health: your true wealth!


Author: Inger Pols is the Editor of the New England Health Advisory and Author/Creator, Finally Make It Happen, the proven process to get what you want. Get a free special report on The Truth About Sugar: It’s Not All Equal. Learn more about Inger and receive her free bestselling ebook What Your Doctor Isn’t Telling You.

Article Photo: courtesy of KROMKRATHOG | FreeDigitalPhotos.net


You can’t pick up the paper or scan the online headlines without seeing something about cholesterol and heart health. Recent headlines challenged the guidelines and argued more people need statins. If you read my previous article on cholesterol, you’ll know why that’s not the answer.

In this article, I’d like to share with you why why LDL cholesterol is not ‘bad’ and why having your good LDL numbers doesn’t mean you are safe from a heart attack or stroke. Cholesterol levels are not a good predictor of your heart health and in this article, you will begin to see why 75% of hospitalized heart attack victims have ‘normal’ cholesterol and learn about a test that can save your life.

Let’s look at what cholesterol is and how it works and find out why Total Cholesterol and LDL cholesterol numbers will NOT reflect your true heart health risk.

Our cells need fat and cholesterol to function, but fat and cholesterol can’t readily travel through the blood. So the body combines them with protein-covered particles called lipoproteins. Lipoproteins can carry a good amount of fat and travel easily through the blood. There are three types of these particles that are particularly important: low-density lipoproteins (LDL), high-density lipoproteins (HDL) and triglycerides.

Low Density Lipoproteins (LDL)

LDL is responsible for taking the cholesterol from the liver to the body’s cells. Once the lipoprotein reaches the cell, the cell attaches to it and extracts the fat and cholesterol it needs.

High-Density Lipoproteins (HDL)

HDL then takes over and plays clean up, collecting cholesterol from the bloodstream, LDL and artery walls, and transporting it back to the liver to be recycled, an equally important role in healthy cholesterol function.


Triglycerides are a type of lipid that is stored in your fat cells. Whenever you eat any extra calories that aren’t needed, they are converted into triglycerides, It’s easy to see how eating excess calories, especially from nutritionally devoid foods, will be reflected in your higher triglyceride levels. If you need energy between meals, hormones will release them to be burned as fuel as needed. (If that hunger period never arrives because you’re eating constantly that process won’t occur and they will remain awaiting their need.)

Triglycerides are an important part of healthy body function; you can’t live without them. But like most things, it’s about balance; in excess, triglycerides can cause problems. If your triglycerides are high, you typically have a lot of fat in your bloodstream, which means you are either making too much or are not burning it through exercise.

We need all three of these transporters in our bodies in order to function. Scientists have argued that HDL was good, and LDL and Triglycerides were bad: that excessive amounts are problematic and cause heart attacks. We’re going to dig into all of that more deeply in just a moment.

But first, I want to get something out of the way and talk briefly about total cholesterol numbers.  I can’t tell you how many people swear by their total cholesterol number. But total cholesterol is no more than a simple formula: HDL + LDL + Triglycerides. Even if you ascribe to the conventional wisdom that HDL is good and LDL is bad, which we are going to clarify  shortly, looking at total numbers still makes no sense.

If LDL and Triglycerides, the supposed bad guys, stay the same and HDL, the good guy, goes up, then total cholesterol will increase by default. If raising HDL is good for you, which we’ll confirm soon, then closer analysis reveals that the individual is actually better off than before, but yet their total cholesterol number has just gone higher and possibly even moved into a ‘borderline high’ or‘high’ range. This makes no sense whatsoever! You’ve now seen this from a formula standpoint, but next you will see why this is even more important when you understand more about how the cholesterol lipoproteins really work.

We discussed previously that all three components are essential for health. Unfortunately, LDL cholesterol has gotten a bad rap. It has been argued that when there is too much LDL, particles can be deposited in the walls of the arteries of the heart, and elsewhere, limiting blood flow. These deposits, known as plaque, can break apart and cause a heart attack or stroke. Because of this theory, LDL has been called the “bad” cholesterol.

The truth is, there is no good and bad cholesterol. There is only one cholesterol: LDL and HDL are lipoprotein cholesterol carriers and they are both equally necessary for survival and wellness.

While LDL has been labeled bad because it can lead to plaque development, we now know that there are multiple types of LDL. In fact, if you wanted to create labels, you can argue that there is good LDL and bad LDL. Research has shown that LDL particles come in different sizes and that large LDL particles cause no problem.

The small, dense LDL particles, the smallest of which are called very low density lipoproteins, or VLDLs, are troublesome for several reasons. They are tiny enough to squeeze through the lining of the arteries where they can oxidize, or turn rancid, which will cause inflammation. This will begin the process that can ultimately lead to the development of plaque.

If you are concerned about heart health, you absolutely must have your LDL particle number and size tested. Having that information is essential to assessing your heart health. You can have very high LDL cholesterol and be at no risk for a heart incident whatsoever or you can have absolutely ‘normal’ LDL cholesterol and be one of the 75% hospitalized for a heart attack who had ‘normal’ cholesterol at the time of their heart attack.

Simply knowing your LDL number is not helpful and will not reveal your true heart health risk. As Dr. Mark Hyman, President of the Institute for Functional Medicine put it,

“Newer tests look at not only the total amount of cholesterol, but the actual size of the cholesterol particles as well as the total number of cholesterol particles. In my view, this is the only test for cholesterol that should be performed. Using older versions of cholesterol testing leads to practicing medicine with blinders on. It is outdated misleading, and often leads to harmful prescriptions for medications when not indicated, It can also provide a false sense of security when your cholesterol numbers are normal but the type of cholesterol you have is the small dangerous kind.

Studies have found that people with cholesterol level of 300 g/dl but have very large cholesterol particles have very little risk of cardiovascular disease. On the other hand, people with “normal” cholesterol level such as 150 mg/dl but very small and numerous LDL and HDL cholesterol particles have an extremely high risk of heart disease.”

I cover this in great detail in a forthcoming article series on cholesterol and heart health. If you are interested in heart health, you’ll want to ensure you receive the whole series by joining the New England Health Advisory community. It’s free to subscribe at at www.nehealthadvisory.com. The information we cover can transform you and your heart health so you can avoid heart attacks, stroke, or unnecessary surgery and live a longer better life.

But for now, talk to your physician or health care provider about getting your LDL particle number and size tested. This test is now being covered by many insurance companies and getting much more attention. Once you know your risk, you can improve your numbers through simple lifestyle changes.

To your wellness and health: your true wealth!


Author: Inger Pols is the Editor of the New England Health Advisory and Author/Creator, Finally Make It Happen, the proven process to get what you want. Get a free special report on The Truth About Sugar: It’s Not All Equal at www.IngerPols.com

Photo Source: Microsoft Clip Art


You may have seen the recent headlines proclaiming that eating red meat can reduce your lifespan by 20%. If you read the previous newsletter on hormones, antibiotics and pesticides in meat, it’s not a great leap to imagine that a diet heavy in such foods could have a health impact.

Closer review of the headline reveals that the 20% reduction being broadcast is for a diet heavy in processed meats, such as ham, bologna, salami, hot dogs: typical luncheon meats. We learned in the prior newsletter that these foods also contain sodium nitrate, a proven carcinogen, or cancer-causing ingredient. So 20% doesn’t seem extreme if those are items you consume regularly.

The reduction in lifespan for a diet of unprocessed beef, pork or lamb is actually 13%, according to the study. This category of food choices, however, also includes hamburgers. Given the recent “pink slime” headlines, and the use of ammonia (in the meat in addition to the hormones, antibiotics and pesticides found in these meats), 13% doesn’t seem that bad. And let’s face it: if you are eating hamburgers you are likely also consuming high-fructose corn syrup laden buns and french fries fried in oxidized omega 6 heavy oils, which have health concerns of their own that were not tracked in the survey.

In addition, if you are eating steaks, whether at home or out, they are often grilled to get those burn marks on the skin, a process which results in the creation of carcinogens as well. We’ll talk more about the dangers of grilling and how to do so healthily in a coming newsletter. But for now, you can see that even at the highest level, there are additional considerations that were not evaluated in the study lurking behind this headline.

In addition, the study doesn’t differentiate between the consumption of traditional factory-farmed meats and grass-fed or organic versions. It would not be a stretch to postulate that given all we know about factory farming and the way animals are fed, raised, and slaughtered, the statistics being touted could result purely from the impact of those practices. There could possibly be little or no impact on lifespan if participants ate high-quality grass fed meat instead.

However, we will likely never know that for sure as it would take many years of following a group of informed meat eaters to be able to reach such a conclusion and no such study is likely to occur as the money isn’t there to fund it. Organic or grass fed meat producers are struggling to provide high quality meat and to compete against the costs of large factory farms so they are not sitting on a pile of cash to fund a longitudinal study of this sort. (And it’s clear that factory farms and government agencies have no interest in funding such a study!)

So when I read those numbers and know that they reflect traditional processed, chemically-laden meats, I don’t jump to the same conclusion that red meat is bad and we should eat less: my reaction is simply that processed meat is harmful and we should eat less of that and replace it with organic and grass fed meat instead. And that could be the end of a helpful look at a widely publicized research study headline if we stopped right there. But there’s more.

The first concern is that this is an observational study, not a controlled study. In a controlled study, all variables are fixed except for what researchers want to assess. Then the scientists would explore the impact of making that one change on participants’ health. Controlled studies can make claims regarding the impact of meat because everything else is held the same across the participants’ diet. In this case, there are many food variables that were not tracked in the study that could easily explain the reduction in lifespan.

The second concern is that the food habits are self-reported. It has been shown repeatedly that people tend to over-report good, or what they think they should be eating, and under-report what they think they shouldn’t. Which just reconfirms that we can draw some hypotheses from the study results that can be tested further, but we cannot draw any firm conclusions because the data is likely skewed.

And before you think that automatically means that the self-reporting works to further support the red meat conclusion, it’s not that simple. We do not know the attitudes of survey participants toward meat: some may believe a portion or two a day is good for you because it’s an important protein source and that may cancel out those who under-report because they think meat is bad.

In addition, contrary to what you might think, another study showed that people with “diagnosed medical conditions” such as heart disease, cancer, stroke, high blood pressure, high tryglycerides or cholesterol and diabetes tended to over-report the meat that they ate. We do not fully understand why this occurs, but researchers surmise that perhaps people who are more sick pay less attention to their diets and so don’t accurately track their consumption.

Next we have to explore other lifestyle behaviors. The study reveals that the highest percentage of meat eaters were also significantly more likely to smoke, be overweight, be less physically active and not take a multivitamin than those who ate the least amount of meat. These other variables have been shown to correlate to a number of health conditions and cannot be ignored.

The study also showed that the highest meat eaters took in a significantly greater number of calories than the least meat eaters. In fact, there was an 800 calorie gap between the highest and lowest groups. If that is actually accurate, that is an extremely important variance as calorie restriction has been linked to longer lifespan. And if it is not accurate, it’s just another example of why we cannot completely trust studies where people are self-reporting their food intake.

One interesting conclusion the study found related to cholesterol. In the study, the lowest meat eaters had almost twice the cholesterol level of the highest red meat eaters. If you have read my prior article on cholesterol, you understand why: eating cholesterol does not raise your cholesterol. In fact, if you don’t eat enough cholesterol in your diet, your body will step in and overproduce it to compensate, and your cholesterol levels will seem high even though you are actually cholesterol deficient. (More on this to follow: we’ll be looking into cholesterol and heart health in depth in the coming weeks). But the scientists so quick to jump on the bandwagon and chastise red meat didn’t feel compelled to report a sensational headline that eating red meat reduces cholesterol, but yet, that is what the study showed.

Lastly, the study fails to correlate the overall risk of death to the increase during the study time period in absolute numbers. As we saw when we looked at cholesterol drug advertisements in the last newsletter go-round, Lipitor was able to claim a 36% increase because 3 people on a placebo had a heart attack vs. 2 on the drug during the study trial. The overall number is of consequence as well as the increase because the ones taking the drug suffered heavy side effects. (If you missed this article last time, we’ll be covering this topic in greater depth shortly.)

In this study, for example, if 5% would die anyway, and 6% of the heaviest processed lunch meat eaters died, you could claim a 20% increase in death. But the truth is the difference between 5 and 6 people out of 100 may not be great enough to cause you to give up something you love, especially since there are so many other possible contributing factors or direct causes that were not assessed in the study.

Now you can see how misleading headlines can cause a stir in the media but there is more to the story than the sexy headline. Hopefully, this will encourage you to question and to dig deeper into the details around how those attention-grabbing news stories are created. As for me, I will continue to enjoy small amounts of grass fed meat as a good high quality source of protein and necessary (healthy) fat.


To your wellness and health: your true wealth!



Author: Inger Pols is the Editor of the New England Health Advisory and Author/Creator, Finally Make It Happen, the proven process to get what you want. Get a free special report on The Truth About Sugar: It’s Not All Equal at www.IngerPols.com

Photo Source: Microsoft Clip Art

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