Higher Cholesterol Is Associated With Longer Life: Studies (2024)

Your doctor might have told you that you should cut down on your cholesterol and here we are publishing an article that you should take more cholesterol. Confused? Let's just dive into the evidence and decide for yourself and your loved ones.

For those who aren't sure the conventional health community is wholly in support of individual health when it comes to cholesterol levels — which in some cases still adheres to the story line that too much cholesterol increases the risk of heart disease — you're right to be concerned.

higher cholesterol longer life

Taking a global view of what cholesterol is and how it affects your body is a smarter way to approach it than the simple "cholesterol kills" narrative that's been the drum beat for so many years.

Update: Oreos vs Statins in Lean Mass Hyper-Responder Cholesterol Management

Cholesterol, the soft, waxy substance found in every cell in your body, is used to produce several of your body's vital functions, including those that involve hormones and vitamin D. About 75% of it is made by your liver and the remainder is derived from the foods you eat; 25% is in your brain.

There are two types: High-density is the first. It is also known as HDL, or the “good” kind that keeps cholesterol away from your arteries and removes it from your arteries. The second type is low density lipoprotein, or LDL. LDL is the “bad” kind that can build up in your arteries, form plaque that narrows your arteries and form a clot. This can then make its way to your heart or brain and cause either a heart attack or stroke.

The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends that you balance your levels at about 150 (milligrams per deciliter) (mg/dL). According to old, unfounded science, your total cholesterol — the sum of all the cholesterol in your body — is not a gauge of your heart disease risk. When your levels are measured, elevated levels of triglycerides are also taken into account. According to Børge Nordestgaard, from the University of Copenhagen and Copenhagen University Hospital:

"So far, both cardiologists and [physicians] have focused mostly on reducing LDL cholesterol, but in the future, the focus will also be on reducing triglycerides and remnant cholesterol."(2)

Does It Matter What Kills You?

In a commentary posted on Mission.org, a rhetorical question is presented: With all the ways you can die, does it really matter what kills you? On one hand, "If you're dead, you're dead, no matter from what," so it seems silly to "focus on changing something that lowers the risk of death from one cause only to raise that risk from another." (3)

It’s an astute observation when you read studies showing conclusively that cholesterol has very little to do with heart disease. Even more importantly, cholesterol is crucial for your health. If it’s too low, then eventually, your hormones, disease risk, cell signaling pathways, and yes, your heart, will suffer. In fact, new research shows that a too-low LDL level could put you at higher risk for a stroke. (4)

The Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC), which reviews the Dietary Guidelines for Americans every five years, investigated the issue. On page 91 of the 572-page report, the 2015-2020 guidelines noted: (5)

"Previously, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommended that cholesterol intake be limited to no more than 300 mg/day.

The 2015 DGAC will not bring forward this recommendation because available evidence shows no appreciable relationship between consumption of dietary cholesterol and serum (blood) cholesterol, consistent with the AHA/ACC (American Heart Association / American College of Cardiology) report. Cholesterol is not a nutrient of concern for overconsumption."

Yet, even though the government’s ChooseMyPlate doesn’t mention cholesterol, it’s obvious the cholesterol-is-evil myth is being pushed by physicians and medical agencies such as Harvard Health, which has proposed its own dietary guidelines called "The Healthy Eating Plate."6

Chastising the USDA for remaining "silent on fat," Harvard Health says this "could steer consumers toward the type of low-fat, high-carbohydrate diet that makes it harder to control weight and worsens blood cholesterol profiles."

It’s no wonder people are confused about where cholesterol fits in your diet, when major health agencies send one message to the public and the government sends a completely different one in their dietary guidelines.

Interestingly, the 2015-2020 guidelines were created nearly seven years ago, but information on the importance of cholesterol is nearly two decades old.7 As the Honolulu Heart Program study published in The Lancet in 2001 states:

"Our data accord with previous findings of increased mortality in elderly people with low serum cholesterol, and show that long-term persistence of low cholesterol concentration actually increases risk of death."

The narrative challenges those who insist that eating foods that contain fat of any kind — saturated fats and trans fats alike — are harmful. Many who make this claim also maintain that "Saturated fat is a bad fat because it raises your LDL level more than anything else in your diet."8 However, as explained in the Mission.org article:

"While total cholesterol is a poor if not utterly worthless risk marker for heart disease, doctors have focused on it to the exclusion of how it might affect other causes of death. It does you little good to save yourself from heart disease if it means that you increase your risk of death from cancer. All-cause mortality — death from anything — is the most appropriate measure to use when looking at risk factors."9

The Best Measure for Risk Factors

"Death from anything" may be a clearer term for the one so often used in clinical settings: All-cause mortality. Either way, as quoted by the following study, that's what the latest research says is the best measure for the factors that increase the risk of what eventually and most likely will take someone's life.

When it comes to your risk of death from heart disease, there’s much more evidence that inflammation is at the bottom of heart disease rather than high cholesterol, just as it is for a number of other serious diseases. If you want to find what might help you live longer, that’s the premise of a lengthy Japanese study published in the Annals of Nutrition & Metabolism (2015). As the featured study, it notes that regardless of someone’s age, people with higher cholesterol live longer:

"Overall, an inverse trend is found between all-cause mortality and total (or low density lipoprotein [LDL]) cholesterol levels: mortality is highest in the lowest cholesterol group without exception. If limited to elderly people, this trend is universal. As discussed in Section 2, elderly people with the highest cholesterol levels have the highest survival rates irrespective of where they live in the world …

Based on data from Japan, we propose a new direction in the use of cholesterol medications for global health promotion; namely, recognizing that cholesterol is a negative risk factor for all-cause mortality and re-examining our use of cholesterol medications accordingly."

After showing that people of all ages with higher cholesterol levels live longer in Japan, in support of these conclusions, similar conclusions were made by a study based in the Netherlands and published in BMJ in 2016.11

The study adjusted for several heart risk factors like smoking, high blood pressure and a history of diabetes melllitus. Participants were placed in groups depending on whether their cholesterol levels were low, medium or high, and those with the highest cholesterol levels were found to have the lowest death rates.

The title of the BMJ review reveals the outcome — there was a "lack of an association or an inverse association between low-density-lipoprotein cholesterol and mortality in the elderly."12

In short, older people with high LDL cholesterol generally live just as long as — and may even outlive — people with low LDL, which begs the question of how the current cholesterol theory was arrived at in the first place. At the very least, the study authors imply the cholesterol question should at least be re-evaluated. It concluded:

"Our review provides the basis for more research about the cause of atherosclerosis and (cardiovascular disease) and also for a re-evaluation of the guidelines for cardiovascular prevention, in particular because the benefits from statin treatment have been exaggerated."13

One of the first studies published with information suggesting that high cholesterol is not as heart-damaging as once thought was the Honolulu Heart Program,14 offering further evidence that higher cholesterol levels may be heart protective. The authors concluded by questioning whether there is "scientific justification for attempts to lower cholesterol to concentrations below 4-65 mmol/L in elderly people," adding that "prudence dictates a more conservative approach in this age group."15

Can High Cholesterol Really Be Heart Protective?

Perhaps the question that would get to the point quicker is to ask why the Japanese study infers that people with low versus high cholesterol die sooner? The Mission offers referenced studies that show a few factors that could be weighing in:
  • Cholesterol may protect against infections and atherosclerosis, as "the many observations that conflict with the LDL receptor hypothesis, may be explained by the idea that high serum cholesterol and/or high LDL is protective against infection and atherosclerosis."16
  • Cholesterol may protect against cancer, although in previous cases where low cholesterol was linked to cancer, exclusions were made to tip the scales, such as excluding possible prior drug treatment, namely clofibrate, a popular cholesterol-lowering drug before statins, by subjects — leaving the question open as to whether it was the low cholesterol that caused the cancer, or the drug treatments that contributed to it.17
  • Low cholesterol (180 mg/dL and lower) and violence in psychiatric patients have been linked. When patients in a long-term psychiatric hospital with a history of seclusion or restraints were compared with other patients, there was a "highly significant and strong association between lower cholesterol levels and violent behavior." The authors did caution, however, that cholesterol levels should not be used to predict violence.18
  • There's also an association between low cholesterol and suicide dating back more than a decade, as researchers found that people in the lowest quartile of cholesterol concentration had more than six times the suicide rates than those in the highest quartile.19 It should be noted that at least one study in Japan20 determined that high cholesterol and suicide were connected. But, in fact, numerous recent studies have corroborated the earlier ones connecting low cholesterol to suicide,21 with various findings: For example, one found that low triglycerides, reduced BMI and waist circumference, specifically, but not total cholesterol, were connected to a higher risk of suicide;22 while a 2019 study23 found that "low cholesterol is associated with aggression in suicide attempters."

Cholesterol Isn't the Problem in Heart Disease: Inflammation Is

Published research from a clinical trial sponsored by Novartis Pharmaceuticals demonstrates a reduction in recurring heart attacks, strokes and cardiovascular deathsin participants who took a targeted anti-inflammatory medication that did not lowercholesterol levels.

Although the results of the study were encouraging as they scientifically demonstrate the association between inflammation and cardiac disease, we do not recommend using a pharmaceutical intervention to achieve what lifestyle choices can easily accomplish.

This study from Brigham and Women's Hospital was the culmination of a nearly 25-year cardiovascular research work. The trial was designed to test if reducing the amount of inflammation in the body would also reduce the risk of a recurrent heart attack or stroke. The researchers enrolled 10,000 people who had previously had a heart attack and had persistently elevated levels of C-reactive proteins, a strong biomarker of inflammation.

How does dietary cholesterol affect blood cholesterol?

The amount of cholesterol in your diet and the amount of cholesterol in your blood are very different things. Although it may seem logical that eating cholesterol would raise blood cholesterol levels, it usually doesn’t work that way.

The body tightly regulates the amount of cholesterol in the blood by controlling its production of cholesterol.

When your dietary intake of cholesterol goes down, your body makes more. When you eat greater amounts of cholesterol, your body makes less. Because of this, foods high in dietary cholesterol have very little impact on blood cholesterol levels in most people (R, R).

According to David Sinclair and Andrew Huberman, "Dietary cholesterol has zero impact on blood cholesterol levels."

The Minnesota Coronary Experiment was a study performed between 1968 and 1973 that examined the relationship between diet and heart health. The researchers used a double-blind randomized trial to evaluate the effect of vegetable oil versus saturated fats in coronary heart disease and death. The results were left unpublished until 2016, when they appeared in the BMJ. An analysis of the collected data revealed lowering your cholesterol levels through dietary intervention did not reduce your risk of death from coronary heart disease.

Magnesium Plays Substantial Role in Reducing Inflammation

According to Dr Julian Whitaker:

If I had to choose just one supplement to use on a regular basis, it would likely be magnesium. This mineral is one of the most potent, versatile, and safe therapies available. Yet it is woefully underused in American medicine. The following stories and studies illustrate the healing power of miraculous magnesium.

Low levels of magnesium are a culprit in the development of inflammation and may play a role in hardening of your arteries as they inhibit the deposit of lipids on your arterialswalls and plaque formation. 

Use of the mineral also has significantly positive effects when administered intravenously (IV) as soon as possible after a heart attack. 

In a double-blind, placebo controlled trial, IV magnesium or normal saline was administered to 2,000 patients within 24 hours of their heart attack. Those who received the magnesium experienced 24% fewer deaths and within the following five years, the death rate was also 21% lower than those not treated with magnesium. IV magnesium has been used to treat patients with congestive heart failure and arrhythmias

Low levels have been found to be an important predictor of sudden cardiac death and IV magnesium has been used to treat the onset of atrial fibrillation. The use of magnesium during an immediate cardiac event demonstrates the significant health benefits of the mineral. However, ensuring an adequate level of magnesium on a daily basis may help to prevent these cardiac events as the mineral is also closely associated with reducing the inflammatory response. 

A study in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition determined there was an inverse relationship between levels of magnesium in the body of participants and the level of creactive proteins. The researchers concluded the beneficial effect of magnesium intake on chronic diseases could potentially be explained by the effect the mineral has on inhibiting inflammation.

Following the release of another study demonstrating the role inflammation plays in chronic disease, Dr. Carolyn Dean, magnesium expert and author of "The Magnesium Miracle," stated

"Cholesterol is not the cause of heart disease and the decades-long attempt to treat this condition with statin drugs has failed, because the true cause is inflammation." 

Dean went on to comment on another study that demonstrated magnesium deficiency contributes to an exaggerated response to oxidative stress and inflammation, saying

"This study shows that at the cellular level, magnesium reduces inflammation. In the animal model used, magnesium deficiency is created when an inflammatory condition is produced. Increasing magnesium intake decreases the inflammation. With magnesium being actively required by 600 to 700 enzyme systems in the human body, internal functions that reduce inflammation with the help of magnesium are being newly discovered every year. For example, magnesium has been found to be a natural calcium channel blocker, which is crucial because calcium in excess is one of the most pro-inflammatory substances in the body."

Our preference for magnesium supplementation is magnesium threonate as it appears to more efficiently penetrate cell membranes, including your mitochondria. It penetrates your blood-brain barrier and may help improve memory and it may be a good alternative to reduce migraine headaches.

So What About Statins?

Significantly, the authors of an Annals of Nutrition & Metabolism study didn't hold back when drawing conclusions regarding why the cholesterol conundrum has gone on so long when the evidence is so clear: "For the side defending this so-called cholesterol theory, the amount of money at stake is too much to lose the fight."24

The Annals of Nutrition & Metabolism study's introduction mentions a medical practitioner who advocated statins to his patients to drive down cholesterol until he read the Scandinavian Simvastatin Survival Study,25 in which 4,444 patients with different types of heart disease were given simvastatin — which is touted to be a safe, long-term treatment to improve survival in cardiovascular heart disease patients.

As it turns out, the claim that high cholesterol causes heart disease and death is incorrect; it is, in fact, the opposite. Three reviews26,27,28 supporting the cholesterol hypothesis were found to contain altered data to support their conclusions, according to Expert Review of Clinical Pharmacology, in which it is noted that:

"Our search for falsifications of the cholesterol hypothesis confirms that … the conclusions of the authors of the three reviews are based on misleading statistics, exclusion of unsuccessful trials and by ignoring numerous contradictory observations."29

Drugs.com30 contributors state that the 35 million people on statins often experience myriad side effects. Liver damage, for instance, is said to be "rare," implying that ongoing liver tests while taking statins likely aren't necessary. Some doctors, however, say you'll need a baseline liver function test beforehand. The most common side effects of statins are:

  • Headaches, muscle pain, lower back or side pain
  • Nasal congestion or stuffiness, or a runny nose
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Constipation
  • Hoarseness

And, just in case you needed another source to implicate statins' role in psychiatric problems, an April 2018 study found that lowering cholesterol levels in men could bring about changes in nerve cell membranes and behavior in men:

"Men seem to be more sensitive to low cholesterol levels as the association between low cholesterol levels and aggression is found mostly in men," the authors said. "… Lowering cholesterol levels with statins brings about several changes in the serotonergic system, nerve cell membrane microviscosity and behaviour, and needs to be done with precaution in susceptible individuals.

Cholesterol levels could serve as a biological risk marker for violence and suicidal tendencies in psychiatric patients with depression and schizophrenia."

Reduces Risk of Heart Attack by 36%?

In the same ad (smaller print) above, it says "that means in a large clinical study 3% of patients taking a sugar pill or a placebo had a heart attack compared to 2% taking Lipitor". So the absolute risk reduction is NOT 36%, it's 1%! So how does 1% become 36%? Well it uses a mathematical concept known as the relative risk reduction. The 36% improvement relates to the difference of the 2% and 3%. The difference of 1% over the denominator of 3% is 33.3%. The actual value might be higher probably due to the actual number of patients or due to the decimal points.

A paper (published in 2013) showed that eating blueberries (image below) was also effective in reducing heart attack. Yes, you heard that right, blueberries. In fact it’s fruits that contain Anthocyanin, which include lots of berries, cherries, and grapes. First, a caution. The blueberry data is from looking at the Framingham research data so it’s not information collected by testing blueberries in a population and looking at the number of heart attacks, it was collected after the fact by monitoring a large population of women. 

Credit: Regenexx.com

More Studies and Reviews on Statin Use

Rather than pointing patients in the direction of finding dietary solutions, including eating both the whites and the yolks when having eggs, and ditching processed vegetable oils in favor of healthy cooking oils like coconut oil, olive oil and avocado oil, Harvard Health Medical School updated an article on how to “manage” muscle pain from taking statins, perpetuating the cholesterol myth. They stated:

"If you're not taking a statin now, you may well be soon. These medications are commonly prescribed to lower 'bad' LDL cholesterol and have been shown to reduce the risk of heart attack, stroke, and death.

They are routinely recommended for people who have cardiovascular disease and for many people ages 40 to 75 who don't have cardiovascular disease but have at least one risk factor (high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, or smoking) and a 7.5% or greater risk of a stroke or heart attack in the next decade.

Moreover, recent research indicates that they may benefit high risk individuals over age 75 as well … Taking a statin may give you some assurance that you're doing all you can to avoid heart attack and stroke …"31

Exercising, losing weight, adopting healthy eating habits and including vitamin D and coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) supplements in your diet are all good strategies for maintaining your cholesterol levels. Unfortunately, the common suggestion for alleviating muscle pain due to statin use is more of the same — just try taking a lower dose or switching to another statin prescription.32

As if that weren't enough, experts say statins may impair your memory and cause amnesia, a possibility real enough to call for a warning on the labels of prescriptions.33 Statin use may precipitate a higher risk of developing cataracts34 and it "significantly" increases the likelihood of raising the fasting glucose levels of non-diabetics, as well as inducing high blood sugar.35

In another review of the adverse effects of statins, it was noted that "an array of additional risk factors for statin AEs [adverse events] are those that amplify (or reflect) mitochondrial or metabolic vulnerability, such as metabolic syndrome factors, thyroid disease, and genetic mutations linked to mitochondrial dysfunction."36

Given the false information saying cholesterol is at fault for causing heart-related disease, the continued prescriptions being handed out to patients for statins, and the side effects they cause, it's clear why, in their introduction, the authors of the Annals of Nutrition & Metabolism study stressed:37

"This, we believe, marks the starting point of a paradigm shift in not only how we understand the role cholesterol plays in health, but also how we provide cholesterol treatment …

Our purpose in writing this supplementary issue is to help everyone understand the issue of cholesterol better than before, and we hope that we lay out the case for why a paradigm shift in cholesterol treatment is needed, and sooner rather than later."

Statin therapy is not warranted for a person with high LDL-cholesterol on a low-carbohydrate diet

The review paper published in October 2022, is written by a Ph.D. neuroscientist named David Diamond who had to make the decision for himself to take statins or not, so he researched and was astounded by what he found. He, therefore, placed himself on a low-carb diet instead of popping these pills. 

Risk of Diabetes Doubles With Cholesterol Medication

Past studies have demonstrated that statins increase the risk of diabetes. Another study led by a graduate researcher at The Ohio State University explored this link in research published in Diabetes Metabolism Research and Reviews. The study was a retrospective evaluation of medical records using employees and spouses from a private insurance plan.

Yearly biometric screening, health surveys, medical claims and pharmacy data were gathered from 2011 through 2014. Individuals who had indications for statin use, or who had a previous cardiovascular event, were enrolled. Adults who had Type 2 diabetes before the study or who acquired it in the first 90 days were excluded.

Records were classified as belonging to a statin user if they had two or more prescriptions filled, but individuals using statins before January 2011 or within the first 90 days of enrollment in the insurance were excluded. Data were collected from 755 individuals using statins and 3,928 who were not.

After accounting for factors such as age, gender, ethnicity, education and body mass index, the researchers found those who used statins during the study were two times as likely to be diagnosed with diabetes than those who did not take statin medications.

Interestingly, individuals who used statin drugs longer than two years experienced an increased risk of more than three times as likely to get the disease. The data also indicated that individuals taking statin medications had a 6.5% increased risk of high blood sugar as measured by hemoglobin A1c values.

The hemoglobin A1c blood test is an average level of blood sugar measuring the past 60 to 90 days. The test measures how much sugar is bound to hemoglobin on red blood cells. Since red blood cells live for up to 90 days, the test is an average of your blood glucose level during this time.

Simple Strategies to Normalize Your Cholesterol Levels

Before becoming concerned about your cholesterol levels, it's important to evaluate whether you really need a statin drug to reduce your risk of a cardiovascular event. Updated guidelines published by the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology are based on a personalized risk assessment.

However, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services critically evaluates those with cholesterol levels over 200 milligrams per deciliter. We believe this total cholesterol measurement has little benefit in evaluating your risk for heart disease unless the number is over 300.

In some instances, high cholesterol may indicate a problem, provided it's your LDL or triglycerides and you have low HDL. A better evaluation of your risk of heart disease are these two ratios in combination with other lifestyle factors, such as your iron level and diet.
  • HDL/Cholesterol ratio — Divide your HDL level by your cholesterol. This ratio should ideally be above 24%.
  • Triglyceride/HDL ratio — Divide your triglyceride level by your HDL. This ratio should ideally be below 2. Data demonstrate a ratio greater than four is a powerful predictor of coronary artery disease.

CoQ10 and Statins

Your body can naturally make CoQ10, but genetic alterations in metabolism, poor diet, oxidative stress, chronic conditions, aging and statins can all interfere with CoQ10 production and lead to CoQ10 deficiency. Statins can induce coenzyme Q10 deficiency, which can lead to muscle symptoms such as myopathy, rhabdomyolysis, myoglobinuria, impaired mitochondrial energy and metabolism. As the CoQ10 levels drop, the side effects of statins increase (Healthline).

To maintain good health, an adult body should contain 0.5 to 1.5 g of CoQ10 and sometimes it takes a supplement to keep you there. Dosing requirements will vary depending on your individual situation and needs.

As a general rule, the sicker you are, the more you need. The suggested dose is usually between 30 mg to 100 mg per day if you're healthy, or 60 to 1,200 mg daily if you're sick or have underlying health conditions.

If you have an active lifestyle, exercise a lot or are under a lot of stress, you may want to increase your dose to 200 to 300 mg per day. Importantly, if you're on a statin drug, you need at least 100 mg to 200 mg of ubiquinol or CoQ10 per day, or more. Ideally, you'll want to work with your physician to determine your ideal dose.

Sources and References


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