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Debunking the Cholesterol Myth: Learning from the French

By Eric Zielenski

In honor of September’s being “Cholesterol Month,” it seems like a good idea to talk a little about the “French paradox” and why it is important for Americans to reevaluate how we view cholesterol.

What is the “French Paradox?”

Defined as “the observation of low coronary heart disease (CHD) death rates despite high intake of dietary cholesterol and saturated fat,” the French paradox was first brought to our attention by French epidemiologists in the 1980s.

Why is the French Paradox Important?

Understanding the French paradox is important for two reasons:

  1. Essentially, because research studies have shown time and time again that cholesterol intake has veritably NO impact on heart health, the French paradox emphasizes that the high rate of CHD in American is due to something else. What the actual causes are still remains somewhat of a mystery, but most authorities are recognizing that sedentary and high-stress lifestyles are probably the culprits. And this brings us to the second point.
  1. The French experience significantly less stress than Americans do and live much more active lives, although they aren’t as focused on “exercising” as we are. If you’ve ever been to France, you quickly noticed that most people don’t drive cars. They walk everywhere, which promotes heart health, in spite of having one of the highest smoking rates in addition to consuming more saturated fat and cholesterol than most countries in the world.

Importance of Cholesterol

Cholesterol is so critical for human life that if we do not consume enough of it in our diets (approximately 6 to 8 eggs yolks’ worth per day), our livers will be forced to make up the difference. Why does the liver do this? Because cholesterol is a necessary component for the following:

  • Brain synapses
  • Bile
  • Cell membranes
  • Sex hormones
  • Vitamin D

It’s actually no wonder that we’ve seen neurocognitive and hormone-related disorders skyrocket since the “cholesterol is bad” theory surfaced in mainstream America. Droves of people replaced butter with partially hydrogenated oils and margarine, thinking that they were doing their body good, but all the while contributing to atherosclerosis, the very condition most were trying to avoid in the first place!

New Cholesterol Guidelines

Evidently, the research finally reached public health authorities, and the American Heart Association and American College of Cardiology finally revamped their cholesterol guidelines this past November 2013. Here are the two main points that are important to consider:

  • Total fats (triglycerides), LDL’s and HDL’s (“bad” and “good” cholesterol) numbers are not an end to themselves anymore. In fact, the guidelines state that bad cholesterol numbers are no longer the main factor in guiding treatment. Thankfully, they are taking into account other cardiovascular risk factors to determine someone’s risk of developing a heart condition.
  • Personalized treatment” is emphasized, which is absolutely fundamental to proper healthcare. The obsolete method of putting everyone in the same category and basing medication and surgery off of standardized lab values never took into account biochemical individuality and uniqueness.

“New” Approach to Fats in our Diet

Now that the “cholesterol is bad” theory has officially been debunked, what do you do? Do you go back to eating margarine and stay away from eggs and red meat? Nope!

Now more than ever before it’s important to “go back to nature” and eat the food that our ancestors ate. All of the following foods are on the healthy list and should be part of your daily natural health regimen:

  • Organic, free-range eggs
  • Raw, organic whole milk from grass fed cows
  • Organic, grass-fed beef
  • Raw, organic butter from grass fed cows
  • Unrefined coconut oil
  • Cold-pressed, extra virgin olive oil.

It may seem odd to read this as a list of “health foods,” but that’s exactly what they are and have been since the beginning of time. Eat them in moderation, exercise regularly and practice stress-reduction techniques daily. This is the “new” recipe to keep your heart healthy!

References

  • Ferrières J. The French paradox: lessons for other countries. Heart. 2004 Jan; 90(1):10711.
  • American Heart Association. Understanding the New Prevention Guidelines. Internet.

 

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