Heart disease, daily cholesterol intake, and the relationship between the two can sometimes be a bit of a complicated subject to dive into. For the past few decades, the prevailing narrative has been very simple—eat less cholesterol and you will have low cholesterol. Have low cholesterol and you will be healthy. Just trade in the bacon, egg, and cheese sandwich for some turkey bacon, egg white, and fat free cheese and you’ll be set… simple, right?
Unfortunately when it comes to your health and dietary advice, things are never really that simple. Dietary cholesterol is actually an essential nutrient that your body needs in order to thrive. Cholesterol is needed to maintain proper membrane function for every cell in your body. Your body also needs it to produce hormones and vitamin D. We couldn’t survive without cholesterol.
Now with all that being said, cardiovascular disease (CVD) is currently the leading cause of death in the U.S. One person dies every 36 seconds in the U.S. from cardiovascular disease (CVD). That’s right… Just in the time it takes you to read this newsletter, four to ten Americans will die from CVD. I know… we are sorry for being such a buzzkill on a Monday, but those are the stats.
Now, one of the most effective ways to reduce the risk of CVD mortality is the reduction of your LDL cholesterol. This can, of course, be done through diet and lifestyle changes, but being the pill-happy nation we are, most doctors will immediately lean on drugs such as statins to help high risk patients get their LDL back under control.
If your daily cholesterol intake is normal but your numbers are elevated, statin drugs may help
Now here is where things get interesting. As much as we love to bash our conventional healthcare system and their over-reliance on drugs, this recent meta-analysis of several studies uncovered some interesting results. Not only did cholesterol lowering drugs indeed lower LDL levels in the short term, but researchers also found that there was a strong cumulative effect in reducing the risk of CVD for people that stayed on these drugs in the long term.
It turns out that when compared with the control group, participants that stayed on statins and other cholesterol lowering drugs for an extended period of time saw the most benefits in terms of risk reduction for CVD. Low LDL isn’t the only risk factor that matters here. Cumulative exposure to high LDL over time matters as well.
The key takeaway? First and foremost, you can absolutely lower your risk of heart disease with a whole-foods based healthy diet, regular exercise, adequate sleep, and proper hydration. You can and should also enjoy things like egg yolks because they are nutrient dense and have the cholesterol that your body needs.
However, some people may be genetically predisposed to have higher LDL cholesterol or are simply at a point where their cholesterol is simply too high. In those cases, statins or other cholesterol lowering drugs can be an effective option to reduce the risk of CVD both in the short term and the long term.