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Heart Disease: Cholesterol Is Not the Real Enemy

12-29-2015
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February is American Heart Month. Heart disease kills more Americans than any other cause of death.

Most doctors tell people high cholesterol is responsible for heart disease. But not all doctors see it that way.

Cardiologist Dr. Stephen Sinatra, author of the book, The Great Cholesterol Myth, says the real cause of heart disease is inflammation, not cholesterol.

"Cholesterol is found at the scene of the crime for heart disease, but it's not the perpetrator," he contends.

Watch Dr. Stephen Sinatra's appearance on The 700 Club, Thursday, March 5. Watch Lorie Johnson talk more about the real culprit of heart disease below.

Good Cholesterol

Sinatra used to believe high cholesterol was responsible for heart disease until he saw with his own eyes, in his own patients, that was't true. He noticed many of his heart patients had low cholesterol and saw that many people with high cholesterol did not have heart problems.

"I was doing angiograms on people with 150, who had far advanced heart disease," he recalled. "And the converse, I was doing angiograms on somebody with cholesterol of 280 and they had no heart disease."

Sinatra is among a growing number of physicians who actually tout the benefits of high cholesterol in most cases.

"Cholesterol many times can be a gift in disguise, higher cholesterol," he said.

He said high HDL cholesterol is good for you and says even LDL cholesterol is good for you as long as it's the large, fluffy particles.

He admits the small, dense LDL particles are harmful. Therefore, he recommends, instead of getting your overall LDL cholesterol checked, you get it further broken down into particle size.

Statins Side Effects

Since Dr. Sinatra does not think high cholesterol is responsible for heart disease, he does not think cholesterol-lowering statin drugs are helpful to most of the people taking them. Instead, he believes only a very small percentage of people who are taking statins actually need them.

For example, he usually only prescribes statins to middle-aged men who have coronary heart disease. He also says a small number of women need statins, but mostly because they benefit from the statin's anti-inflammatory properties, not its ability to lower cholesterol.

On the other hand, by and large, Sinatra believes statins are far too over-prescribed. Although drug companies sell $30 billion worth of statins every year, Sinatra said the people who take them are paying a price with their health as well as their wallet.

In other words, for many statin users, the risks outweigh the gains.

"The side effects of statins are grossly under-reported," he said.

Muscle pain and fatigue are two of the key complaints he hears from statin users.

"'Doc, I can't get out of a chair, I have weakness in my thighs, I can't play double's tennis. I walk the dog and I'm exhausted,'" he recalled patients saying.

CBN News Medical Reporter Lorie Johnson shares her insights on cholesterol and the dangers of statin drugs below:

Sinatra said the reason for these symptoms is often misdiagnosed.

"These are statin side-effects," he concludes. "However, a lot of the doctors and patients think they're 'getting older.' They're not getting older; these are statin side effects."

Patients over 70 years old are especially vulnerable, he said.

"They can't remember names. They can't remember where they put their glasses or keys. They forget sometimes who they are! It can actually bring on the onset of Alzheimer's disease by 15 years. So you have to be cautious with statins," Sinatra advised.

Sugar Is the Villian

Sinatra says one of the best things about statins are their ability to reduce inflammation. But since statins have so many side-effects, most people are better off ditching the statin and reducing inflammation the natural way, by reducing the amount of sugar they eat.

Sinatra looked at the evidence and concluded, instead of cholesterol, it's inflammation that causes heart disease. Inflammation is caused by a number of things.

Eating too much sugar is at the top of the list.

"Cholesterol is sort of your friend. Sugar is your foe. It's the villain. It's your enemy," he explained.

Sugar damages arteries, increases blood pressure, and ages your organs. Of course, we all know that sugar is the white, granular stuff we put in our coffee.  But sugar comes in many, many other forms.

For example, high fructose corn syrup is a sugar. It is the primary ingredient in soda and candy and is found in the list of ingredients in a huge number of other products, many that you probably don't even consider a "sweet," such as bread or pasta sauce.

Many other syrups and ingredients that end in "-ose" are also sugars.

In addition to avoiding foods that contain sugar,  reducing inflammation also involves avoiding foods that turn into sugar once you eat them. These are called refined carbohydrates, and are grains that have been stripped of the healthiest part, leaving only the starchy portion of the grain.

Refined carbohydrates are the "white" foods, such as white bread, white bagels, white hot dog or hamburger buns, white pasta, white rice, white tortillas, and so forth.

Good Fats

Sinatra recommends replacing sugars with vegetables and healthy fats, such as nuts, avocados, fish, and olive oil. He also touts saturated fats like butter, unprocessed meat, and coconut oil.

"I love coconut oil," he says. "Coconut oil is a saturated fat. Because it's a saturated fat, it's less prone to oxidation. So it protects you."

He encourages people to put aside their fears that saturated fats cause heart disease. Although they may raise your cholesterol, he believes that will not hurt you, and in fact, will probably improve your health.

However, Sinatra points out that it's very important not to confuse good fats with trans fats. Trans fats, which are also called "hydrogenated" oils, are extremely harmful to the heart.

"I call trans fats unguided missiles that really cause enormous inflammation in the blood vessels," Sinatra said..

Trans fats are man-made fats and are found in processed foods.

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