Menu Close

How saturated fat and elevated LDL cholesterol levels DON’T give you heart disease

Want clarification about whether saturated fat affects bad cholesterol and your health?  Been told to avoid all fats?  It has been made soooo confusing, but really it doesn’t have to be.  Let me try to make this as simple as possible.

Eating good fats (whether it be from butter, olive oil, coconut oil, avocado, fish, and yes even meat) – will raise your HDL.  Eggs (which are high in cholesterol) – are good for you (unless you have an allergy obviously).  Higher HDL is good and appears to be health protective.  Eating too much fat will add to your total caloric intake and can contribute to weight gain.  Eating fibre is necessary too.

Saturated fats (all of them) increase LDL cholesterol, but reduce the LDL particle number (a good thing).  So – is the wrong thing really is being routinely tested?  ApoB (the protein part of LDL, measuring the concentration of LDL particles in the blood) appears to be a better indicator of a problem than LDL.  But let’s be realistic – if your LDL is really high, your particle count is likely very high too (this is bad).

Carbohydrates – any you have eaten that are not used or stored are converted into fat in the liver.  This is bad.  Higher insulin levels needed to process excess carbohydrate intake leads to higher triglyceride levels (this is bad).  High triglyceride levels are directly linked to high carb intake.  High insulin levels are associated with central obesity, affect blood pressure, and lead to higher levels of inflammation.  High levels of inflammation and insulin increase your risk of cardiovascular events and disease.  Bummer.

So, what is the take home of this?  Don’t overeat carbohydrates – you will mess up your insulin response, increase triglyceride levels in your blood, add fat around your liver – and risk inflammatory processes starting.  Don’t freak because your LDL number on a blood test is elevated (without taking anything else into account).  Don’t overeat anything.  Carbs, saturated fats – anything.  Heard of moderation?


The science bit (for the information junkies):

Saturated fats (all of them) increase LDL cholesterol, but reduce the LDL particle number (a good thing) – the particle number is a stronger indicator of possible cardiovascular risk, rather than the LDL cholesterol people are routinely tested for.  So is the wrong thing really is being routinely tested?  Apolipoprotein B (ApoB) is the protein portion found in LDL.  The test for ApoB measures the concentration of LDL particles in the blood.  Each LDL contains one ApoB protein.  High levels of ApoB is associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.  This is the reason cholesterol levels are checked – to determine risk for cardiovascular disease.

Fats you eat are bound to bile when going through digestion.  Anything not bound to bile to be absorbed and broken down properly, is passed through your system and out the “back door”.  If you have poor fat digestion, low bile (and high cholesterol), you may notice pale, oily and very smelly stools.  Low bile levels are often due to gut not functioning properly, medications or the liver not functioning properly and can lead to issues of not being able to remove excess cholesterol and fats from the body, increased indigestion/reflux, problems with utilisation of the fat-soluble vitamins (such as vitamins D and A) and limiting clearance of hormone and haemoglobin residues via the liver.  Fats, bile levels and cholesterol levels are intrinsically linked.

Absorbed fats you have eaten travel through the thoracic duct as big particles, into the lymphatic system and are released directly into your blood stream (showing as higher LDL cholesterol in your blood test) – they don’t go through your liver.  These large particles (called chylomicrons) float around, gradually breaking down and shrinking until they become LDL (which has more cholesterol now in it than fat).

When they have broken down and become small (LDLs), that is when they head to the liver receptors – after most of the fat has been removed and the cholesterol has been concentrated in the particle.  They are then recycled by the liver, or sent to the cells where they are used for maintenance of cell membranes and to synthesise steroid hormones such as progesterone, glucocorticoids (eg cortisol), mineralocorticoids (eg aldosterone), androgens (eg testosterone), and estrogens.  This is a good thing.

Why did they think high LDL caused atherosclerosis and heart disease?  Due to a study that was discredited YEARS ago.  Correlation is not causation.   Oxidised LDL, combined with inflammatory processes, are likely linked to atherosclerosis development – how the body repairs damage in the arteries caused by inflammation.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *