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Although it tends to be demonized in western medicine, cholesterol is vitally important for your body. Without it, your body wouldn’t be able to create the hormones and nutrients needed for survival. So why does it seem that so many doctors tell us it needs to be as low as possible? In the second episode in a series with “The Great Cholesterol Myth” author Dr. Jonny Bowden, he and the Amens discuss why our current health system tends to steer away from the truth about cholesterol, and why this may be a mistake.
For more info on Dr. Jonny Bowden, visit https://jonnybowden.com/
Daniel Amen, MD:
Welcome to the Brain Warrior’s Way podcast. I’m Dr. Daniel Amen.
Tana Amen, BSN RN:
And I’m Tana Amen. In our podcast, we provide you with the tools you need to become a warrior for the health of your brain and body.
The Brain Warrior’s Way podcast is brought to you by Amen Clinics, where we have been transforming lives for 30 years using tools like brain SPECT imaging to personalize treatment to your brain. For more information, visit amenclinics.com.
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Welcome back. We are still here with our friend, Jonny Bowden. We are having a great time talking about cholesterol of all things in his new book, The Great Cholesterol Myth, revised and expanded. I read the original. It was awesome. Changed the way that I treat myself, what I wrote about, how I thought about nutrition and health. And one question I had in the last episode, Jonny, was why are doctors so resistant to ordering this fractionated test? Why are they still stuck on this old test? We know that the old test is outdated. Why don’t they want to order it?
Jonny Bowden, PhD CNS:
Just a couple of reasons. And most of them don’t have to do with medicine. They have to do with sociology, psychology, being in a rut, following patterns that you’re familiar with, following insurance regulations. So there’s a whole host of things. I mean, maybe in some places, in some practices, insurance doesn’t cover it. That’s one possibility. Another is people don’t like to learn new stuff.
I mean, they’ve got to now learn how to interpret 13 different types of cholesterol and patterns of distribution. And it’s easier to just go LDL, HDL and these things kind of [inaudible [00:01:58]-
There’s more money in seven minute office visits than in 20 minute office visits.
But you’re not helping people.
So I think that’s why people are resistant. But let’s just take a step back. And why cholesterol? Cholesterol has been demonized, when it’s so important. Survival. So talk about that. Why should people care about their cholesterol?
Well, the only reason, and that’s kind of the whole purpose of the book. Cholesterol, first of all, to answer your first question or to support what you just said in your first question, cholesterol is a vitally important molecule. We used to have a TV commercial that used to run, whether this is your brain on drugs, and they would scramble it up and well, your brain without cholesterol, you’re dead.
It’s like you have a balloon and that’s your life and cholesterol, this is your body without cholesterol. Prick that balloon and you got a pricked balloon with no air in it. I mean, there are no cells, there are no hormones. It is one of the most important nutrients or compounds in the human body. It’s in the membranes of the cell. It’s involved in memory and thinking. It’s vitally important in the brain. You need cholesterol. How did it get demonized? That’s a long story that goes back to the 1950s and 60s and a researcher named Ancel Keys and epidemiological studies. And we talk a little in the book about how nutrition studies are done and we show you how the sausage is made. Nutrition studies are terrible. They’re mostly observational. They’re very rarely clinical. They’re almost never able to be replicated.
They’re just not good. And the study that is always used as the cornerstone of the cholesterol theory was a terrible study. It was just an observational study filled with confirmation bias. He had a point of view. He was going to prove that point of view, no matter what. He picked countries that were likely to support that. And it was a big association study. And for those who don’t know what an epidemiological association study is, it’s the opposite of a clinical study, where you have two groups and you match them and you make only one variable different in one group. And then you see if there’s a difference at the end. This is just like, we give a whole bunch of people food questionnaires and we ask them what they ate in the last six months and then we try to see if there’s any correlation to how many people die.
And those are just the studies that hint at a relationship that are supposed to give birth to hypotheses. They’re not supposed to be public policy based on these associations. And the book is filled with statistical associations that are ludicrous, that you can show that association is not causality. For example, my favorite one when I teach this stuff is the consistent relationships, statistical correlation that exists between storks and babies in Denmark for decades. And when I tell people that I said, well, obviously storks bring babies, right? And they all know that’s ridiculous, but when we tell them saturated fat causes heart disease and it’s the same logic they go, well, yeah, that’s true, right? Isn’t it? No, it’s not.
It’s an association that has more holes in it than, you could drive a Mack truck through. So association studies are not clinical, and that’s why all the research that’s come out since 2010, that it’s actually looked at saturated fat and endpoints, not just raising cholesterol, but do people who eat more saturated fat actually have more heart attacks? And study after study starting with 2010, there’s another one in 2014, there was another one in British Medical Journal. There’s a dozen of them by now. They do not. The people who eat more saturated fat don’t have any more heart attacks or deaths than the people who don’t. It’s just a false association.
So I eat a more paleo version of keto. So I do eat a lot of plants, but I mean, I eat a really high fat diet. I mean, like really high fat. And I try to eat pretty healthy fat, but a lot of it is saturated. I would consider more the healthy saturated stuff. But I feel better. I mean, I feel better. I have more energy. My weight is better. I just feel better. [inaudible [00:06:11] sugar and simple carbs. And I would say
And I would say that most people who, what you’re basically doing, I don’t care really about following a keto versus a paleo versus any of the 50 variations in between. You’re eating real food. Paleo diet, by the way, is not keto. It’s actually-
I make mine keto.
But what I was going to say is that people don’t realize the paleo diet is about 65% plant food and 35% animal food. It’s not really a keto or a heavy animal product, it’s mostly plants. That’s what, when they studied it in 1985 and 1989. But the point is that, let me see, there’s a couple of things to unpack. You had mentioned, I try not to eat the bad fats, saturated fat. I would like people to understand that bad fat and good fat does not break down in terms of animal and vegetable. It does not break down in terms of saturated versus unsaturated.
Well, what about grass fed versus not grass fed or like [inaudible [00:07:10] carbohydrates or that kind of stuff.
A little bit. Can we hold that for a second and just clear up the saturated. So a couple of years, four years ago, I wrote another book called Smart Fat that nobody read, it just bombed, but the concept of Smart Fat, which I wrote with Steven Masley was that we should divide fat not into animal versus vegetable, not into saturated versus unsaturated, but into toxic versus non-toxic. So if you take canola oil, which is kind of the poster child for good fat, and it isn’t by the way, it’s a terrible fat. But if you took canola oil or anyone that, unsaturated fat, you put it in a restaurant, like a fast food restaurant, which they did, they got rid of lard and they started using canola. You fry up some food, let it cool. Put it back on the fryer, seven days of that.
And then you thaw it out. That was vegetable oil, it’s as toxic as a cauldron of carcinogens and trans fats, as you can imagine, but it was a vegetable fat. Then on the other hand, if you took the fat from grass fed meat, which is 50% saturated, you can give me, I’ll eat that all day long. So it isn’t really whether it’s saturated or not. Palm oil is a kind of, actually gets a terrible reputation, but it’s really not a bad oil. Coconut oil certainly isn’t. Those are plant-based saturated fats. So we got to stop thinking saturated fat causes heart disease. Toxic fat contributes to heart disease.
I totally agree with that.
How do people know what’s toxic and what’s not? So here we cook with coconut oil-
Avocado oil, macadamia nut oil.
That’s not toxic. And the temperature you’re cooking it at. Those are, the three you mentioned, stand up to high heat very well. So it’s unlikely that you’re going to like hit the smoke point and all of a sudden these things are going to start appearing. Those are really good, healthy fats. Vegetable oil, which is not even vegetable oil, it’s seed oil that’s marketed to be healthy by saying vegetable oil becomes a seed.
Before we have to stop, I want to go back to where we started, which is cholesterol is critical. And where I got interested in this was I started reading studies that said total cholesterol under 160 is associated with depression and suicide and accidents, homicide-
And also higher rates of accidents, fatal accidents.
ADHA. Autism. And I have so many young patients who have low cholesterol. And if you have low cholesterol, so one of mine who actually talked about this on Joe Rogan is Miley Cyrus whose cholesterol always ran low. And I actually give her cholesterol to try to get it normal because when she goes on tour or goes through a stressful period of time, she doesn’t have the precursors to make hormones like cortisol, estrogen and testosterone, because when cholesterol is low, it helps to provide sort of the building blocks for many of your hormones.
Just to add to that. When I first got pregnant, I was in my early thirties and I was really into bodybuilding. So I was super lean. I was totally nazi about my diet. Really, really lean. The leanest I’d ever been, very muscular. And I didn’t think I could get pregnant. So I get pregnant. I find out I’m pregnant. And I, the first trimester, I gained 11 pounds. I was so hungry and I was craving like peanut butter, almond butter, avocados, nuts. I was like eating so much fat. And I went to my doctor and I’m like, I’m so worried about it. It’s like, you’re not supposed to gain as much weight your first trimester. I didn’t feel sick at all. I was just starving. And she goes, it’s because you’re so lean. You don’t have the hormones. Your body is trying to tell you that it needs more, it needs more fat. It needs more cholesterol to support the pregnancy. I was like, oh, that’s so wild. That was pretty wild.
Yeah. And also you didn’t mention this, but correct me if I’m wrong, is it not also the precursor molecule for vitamin D?
We have like a nationwide deficiency in vitamin D. Could it have anything to do with cholesterol lowering medications that half the population is on?
Is that known for affecting vitamin D?
It’s one of the precursors to make it, isn’t it?
If you take the medication, does it affect pregnancy?
So with everybody taking statins, because cholesterol, all we want you to do, those people who are listening, and often the disclaimer is talk to your doctor. Well, talk to your doctor if he or she has read The Great Cholesterol and otherwise-
Or if you’re a functional medicine doctor.
Doctors are human. I had an endocrinologist who I thought at one point was trying to kill me. I was on nine medications. I felt miserable. And this guy was pretty well known. So I found a different doctor. I found a doctor who’s, he calls himself the idiot savant of thyroid up in San Francisco. He does research. And I felt better within two weeks. So just because the doctor tells you something, if you’re not feeling right, it’s your responsibility to be your own advocate.
Couldn’t agree more. You need to be the leader of your own healthcare team. And I couldn’t-
That’s why we write. That’s why Jonny writes, that’s why Tana writes, why I write. So that we can bring you the latest information so you can be your best advocate. So stay with us. We’re going to come back with Dr. Jonny Bowden and talk about things to eat and things to not eat. And you have to actually tell them, this is the test we recommend.
I’m going to. I can’t wait.
It is so important. So what did you learn? And, I’ll give you a secret. Cholesterol is not the devil. It is not evil. It is essential. Write it down, take a picture of it. Post it on any of your social media sites, tag Brain Warrior’s Way podcast, or go to brainwarriorswaypodcast.com, leave us a comment, question or review and we’ll enter you into a drawing to win either The End of Mental Illness or Tana’s new book coming up January 5th, Relentless Courage of a Scared Child.
Oh, I can’t wait.
Stay with us.
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Dr. Daniel Amen:
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