COLORADO SPRINGS — In this Your Healthy Family as part of American Heart Month, we're talking about cholesterol. It’s important to know what your cholesterol level is, and it's always important to have it treated if it's high, but what exactly is a high cholesterol level, and does it always mean you have to change your diet to lower it?
Dr. Kurt Perkins, is a Colorado Springs Doctor of Chiropractic, Certified Chiropractic Wellness Practitioner and a Certified Functional Medicine Practitioner with Dr. Kurt's Place in Colorado Springs.
First, let’s start with an understanding of what cholesterol is. Dr. Kurt says, “Cholesterol is a building block, that's the best way I can put it. It's a building block of vitamin D that we're all concerned about that for immune health. It's a building block for testosterone, and estrogen, progesterones and many hormones as well as cortisol which is our primary stress hormone to get us out of danger and get us to safety quickly.”
A functional medicine approach to high cholesterol is about looking at and taking into consideration all the factors that could lead to someone having high cholesterol. Dr. Kurt explains, “In my world of functional medicine, the body is always doing something intelligent. So often what we label as a symptom, for example high blood pressure or high blood sugars or high cholesterol, in my world it's like - why is that happening? Imagine if you're out hiking and a mountain lion pops out. You want your blood pressure to get up, you want your blood sugars to go up so you can run as fast as you can. You want your blood to clot in case that mountain lion scratches you so you don't bleed out, so context is always key when we're looking at labeling something good or bad or dangerous or harmful. I think that's where the disservice has been without looking at the context of the story of simply here's a lab value, it's high on paper, therefore we have to suppress it. The better question is if I suppress this does this increase health outcomes? That's where you have to step back and look at a whole bunch of other factors to make sure you are not just covering up the check engine light on your dashboard.”
Dr. Kurt points to evidence along these lines dating back to the 1950s and a study called, “Changes in the Serum Cholesterol and Blood Clotting Time in Men Subjected to Cyclic Variation of Occupational Stress” by Meyer Friedmian, AID.D., Ray Rosenman, M.D., and Vernice Carroll, with the technical collaboration of Russell J. Tat, M.D. You can read the entire study (HERE) in the AHA/ASA journals online.
Dr. Kurt shared the cliff notes version with me, explaining, “Hot off the presses from 1957, these guys were looking at what research was coming out back then and that's when the whole fat is causing heart disease, issue was coming out and these guys were like, “There's more to the story.’ They took two groups of accountants, one of corporate accountants and the other were regular tax accountants. We know accountants from the first of the year to June is their busy season. Every two weeks they took their cholesterol levels and like clockwork you could guess, January 31st when corporate taxes are due, the corporate accountants' cholesterol skyrocketed. They also ended up adding blood clotting times to it (the study) because one guy actually died in January from a stroke, so it was like ‘Well, what else is going on?’ After that they started doing clotting times on how fast your blood clots every two weeks. Just like that when cholesterol went up, clotting became faster and the blood would thicken quicker around the times of stress. So around January 31st and April 15th. They also looked at diet, and they had them (study participants) track their diet and nothing changed calorie wise. Percentage of fat protein, carbs, and they looked at their activity levels - which were basically next to nothing because accountants are working 70 or 80 hours a week. There was no (significant) weight fluctuation, the greatest fluctuation was 3 pounds. They took out all these other factors and looked at stress levels, and they could show that cholesterol drastically increases during those higher stress and higher demand times. So high cholesterol isn’t just a dietary thing, and too just blame it on the ingestion of fat, creating high cholesterol, I think is an unfair narrative around it.”
So, to when Dr. Kurt is looking at someone’s cholesterol levels, he says he also looks at other things besides someone's diet. “It's going to be lifestyle-based to have a healthy cholesterol level. When you look at the least adverse events, the actual sweet spot (for cholesterol) is 210 to 249 for almost every age group. The problem is we keep lowering and lowering it (cholesterol recommendations) expecting that to decrease heart disease and it hasn't worked. So, what else are we missing? That's the point I try to bring to my clients and say, ‘Let's step back and look at the whole forest, not just this individual tree or individual leaf - of high cholesterol or this one symptom.”
If you have questions or want more information about what functional medicine is, Dr. Kurt says, feel free to reach out to his staff at Dr. Kurt’s Place (https://morehealthlesshealthcare.com/) anytime.
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