But what about cholesterol?

Cholesterol is nothing less than vital for life. It is vital for development. It is vital for growth. It is vital for reproduction. It is ultimately vital for both life to emerge, and for life to sustain itself. This is not a personal opinion—it is a fact.

Why? Because every membrane of every single cell in your body relies on cholesterol to give it structural integrity. Because every single nerve cell in your brain and every synapse through which nerve impulses are transmitted are mostly made of cholesterol. Because every sex hormone of every woman, man and child is constructed from cholesterol. Simply put: without cholesterol, animal life is impossible. There is not a single person in the world that can or would dispute this—it is simply so.

Does it even make sense to say that cholesterol is important for health, when our very existence and that of every animal life form depend on it? And how in the world can anyone in their right mind even formulate the notion that cholesterol is bad in any way, let alone the cause of a disease, and go as far as suggesting that we should avoid it as much as possible, as well as try to minimise and even suppress our body’s production of it as if it were some kind of poisonous substance whose purpose is to kill us? This is nothing less then absurd—totally and completely absurd.

I wish it were enough to say only this to immediately dispel all false, but firmly held beliefs we hold ‘on the dangers that cholesterol poses to our health’ because they have been given to us, forced upon us over the years, and now ingrained in our conscious mind. But unfortunately, although those few fundamental points about cholesterol mentioned above are more than enough to convince me that the entire anti-cholesterol campaign is at best a huge misunderstand, and at worse the biggest and most lucrative scam in human history, I fear that for most of us who have been thoroughly brainwashed by decades of misinformation campaigns, it will not suffice. So let’s look at this a little more closely, starting with the very basics, so that once you have read this article, you will be a lot better informed than you were, and in fact, almost surely better informed than your family doctor, as medical doctors tend to be pretty ignorant (I’m being lenient) of most things that relate to your health.

No such thing as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ cholesterol

Firstly, cholesterol comes in only one form: there is no such thing as good and bad cholesterol. Whether it is the cholesterol contained in the dark orange yolk of a fresh, free range, organic egg, whether it is the cholesterol synthesised by your liver through a complicated chain of steps that we still do not understand completely, or whether it is the cholesterol produced by the individual cells like the glial cells in the brain, or in any other tissue or organ other than the liver. And yes, this is yet something else that should make us clue in to the fact that cholesterol is vital for survival: unlike almost any other molecule, cholesterol is maybe the only one that probably every cell in every tissue can produce. Amazing, isn’t it? Why would most if not all cells be endowed with this ability, if cholesterol was not of vital importance to their survival as a living entity?

Anyway, there is only one form of cholesterol, and although I am repeating myself, it is very important to make the point as clear as possible: cholesterol is beyond good or bad—it is absolutely vital.

What are LDL and HDL?

Secondly, what is usually referred to as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ cholesterol (the result of a marketing scheme by the pharmaceutical industry), are in fact molecules called lipoproteins. They are proteins that transport lipids in the bloodstream (hence lipo-protein), and in particular cholesterol, to and from tissues in different parts of the body. Cholesterol is a waxy, fatty substance that is not soluble in water and therefore cannot flow in the bloodstream that is mostly water. For this reason it needs to be transported where it is needed by some other molecules: the lipoproteins. It is indeed most unfortunate that we hear about LDL as the ‘bad’, and HDL as the ‘good’ cholesterol. This is not only false, but completely absurd:

LDL stands for Low Density Lipoprotein, and HDL stands for High Density Lipoprotein. The reason why this erroneous association and misguided use of these terms came about—beyond that marketing scheme intent on making us believe that there is some bad agent in our blood that we need to get rid of by taking drugs—is based on the fact that one of the functions of LDL molecules is to transport cholesterol from the liver, where most of it is manufactured, to cells and tissues that need it for repair and regeneration. Since LDL helps to carry cholesterol out from the liver and into the bloodstream to tissues, in thinking that cholesterol in the blood should be minimised, then this is clearly a terrible thing. Hence LDL was dubbed the ‘bad’ cholesterol. Does this makes any sense? Not the slightest.

Why does the liver produce this complex cholesterol molecule, and why is there LDL to carry it from the liver to the organs and tissues of our body? Because cholesterol is necessary for the manufacture, maintenance and repair of the membrane of every single one of the 50 trillion cells in the body.

Naturally, for a molecule as important, as complex to synthesise, and therefore as precious as cholesterol, the organism has evolved a way to collect and reuse it: obviously, the three R’s, Reduce (the need for synthesis), Reuse and Recycle (everything you can). One of the roles of the HDL carrier molecules is to scavenge around for unneeded or surplus cholesterol and bring it back to the liver. Once more, in the mindset that cholesterol in the blood should be minimised—beyond the clever trick to introduce the essential protagonist to counter the bad LDL, for if there is a bad guy there naturally must be a good guy—since HDL helps to carry cholesterol from the bloodstream back to liver, this must be a good thing. Hence HDL was dubbed the ‘good’ cholesterol. Does this makes any sense? Not the slightest.

So we know that one of the the roles of LDL and HDL molecules—certainly the most obvious one—is to transport cholesterol from the liver to cells and tissues, and back to it for reuse and recycling or breakdown into other molecules. LDL and HDL work together as essential partners in the cholesterol transport system. But do these lipoproteins have other roles in the complex biochemistry of the human body? Indeed they do.

HDL and LDL: beyond cholesterol transport

As incredible as this may possibly sound to you if you are still brain-washed by the anti-cholesterol campaigns intended to convince you to eat more highly processed, tasteless, odourless, chemically altered and typically rancid vegetable oils, as well as to start taking ‘life-saving’ statin drugs, compiling all the data we have from studies that measured lipoprotein levels in the blood and death rates, we find that the lowest mortality from all diseases occurs in people with total lipoprotein levels between 200 and 240, centred on 220 mg/dl. These are age-corrected data, so as we age levels should gradually rise. But that’s not the only thing we find from looking at this graph of compiled data: there is an inverse relationship between lipoprotein levels and mortality such that the lower the lipoprotein levels are, the higher the death rate! and this for all diseases—infectious, parasitic and cardiovascular. To those who know what HDL and LDL molecules do, this is not surprising at all. It is, in fact, perfectly sensible.

As much as some may believe that the main role of LDL and HDL molecules is to carry cholesterol to and from tissues for cellular maintenance and repair, some would argue that their main role is not simple transport of cholesterol, but in fact, it is to protect the organism from bacterial and viral pathogens. It is firmly established that lipoproteins bind to endotoxins to inactivate them and protect against their toxic effects that include arterial wall inflammation. Endotoxins are part of the outer membrane of the cell wall of Gram-negative bacteria such as Escherichia coli, Salmonella, Shigella, Pseudomonas, Neisseria, Haemophilus influenzae, Bordetella pertussis and Vibrio cholerae, all of which can cause severe, well known diseases. In addition, lipoproteins also protect against viruses like hepatitis B, and consequently in this case, against cancer and other diseases of the liver as reported here. There are many scientific publications on this and related topics, but most are quite complicated. (If you are interested in this kind of thing, you can look at this article, and browse through the long list of references. For those interested in bacteriology, I found a great free online textbook by Kenneth Todar of the University of Wisconsin.)

The essential point to remember, however, is that the lipoproteins LDL and HDL play a very important role in our immune system by neutralising harmful toxins released from the activity of pathogenic bacteria and viruses, thus protecting us from infectious diseases and the related chronic inflammation. This is why people with higher levels of lipoproteins LDL and HDL live longer and healthier lives.

Cholesterol and the brain

Although all cell membranes rely on cholesterol for structural integrity, neurons or brain cells are highly enriched in cholesterol that makes up more than 20% of their dry weight. The importance of this enrichment can be appreciated when we consider that our brain accounts for about 2% of our body weight, but it contains about 25% of the cholesterol in the body. This means that the concentration of cholesterol in the brain is 12.5 times higher than the average bodily concentration. Isn’t this enough to convince you of the extreme importance of cholesterol for proper brain functions?

As elsewhere in the body, cholesterol is found in the cell membrane—for brain cells this is the myelin sheaths that insulate them. But in addition, and maybe more importantly, cholesterol is the main constituent of the synapses through which nerve impulses are transmitted from one neurons to another. And contrary to common wisdom that lipoproteins cannot cross the blood-brain barrier, and therefore brain cholesterol must be synthesised in the brain, it has been shown that if something prevents brain cells from synthesising the precious cholesterol, then they use whatever they can get from the lipoproteins circulating in the blood.

With all of this in mind, is it surprising that when cholesterol synthesis is partially or completely de-activated using statin drugs, some of the most common symptoms seen are memory loss, dizziness, mental fog, slowing reflexes, etc., all of which are obviously related to brain function? Is it surprising that Alzheimer’s patients tend to have lower cholesterol levels both in the blood and in the brain? Well, no. It’s not.

For me, there is no need to go further: I want to have a brain that is provided with all the fat and cholesterol is needs to function to best of its abilities for as long as I am alive. If you want to learn more about the incredibly detrimental effects of cholesterol-reducing drugs, you should read any or all of Dr Duane Graveline‘s books: Lipitor: Thief of Memory, Statin Drugs Side Effect and the Misguided War on Cholesterol, and Statin Damage Crisis. I also stumbled upon this article in the Wall Street Journal (out of all places), that describes how important cholesterol is for the brain, and hence, how damaging cholesterol-lowering drugs can be.

Cholesterol and hormones

What more needs to be said to emphasise the importance of cholesterol for healthy hormonal function than that all steroid hormones are made from it. Steroid hormones, as the names suggests, are steroids that act as hormones. Hormones are messenger molecules that tell cells what to do and when to do it. To carry out their function—to pass on their message—they must reach the nucleus of the cell. But to reach the well protected nucleus and bind to specific receptors in it, hormones must pass through the fatty cellular membrane. For this reason, hormones are made of fat: they are lipids. Since lipids are not water soluble, as is the case of cholesterol, hormones rely on specialised proteins to transport them in the bloodstream throughout the body.

There are 5 groups of steroid hormones: glucocorticoids, mineralocorticoids, androgens, oestrogens and progestogens, as well the closely related hormones that we refer to as Vitamin D. Each one of these is a family of hormones responsible for regulating the metabolism related to a specific group of substances.

Glucocorticoids are steroids produced in the adrenal gland, and responsible for glucose metabolism. Cortisol is maybe the most important of glucocorticoids as it is absolutely essential for life, regulating or supporting a variety of important cardiovascular, metabolic, immunologic, and homeostatic functions.

Mineralocorticoids are responsible for the regulation minerals, the most important of which are sodium and potassium. The primary such hormone is aldosterone that acts on the kidneys to regulate reabsorption of sodium and water from the blood, as well as secretion of potassium. These two minerals are required in the well known sodium-potassium pump that continuously, for every single cell, work to ensure that the concentration of sodium stays higher outside, while the concentration of potassium stays higher inside the cell. This is crucial for its proper function. In addition, it is through the sodium-potassium pump that glucose is transported from the bloodstream into the cell.

Androgens, oestrogens and progestogens are sex hormones. It is needless to say that they must all be in good balance for proper development and physiological function, as well as psychological health in both males and females. It is important to emphasise that although we typically associate the main androgen, testosterone, with men, this hormone plays a very important role in muscle development and inhibition of fat deposition, both of which are clearly of great value to women as well. There are also several psychological factors regulated by the concentration and relative balance of male and female sex hormones such as assertiveness, motivation, self-confidence, on the one hand, and calm, caring and compassion, on the other. Interestingly, the most important oestrogens are derived from androgens through the action of enzymes. Therefore a deficiency in androgens will naturally lead to a corresponding deficiency in oestrogenic hormones. As is well known, oestrogens regulate all aspects of the reproductive system in women. Phychologically, low oestrogen levels are associated with depression and hyper-sensitivity in females, and insecurity and obsessive compulsive type of behaviours in males. Progestogens are most important in their role in maintaining pregnancy (pro-gestation) and are therefore most important for women. They are, however, rather special hormones because progestogens are precursors to all other steroids. All steroid producing tissues such as the adrenals, ovaries and testes, must therefore be able to produce progestogens.

To learn more about hormones, their importance, their effects and how to bring them into balance through diet, I recommend the Hormone Solution (english) or Le regime hormone (french) by Thierry Hertoghe, MD.

Too much cholesterol?

There is no such thing as too much cholesterol. The body produces exactly what it needs depending on the conditions, and as such, the amount in circulation is a consequence of other factors. Lipoprotein levels, reflecting the amount of cholesterol in circulation, are a function of genetics and of the state of the body. Genetic tendencies are what they are. The state of the body, as far as cholesterol is concerned, means primarily the condition of the tissues. And the condition of the tissues reflects the amount of damage they sustain in relation to the amount of repair that takes place: in other words, the rate of ageing. Since cholesterol gives cell membranes strength and integrity, it is needed to repair and rebuild cells: the more cellular reproduction as in growing children, the more cholesterol is needed; the more damage to cells, the more cholesterol is needed. The damage sustained by tissues is mostly from glycation, free-radicals and chronic inflammation, all of which are intimately related because blood sugar triggers both free-radical production and inflammatory processes, but inflammation also arises from the action of toxins and infectious agents like viruses and bacteria.

Refined and starchy carbohydates and chemically unstable polyunsaturated vegetable oils both directly cause glycation, free-radical damage and chronic inflammation. They should be eliminated from the diet—from everyone’s diet. Doing this is the only truly effective way to minimise tissue damage and ageing, maximise repairing and rebuilding, and as a consequence, minimise risks of degenerative diseases. It will also normalise cholesterol synthesis and usage, and bring lipoprotein levels into their optimal range, completely naturally because, once more: cholesterol needs and lipoprotein concentrations are always a consequence of other factors. They should never be tampered with and manipulated, because intervention of this kind can only and will inevitably lead to problems.

Further readings on cholesterol

If you want to learn more about cholesterol, I recommend to first read the short and light-hearted book by Malcolm Kendrick, MD, entitled The Great Cholesterol Con subtitled The truth about what really causes heart disease and how to avoid it. Beyond showing that cholesterol and saturated fat are not in any way causes of heart disease, this author presents convincing evidence that, in fact, it is psychological stress that is surely one of the main causes of heart disease.

After reading this, if you want to read a complete analysis of all the studies related in some way to heart disease that is also very accessible to a general readership, you should read the much longer but very thorough book by Anthony Colpo, revealingly also entitled The Great Cholesterol Con, but subtitled Why everything you’ve been told about cholesterol, diet and heart disease is wrong! Beyond the thorough review of the literature and clearly explained conclusions, the author looks at all major factors demonstrably linked to the causes of heart disease.

For a shorter but more technical review and close look at the cholesterol and saturated fat related scientific literature, you should read Fat and Cholesterol are Good for You by Uffe Ravnskov, MD, PhD. Beyond also showing that cholesterol and saturated fats are not in any way the cause of heart disease, this author makes a case for infectious disease as the root cause of arterial inflammation, buildup of plaque, and eventually heart disease. His line of arguments is also quite convincing.

The excellent book by Gary Taubes, Good Calories, Bad Calories, is a thorough review of 150 years of diet-related medical history, especially in what relates to obesity and diabetes, but also heart disease. The writing style is that of a good science writer, as is the author. There is a full analysis of the lipid hypothesis of heart disease, followed by a full analysis of the carbohydrate hypothesis of heart disease. And although there more of an emphasis on the detrimental effects of eating carbohydrates, there is naturally considerable discussion of all points that relate to cholesterol and saturated fats.

Lastly, this is an excellent web site on cholesterol, full of interesting and well-researched articles: http://www.cholesterol-and-health.com and an excellent interview here.

Why Oh Why?

Why is it then, that most of us believe cholesterol is bad? Why do most of us believe we should, not sometimes, but always avoid foods that contain cholesterol or saturated fats that seem to help the body manufacture cholesterol? Because we have been told that it is. Nothing more complicated than that. We have been told this absurd, unfounded and outright dangerous story that is in fact a lie, and we believe it. Why have we been made to believe this? The answer is two-fold: bad science, bad scientists and egos, on the one hand, and on the other, money: lots and lots of money. In fact, more than 29 000 000 000 dollars worth of money.

For the ‘bad science’ part I will only say this: It is true that the accumulation of plaque can lead to heart disease. It is also true that plaque is very cholesterol-rich. However, the reason why plaque is formed is because the arterial tissue is damaged and needs to be repaired. The cholesterol-rich plaque is like a scab whose role is to allow the damaged tissue to heal. And just as a scab, once the tissue is healed, it ‘falls off’ and is brought back to the liver for recycling. The cholesterol is part of the healing agent: the cure, so to speak. The damage to the tissue comes from other things, wether it is inflammatory endotoxins released from pathogenic bacteria, cigarette smoking-related chemicals, or maybe most importantly glucose sticking haphazardly to proteins, damaging the arterial walls and forming advanced glycation end-products or AGEs for short, cholesterol is the bandage meant to help the tissue heal—not the cause of the problem.

For the ‘money’ part, I will have to write a few more paragraphs. In the 1950s the vegetable oil industry found a way to hydrogenate inexpensive liquid vegetable oil made from soy and corn into firm shortening. This gave them the perfect means to compete for, and indeed takeover a large share of the market that had traditionally been held by the dairy (butter), meat (lard) or coconut and palm oil producers to which they did not have a way to tap into. With hydrogenation, they were able to produce butter substitutes (margarines), as well as lard and tropical oil substitutes (shortenings), and offer them at a mere fraction of the price of the original products with the potential of making enormous profits with their sale on a national and in some cases international scales. Therefore, unfortunately, but not so surprisingly, many of the large scale trials in the field of dietary science carried out in the 60s, 70s and 80s were funded by the vegetable oil industry.

The money that the vegetable oil industry must have made and still makes the world over, however, is probably nothing in comparison to the billions raked in every year by a handful of pharmaceutical manufacturers that produce and sell the cholesterol-lowering statins. In 2003, the best selling prescription drug in the world was Pfizer’s Lipitor with sales of 9.2 billion dollars (that’s more than 25 million per day). And in 2009 statin sales generated a staggering 25 billion dollars in revenues, and this figure has been rising since the very beginning of statin sales in the 1990s.

But doctors don’t have anything to gain from this, do they? Well, no, not really. But for one thing, doctors are usually not research scientist, and thus they are generally not only very poorly informed about health-related matters, but also unable or simply uninterested in reading books written by specialists on various health topics, let alone in reading the often technical and complicated scientific literature.

To make matters worse, 75% of clinical trials are funded by pharmaceutical companies, and therefore about 75% of all published medical papers also derive from pharmaceutical funding. Finally, the vast majority of conferences and workshops that doctors are invited to attend, all expenses paid of course, to keep them informed of the latest and greatest developments in medical science are also usually fully funded by the pharmaceutical. It goes without saying that what is presented at these conferences naturally serves their interests that are obviously purely financial.

I think you get the picture, but if you want to read more about this, all of the independent researchers and authors mentioned above: Malcolm Kendrick (The Great Cholesterol Con) and Uffe Ravnskov (Cholesterol and Fat are Good for You) who both practice medicine and have thus experienced this first hand, as well as Gary Taubes (Good Calories, Bad Calories) and Anthony Colpo (a different The Great Cholesterol Con) have some things to say about corporate involvement in clinical trials. Obviously, you can also search the internet to your heart’s content.

Final words

I certainly hope I have succeeded in convincing you that cholesterol is not in the least harmful, and that it is, in fact, absolutely vital to your health: vital for your hormonal system, vital for your immune system, vital for your brain, and vital for every cell in your body.

I also hope I have convinced you that it is not only the case that everything you have been told that incriminates either cholesterol or LDL as causing heart disease or any other ailment is wrong, but that you should actually do whatever you can to maintain optimal lipoprotein levels around 220 mg/dl, and supply your body with ample amounts of health-promoting fats, increasing your intake of coconut oil (the most healthful of all fats), as well as fat-soluble vitamins and cholesterol from organic eggs from free range, grass-and-insect eating hens (preferably raw in smoothies in order not to damage any of the fats or proteins), butter and fatty cheeses (highly preferably made from unpasteurized milk to maximise digestibility), and grass-fed meats if you are not vegetarian or vegan. But here, and as always, the most important and fundamental health-promoting thing to do is to eliminate insulin-stimulating carbohydrates.

Minerals and bones, calcium and heart attacks

Asking Robert Thompson, M.D., author of The Calcium Lie, what causes atherosclerosis and heart disease, he would most likely say that it is the accumulation of calcium in the veins and arteries, but also everywhere else in the body, that leads to a hardening of the tissues, and eventually to the complete stiffening of the blood vessels that inevitably leads to heart attack. He might add that this calcification of the body comes from an imbalance in the amount of calcium that is consumed compared with that of all the other essential minerals required for proper bodily function.

He would also be quick to point out that based on a huge database of about one million results of detailed hair mineral analysis, about 90% of the population is deficient in most if not all elements of the spectrum of essential minerals we need for optimal health, while being over-calcified. Dr Thompson would probably also say that a majority of the conditions that lead to disease, no matter what form it takes, are rooted in mineral deficiencies. Naturally, given that all deficiencies grow with time unless something is done to address the problem, how can this fundamental issue not be related to ageing.

Just as the amount of water in our body and cells tends to decrease with age, so do both bone mineral content and density, as well as the specific hormones like calcitonin and parathyroid hormone. Calcitonin helps fix calcium in the bones, and parathyroid hormone removes calcium from bones when it is required for other purposes. Their main roles is to regulate the amount of calcium to fix in our bones, and their delicate balance depends on factors mostly related to diet and nutrition, but we know that it is intimately linked to Vitamin D levels.

We also know that uric acid tends to accumulate in the tissues throughout the body with time, making every soft tissue stiffer and making our every movement more difficult and painful as we get older, and that an acidic environment tends to leach out minerals from the bones. So what causes bone loss: dropping levels of hormones, dropping levels of Vitamin D, increasing levels of uric acid, increasing mineral deficiencies, all of these, other things?

Thompson repeats throughout his book: “bones are not made of calcium, they are made of minerals”. What minerals? Calcium and phosphorus, yes, but also sodium, sulfur, magnesium, potassium, copper, iodine, zinc, iron, boron, and more. Calcium accounts for about 30% of the mineral content of bone, but phosphate (PO4) makes up about 50% of the bone mass. And in fact, what makes bone hard is calcium phosphate Ca3(PO4)2(OH)2, which immediately shows that it is the balance of calcium and phosphorous intake and absorption—mostly regulated by Vitamin D, which is of vital importance for bone strength and rigidity.

However, it is essential to understand that it is the presence and balance of all of the 84 essential minerals found in unrefined sea or rock salt that are required for optimal overall health, which includes the health of our bones. And remember that table salt contains 97.5% sodium chloride and 2.5% chemical additives, whereas unrefined sea salt from the French Atlantic contains 84% sodium chloride, 14% moisture, and 2% trace-minerals (follow the links to see the chemical analysis of Celtic Sea Salt, Himalayan, and a comparison of the two).

Therefore, one of our primary aims when choosing the foods we eat should be to maximise mineral content. Since Nature’s powerhouses of nutrition, the foods with the highest mineral content and nutritional density are seeds, nuts, sea vegetables, and dark green leafy vegetables, in that order, these are the foods that we should strive to eat as much of as we can in order to always provide the body with maximum amount of minerals that we can. Unrefined sea or rock salt should also be eaten liberally for a total of at least 1-2 teaspoons per day with 2-4 litres of water. (And no, salt does not cause hypertension or any other health problems of any kind, and never has.)

Now, maximising our intake of minerals through our eating of mineral-dense foods, how can we ensure maximum absorption of these minerals? Two key elements are Vitamin D, and fats, especially saturated fats.

Vitamin D is so extremely important for so many things that I simply refer you to the non-profit Vitamin D Council web page for long hours of reading on everything related to Vitamin D. I will just quote the following as an extremely short introduction to it:

Vitamin D is not really a vitamin, but one of the oldest prohormones, having been produced by life forms for over 750 million years. Phytoplankton, zooplankton, and most animals that are exposed to sunlight have the capacity to make vitamin D.

In humans, vitamin D is critically important for the development, growth, and maintenance of a healthy body, beginning with gestation in the womb and continuing throughout the lifespan. Vitamin D’s metabolic product, 1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D (calcitriol), is actually a secosteroid hormone that is the key which unlocks binding sites on the human genome. The human genome contains more than 2,700 binding sites for calcitriol; those binding sites are near genes involved in virtually every known major disease of humans.

Vitamin D is one of, if not the most important substance for optimal health. I take between 25000 and 50000 IU per day, which is approximately the amount produced from about 30 minutes of full body exposure to midday sun for a caucasian. But for the purpose of this discussion on minerals and bones, it is enough to know that vitamin D plays an crucial role in regulating how much calcium and phosphorus is absorbed in the intestine and ultimately fixed in the bones.

On fats there is so much to say that it will have to be for another post. You could read The truth about saturated fats by Mary Enig, PhD, on this coconut oil website that has links to many other interesting articles on fats. And remember that coconut oil is by far the best fat to consume, but more on this another time. But once more, the essential thing to remember is that the more fat there is in the intestines, the more minerals (and antioxidants) will be absorbed into the bloodstream.

Now, what is ageing if it is not the gradual decay of the body and its systems. Given that everything in the body is constituted and constructed from the food we eat and water we drink, isn’t it utterly obvious that in order to maintain the bodymind as healthy as possible for as long as possible it is absolutely essential to ensure that it is always perfectly hydrated by drinking plenty of water before meals, maximise the nutrition density and mineral content of the foods we eat, and minimise intake of harmful substances that disrupt or damage the delicate inner workings of this bodymind? I certainly think so.

Water, ageing and disease

Thinning skin, drying hair, wrinkles, brown spots here and there, patches of discolouration. Sagging eye lids, sagging cheeks, sagging skin all over the body. Loss of bone mass, loss of muscle mass. Stiffening joints, stiffening muscles, stiffening tendons and ligaments, stiffening veins and arteries. Weakness, tiredness, aching. Loss of memory, loss of concentration, loss of intellectual capacity, dullness. Metabolic syndrome, diabetes, senility, dementia, Alzheimer’s, arthritis, elevated cholesterol, atherosclerosis, stroke, kidney failure, liver failure, heart failure, cancer.

Are all these symptoms, these conditions, independent from one another? Are they different? Do they arise spontaneously and develop on their own? Do they just fall upon us unpredictably as rain does? Or are they consequences of more basic factors that elude most of us.

If we could ask the late Dr. Batmanghelidj (1931-2004), M.D., about ageing and disease, he would surely say that its primary cause is the cumulative effects of chronic dehydration on the body, and the plethora of consequences that this brings about. This chronic dehydration that only increases in severity with time, gives rise to so many problems.

But independently of anyone’s opinion, it is an observational fact is that when we are born, the body is 90% water, but when we die, it is only 50% water. Doesn’t this tell us something? Doesn’t this tell us that ageing and dying could be considered as a process of gradual dehydration?

The main way in which we provide water to the body is by drinking. And all of the nutrients required to sustain the body come from the foods we eat. Therefore, the digestive system is truly at the root of it all. As I explained in this previous post on the important of water in the digestive system, the direct consequences of not drinking adequately on an empty stomach long enough before eating, are the poor digestion of food, and the damage caused to the lining of the stomach and intestines that eventually lead to ulcers and leaky gut syndrome.

But poor digestion of food means improper break down of protein into amino acids, and the deficiency in the full range of these essential compounds necessary for so many functions in the brain and in every cell of the body. Poor digestion of food means improper break down of fats into their constituent fatty acids that provide not only the primary source of energy, but also the very building blocks of the membrane of every single cell in the body. Poor digestion of food means improper absorption of minerals and the complex molecules we call vitamins, that together with the proteins and fats are used not only in building all the tissues in the body, but also in every single chemical reaction, transport and communication between cells and tissues. Over time, poor digestion and damage to the digestive organs leads to the permanent loss of the ability to absorb certain minerals and vitamins. There is no doubt that this leads to complications that will manifest in various complex ways.

The lack of water in the digestive system leads to a lack of water in the bloodstream. The blood gradually thickens, its volume decreases, and its viscosity increases. This increases the friction between the blood and the walls of the blood vessels, and therefore the resistance in the flow. The heart is now under severe stress as it attempts to pump this thick, viscous, sticky blood to all parts of the body, and through all the vessels from the largest arteries to the narrowest almost microscopic veins. But this intense efforts by the heart also stressed the vessels themselves. Stress on the vessels leads to lesions. Lesions lead to plaques whose purpose is to patch up and heal the damaged tissues. The accumulation of such plaques, whose spontaneous bursting causes strokes, leads to atherosclerosis that eventually leads to heart failure. Pretty grim picture, isn’t it? But far from being complete yet.

The lack of sufficient amounts of water in the bloodstream obviously means that every organ and every cell of the body gradually becomes more and more dehydrated over time. For the cell, water is by far the most important substance, it is the context in which absolutely everything takes place, and on which everything depends. In order to maintain as much of this precious water as is possible, every single cell starts to produce more cholesterol to seal its membrane a well as possible and keep and protect its water. This is why dehydration leads to the appearance of excessive amounts of cholesterol, which in this case is the cell’s essential water preservation mechanism.

The lack of sufficient amounts of water in the bloodstream is particularly detrimental to the articulations. The joints of the body, all those areas where out limbs bend, are a complex assemblage of tissues whose primary component is cartilage. Cartilage is a kind of a simple matrix that holds water. It is the water content of the cartilage that gives it its suppleness and flexibility, allowing it to protect the bones from rubbing against each other in the joints when we move. It is well known that as we age, all of our joints and cartilage dries out, and we develop what we call arthritis. But is this because we are getting older, or is it because we are getting more and more dehydrated with every passing day? Is arthritis a disease of ageing or is it a consequence of chronic dehydration?

The amazing thing is that the only way to bring water to the cartilage in the joints to maintain their flexibility and prevent their degradation is through the porous ends of the bones to which the cartilage is attached. And the only way to bring water to the end of the bone is through its marrow. And the only way to bring water to the marrow is by way of the blood. Therefore, to prevent the gradual dehydration and subsequent breaking down of the cartilage in the joints, the blood must be well hydrated: thin, easy flowing and full of water.

And what does all this mean for the rest of the body? By weight, the muscles are 75% water; the blood is 82% water; the lungs are 90% water; the brain, the primary element of the central nervous system, is 78% water; even the bones are 25% water. So, it’s pretty simple: as dehydration increases over time, all organs, all tissues and all cells suffer, shrink, weaken, and succumb ever more easily to disease, whatever form it may take.

Dr. Batmanghelidj presents a convincing line of arguments linking breathing and lung disorders like asthma and allergies to chronic dehydration, and also believes that the dehydration of brain and nerve cells whose composition is also mostly water, leads to disorders of the central nervous system such as Alzheimer’s disease.

And the skin? Think about any fruit or vegetable that you place on a shelf in the fridge, like an apple, a carrot or a radish, and leave there for a long time. It will gradually soften, then start to wrinkle, and with time continue to soften and wrinkle more and more until it is nothing but a tiny little dry out thing. Moreover, you may also have noticed that if you take a partially dehydrated carrot or radish, for example, cut them and place them in water for a while, they will re-hydrate by refilling all the cells with water, and in so doing become hard and crunchy once again. However, if you wait too long, then no matter how much time you leave them in water, the cells will not re-hydrate. Logically, since our water content is similar to a fruit or vegetable, what happens to the body is probably very similar, and hence gradual the softening, wrinkling, weakening, and overall degradation of the bodymind at the days and years go by.

Obviously, this does not mean that by drinking enough pure water—no other liquids can be substituted for water—to ensure that the bodymind is well hydrated we will not age. Of course not. But at least, we will ensure that ageing and all the consequences associated with ageing are not accelerated by dehydration. The last thing we want is to accelerate our rate of ageing and our susceptibility to disease.

The truth is that for most living beings on Earth, water is life. There is no question about this. We and most terrestrial animals are constituted of about 60-70% water and 30-40% minerals—by mass. But in fact, in terms of the number of molecules in our bodies, we are 99% water! Can we grasp the significance of this? Can we now realise what dire consequences the slightest dehydration can cause to every cell, every tissue, every organ, and every system of the body? It is hard to quantify, but it is huge. And coming back to our initial question: are ageing and disease different? Are they related? What do you think?

Although chronic dehydration is so common that it is generalised, avoiding dehydration is very simple: drink water and unsweetened herbal teas or light green tea. Don’t drink coffee, black tea or alcohol-containing beverages because caffein and alcohol promote the excretion of free water, and therefore cause dehydration. Don’t drink sweet drinks, juices or sodas; these are full of sugar, including large amounts of fructose, that totally disrupt both the hormonal system and the metabolism, promoting hormonal imbalances and insulin resistance. Don’t drink milk; this is a food containing fats, proteins and carbohydrates that trigger all the required digestive processes that further exacerbate the problems associates with chronic dehydration. Just drink pure, clean, filtered water.

At the very least, drink half a litre when you get up in the morning (7:00), half a litre mid-morning (10:30), half a litre 30 minutes before lunch (12:30), half a litre in the late afternoon (16:30), and half a litre 30 minutes before dinner (18:30). Take a pinch of unrefined sea salt on at least some of the occasions when you drink to reach total of about 2 teaspoons over the course of the day, including the salt taken with the meals.

Why we should drink water before meals

We all need to drink at least about two litres of water every day. Not juice, not sodas, not coffee, not tea: plain water. None of these other liquids have the properties of water, nor do they have the desirable effects of water on the body. Most of us don’t however, and so we are chronically dehydrated. Whether it is 75% or as high as 90%, it is evident that a very large portion of the population is chronically dehydrated.

The digestive system can be viewed as the most fundamental because everything used to sustain life in the body goes through it. In a very real sense, we are a digestive system, supplemented by a central nervous system and refined sense organs to allow us to devise ways to get food (and avoid being eaten), coupled to a refined locomotor system to allow us to gather the food (and run away when it is needed). Since every component of every cell in the body is made from the nutrients in our food, it is obvious that everything in the body depends on the digestive system. And for the digestive system, the single-most important element is the presence of ample amounts of water.

As soon as we even think about eating, the digestive system starts to get ready. The pancreas secretes a little jolt of insulin just in case carbohydrates come in, and the stomach starts to produce the highly acidic digestive gastric juice (pH of 1-2). This gastric juice is composed of only a little bit (0.5%) of hydrochloric acid (HCl) and a lot of salt, both sodium chloride (NaCl) and potassium chloride (KCl). The stomach has sensor cells to know exactly how much protein, fat and carbohydrates are present at any given time, and thus can adjust the production and composition of the gastric juice.

Although present in very small amounts, the hydrochloric acid is the essential compound for activating the enzymes responsible for breaking down protein, which is its main purpose because both fats and carbohydrates are mostly broken down in the intestine. But to make it to the stomach without causing any damage along the way, the two constituents of this highly corrosive acid, the hydrogen (H) and the chlorine ions (Cl), are produced separately and transported to the inside of the stomach where they combine to form the acid.

The delicate lining of the stomach with all its different kinds of highly specialised cells, is protected from the acidic gastric juice by an alkaline layer of mucus. This mucus is between 90 and 98% water, with some binding molecules and a few other components. It can be regarded as a blanket of water whose primary role in the stomach is to protect its lining from the gastric acid. The very thin mucosa that produces and maintains the mucus layer, also secretes sodium bicarbonate that sits in it, and neutralises the acid upon contact when it penetrates the layer, leaving only sodium chloride (salt), water and carbon dioxide. The neutralisation reaction is simple: HCl + NaHCO3 -> NaCl + H2O + CO2.

As we get progressively more dehydrated, not only are the stomach cells incapable of releasing adequate amounts of water into the stomach in order to allow for the proper mixing of the food and acid into chyme with the optimal consistency, but the thickness of the protective mucus layer decreases, thus allowing the acidic contents to damage the fragile lining. This is what eventually leads to stomach ulcers, according to a well known specialist in the matter, Dr Batmanghelidj, author of Your Body’s Many Cries for Water.

The contents of the stomach are churned and blended between one and three hours depending on the amount and composition, until the chyme is liquified and smooth, at which point it is poured into the duodenum, the first part of the small intestine. It is in the small intestine that the real work of the break down and absorption of nutrients into the bloodstream takes place over a period of about 24 hours. The sensor cells in the duodenum will immediately determine the pH and composition of the chyme in order to send the messenger hormones to the pancreas to secrete the right amount of the alkaline, watery sodium bicarbonate solution necessary to neutralize the acid, and to the liver to secrete the right amount of bile needed for the breakdown of fats.

And even though the pancreas is known primarily for its role in producing and secreting insulin needed to clear the bloodstream of sugar, it is arguably its role in secreting this alkaline solution that is the most important. Indeed, as the duodenum does not have a protective layer of mucus as the stomach, it is this sodium bicarbonate solution that protects it and the rest of the small intestine from the devastating effects that the highly acidic chyme can have on it.

However, just as even partial dehydration causes the protective mucus layer in the stomach to dry out and shrink, making it permeable to the gastric acid that eats away at the delicate soft tissues, dehydration also causes the pancreas to be unable to secrete as much of the watery sodium bicarbonate solution as is required to fully neutralise the acidic chyme that, therefore, also damages the intestine. In fact, that there are several times more cases of duodenal as there are stomach ulcers attests to the reality that the lining of the intestine is all that much more fragile as it is unprotected and thus directly exposed to the excessively acidic chyme.

Therefore, water is of the utmost importance in protecting the lining of the stomach and intestine from the acid required for the break down of proteins into amino acids. Water is of the utmost importance for proper digestion and absorption of the nutrients in the food. And hence, water is of the utmost importance in maintaining a healthy digestive system meal after meal, day after day, and year after year throughout our life.

We must make sure that the body and digestive system are properly hydrated before eating. And for this, all we need to do is drink half a litre of plain water 30 minutes before meals, and not drink during nor after the meal for two to four hours.

Drinking during or soon after a meal will only dilute the chyme, making it excessively watery. This will not lower the pH, because water does not neutralise acid. It is best to ensure proper hydration prior to the start of the digestive process, providing the water necessary for the mucosa and pancreas to function optimally, and allow the stomach to adjust the water content of the chyme on its own. I personally usually wait two hours after a snack or small meal, and at least three to four hours after a large meal.

The time needed for the chyme to leave the stomach through the pyloric sphincter and enter the duodenum depends on its amount and composition. For example, fruit or any other food consisting mostly of simple sugars eaten on an empty stomach will make it into the intestine, and the sugar into the blood, in a matter of minutes: Since there is no protein, no acid is required for its breakdown in the stomach; and since there is no fat, no bile is required to break it down in the intestine.

Naturally, the time needed for the stomach to process a small meal will be less than that needed to process a large meal of more or less equal composition. In fact, given that our stomach is a very small pouch with an empty volume of about 50 ml, and a full volume of about 1 litre (up to a max of 2-3 litres when it is really extended),  the time needed for large meals increases substantially and disproportionately compared to smaller meals.

What to eat: four basic rules

Without air, we die within a few minutes. On the whole, we have a limited influence on the quality of the air we breathe at home and even less at the office. There are many things we can do to minimise the pollutants released in the air from the building materials and the things we buy and use, but the outside air quality is as it is. Nonetheless, it has been shown that the concentration of harmful pollutants in the air is always greater indoors than outdoors, sometimes remarkably so: 100 times or more, (mostly for chemicals found in “cleaning” products). Therefore, as a general rule we should always maximise ventilation of our indoor spaces with fresh, outside air.

Without water, we die within a few days. And although it would be ideal to drink fresh, highly oxygenated and molecularly ordered, living water from a deep mineral spring in pristinely pure mountains unexposed to industrial pollutants, this is rarely possible. However, with a high quality water filter, preferably without synthetic materials, we can ensure proper hydration of the bodymind, and at the very least, not increase its toxic load by the addition of heavy metals, or industrial, agricultural, and pharmaceutical chemicals contained in unfiltered tap water.

Without food, we can live for a several weeks and maybe even months. Nonetheless, food provides the raw materials to build, renew and repairs all cells that constitute the bodymind. And for most of us, we freely decide what we put in our mouths and in those of our children. Therefore, we can pay particular attention to what we eat, mouthful after mouthful, and day after day. Here are four basic rules for healthy eating.

Rule 1: No Carbs

The consumption of sugars and starches is extremely detrimental to our health. It is more than well established that it is exactly this—the regular consumption of refined and easily digestible carbs—that causes the wide spectrum of disorders sometimes referred to as the diseases of civilisation: obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, stroke, cancer, Alzheimer’s, etc…

Basically, we could say that the body wants only the necessary minimum glucose in its bloodstream. This is why there is the insulin mechanism: if glucose circulates, the pancreas releases insulin to rid the blood of it by storing it away. Insulin is one of the most important hormones, and its message to the liver, muscle and fat cells is clear and always the same: “take that glucose and store it away”.

A small amount of glucose can be stored as glycogen in the liver (about 70 g) and in the muscles (a total of 250 g in skeletal muscles). How much is stored depends on muscle mass, physical training, metabolism and eating habits, but under normal circumstances, this will not exceed more than a few tens of grams after any given meal. The rest of the glucose in the bloodstream is converted to fat, and packed in the fat cells.

While the glycogen in the liver is used for moment to moment adjustment of blood glucose concentrations, muscle glycogen is only for usage in the specific muscle, and can only be accessed by using that muscle. Fat will never be released from the fat cells while there are even relatively small amounts of either glucose or insulin in the bloodstream.

As we eat simple or starchy carbs, all of which end up as glucose in the bloodstream, more or less quickly depending on the level of refinement (on the fibre content), insulin is secreted. The more carbs we eat, the more insulin is produced, and the longer the sugar and the insulin circulate in the bloodstream. This is really bad for two reasons:

  1. The longer and more often insulin circulates in the bloodstream, the longer and more often all the tissues are exposed to it, and the more they grow resistant to its presence and its message. As the liver, muscles and fatty tissues gradually become more resistant, the pancreas needs to secrete more insulin to get its message across and successfully rid the bloodstream of the glucose. This, in turn, leads to increased insulin resistance, which leads to the glucose and insulin circulating even longer, and thus even more insulin secretion—the perfect example of a viscous circle. Eventually, the liver and muscle tissues become fully insulin resistant, and when the fat cells also finally reach that stage, glucose has nowhere to go: this marks the beginning of type II diabetes.
  2. The longer glucose circulates in the bloodstream, the more the probability of glycation increases. Glycation is the haphazard binding of glucose onto a protein or fat molecule without the control of an enzyme, and thus results in damage to the tissue. Glycation is the first step in a process that leads to the production of Advanced Glycation End-products (AGEs), and although the body has a mechanism to clear out the usually highly damaging AGEs, long-lived cells like nerves and neurons, and long-lasting proteins like eye crystalline and collagen in the blood vessels and skin, tend to accumulate the most damage over time. The accumulation of AGEs in the vessels leads to high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease and stroke, and the accumulation in the brain leads to Alzheimer’s disease—the diabetes of the brain, and other brain disorders.

Of all carbohydrates, fructose is probably the most damaging. Unlike any other sugar, fructose cannot be metabolised, and for this reason, goes directly to the liver, as do all other toxins circulating in our bloodstream. There, the fructose temporarily monopolises the liver, preventing it from doing anything else while being converted to fat. To find out how terrible fructose truly is, listen to this lecture by Professor Robert Lustig.

Conclusion: “No Carbs” means no simple sugars like table sugar of any colour, no honey, and no syrups of any king, especially not agave or corn syrup as they are full of fructose. It also means basically nothing sweet and obviously no deserts. “No Carbs” means no cookies, no bread, no pasta, no rice, no potatoes, and especially not fried starches like chips or fries as they are full of AGEs. And “No Carbs” also means no sweet fruit of any kind. Berries and grapefruits are fine; lemons are excellent.

Rule 2: Water 30 Minutes Before Meals

When we eat, the stomach secretes gastric acid in order to activate digestive enzymes, and break down proteins. Gastric acid is composed of 0.5% of hydrochloric acid (HCl), and lots of potassium chloride (KCl) and sodium chloride (NaCl). It has a pH between 1 and 2, and is therefore an extremely corrosive acid. The only thing that protects the lining of the stomach from the powerful gastric acid is a layer of mucus. Since mucus is more than 90% water, it is essential to ensure that the gastric mucus is well hydrated before eating. Once food has been pre-digested in the stomach for 3-4 hours, it moves into the small intestine for the digestion and extraction of nutrients. In order to neutralise the gastric acid, the pancreas secretes a watery, sodium bicarbonate (NaHCO3) solution. This also requires adequate amounts of water to be available before eating. I discuss this point in greater detail in Why we should drink water before meals, and other issues related to water in Water, ageing and disease.

Conclusion: Drink half a litre (two big glasses or three small ones) of water 30 minutes before every meal, and no water during or within 2 hours after the meal to ensure optimal digestion of all nutrients. A single glass 2-3 hours after the meal is good. Drink as much as you want on an empty stomach, and wait 30 minutes before eating anything.

Rule 3: Maximise Nutritional, Mineral and Enzyme Content

If we were to stick to a single principle in choosing what to eat, it should be this:  Maximise nutrient density. This is very simple: If a food is rich in nutrients and minerals, then eat it; if it is not, leave it. And since we are by mass 60-70% water and thus 30-40% of solids composed of all the naturally occurring elements, maximising nutrient density implies maximising mineral content.

The highest concentration of minerals is found in unrefined sea or rock salt, sea vegetables, seeds, nuts, eggs, and green vegetables, all of which you should try to eat as much of as possible. And it is really important to have a salt intake balanced with water intake: at least 2 litres of water and 1 teaspoons of salt per day.

Enzymes are plentiful in all raw foods. Enzymes are essential to extract the nutrients from the foods. Eating fresh, raw foods that come with their own enzymes is the best way to maximise digestibility and absorption. The enzymes in nuts and seeds must be activated by soaking them in water for 12 hours. Doing this makes them a super-healthy source of easily digestible protein.

Good quality protein is found in animal products that also contain good saturated fats. Animal protein should in general always be taken in moderation because it is insulinogenic and acidifying. Anything that is not used for building and repairing tissues will be converted to glucose, and anything that is not properly digested may putrefy, and will definitely create toxins, produce acidity, and stimulate negative immune system reactions from the presence of undigested proteins in the bloodstream. Nevertheless, you have to make sure you consume enough for your needs based on body mass and amount/type of exercise.

Conclusion: Eat as many raw vegetables as you can, especially dark green lettuces and salad greens, soaked nuts and seeds, and smaller amounts of eggs and un-pasteurized or fermented milk products like raw cheese and plain, full fat yogurt. Eat sea vegetables whenever you can. Keep animal protein consumption small (less than 1g/kg of lean body mass).

Rule 4: Lots of Fat

Fat is the perfect cellular fuel for many reasons. I think that the two most important are that it provides large amounts of very efficiently stored but readily useable energy, and that its metabolic usage does not trigger any insulin response. Fat is not only the perfect metabolic fuel when we are at rest, but also we are active. Stored triglycerides are released into the bloodstream as free fatty acids that are then transported by proteins to wherever energy expenditure is taking place. Given the compact energy storage of 7-9 calories per gram of fat, even the smallest stores in the leanest individuals can provide energy literally for days on end.

In addition to the multitude of negative effects it can have on the metabolism and hormonal system as a whole, insulin is a potent inhibitor to lipolysis (fat burning). It means that the presence of insulin inhibits the release of stored fats for energy needs. Conversely, when lipolysis is initiated and sustained, there is an accompanying decrease in plasma levels of insulin, with all the benefits that this brings. This also explains why fat suppresses hunger, because the presence of insulin stimulates it.

The best kinds of fats are those that are closest to their most natural and unrefined state. This mean the least processed. Furthermore, the best kinds of fats are those that are least likely to oxidise and form free radicals. This means the most stable and therefore the most saturated. The very best of all fats is extra virgin coconut oil. It is truly a miraculous substance, and I will write about it in greater details on another occasion. It is highly saturated (96%), incredibly stable (several years at room temperature will not turn it rancid), and the most heat resistant of all fats (smoke point of 138 C). Organic butter, and in general milk fat, is the second best choice for a primary source of fat in the diet; raw, unpasteurized butter is far better, but hard to find in some places.

Otherwise, olive oil for salad dressings is the only other vegetable oil I use daily, and recommend using, because it is the most stable (monounsaturated) and thus least harmful of all the vegetable oils, which are all composed of polyunsaturated fatty acids (contain more than one double bond in the carbon chain), and thus very unstable. Eating a lot of seeds and nuts in the whole natural state will provide a lot of polyunsaturated fats, but together with the whole food; this keeps the oil fresh and much less likely to form free radicals. One trick that I use is to try to eat saturated fats when I eat nuts and seeds, which further decreases the probability of oxidation of the polyunsaturated fats; coconut oil in particular has proven, powerful anti-oxidant properties.

Conclusion: Eat lots of fat to provide you with a lot of energy and suppress hunger. The best fats are coconut oil and butter. For salads use the freshest olive oil. Avoid all other vegetable oils, especially those that have been heated or hydrogenated as these become toxic trans fats.