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The Great Cholesterol Mystery

By Dr. Paul C. Eck and Dr. Larry Wilson




Today we are witnessing a stepped-up campaign by well-meaning health authorities determined to show some signs of progress in combating the high incidence of heart disease. They are insisting that we must drastically reduce or eliminate fats and cholesterol from our diet at all costs. If we don't reduce or eliminate fats and cholesterol from our diet, the great killer cholesterol, will be waiting in the wings to do us in. As will be seen later, the true killer is a stress-induced, not a dietary-induced, high serum cholesterol level. Other major contributing factors include:

  • reduced thyroid function
  • impaired ability to metabolize sugars and carbohydrates
  • increased sugar and carbohydrate intake
  • various mineral deficiencies related to mineral-depleted soil
  • food processing

Several questions need examining: Does eating foods high in cholesterol necessarily raise blood cholesterol and cause heart disease? Do high blood cholesterol levels necessarily correlate with atherosclerosis?

The link between cholesterol and heart disease is at best tenuous. Factors other than a high food cholesterol intake may be more important contributors to cardiovascular disease. These include chronic stress, dietary deficiencies of magnesium, zinc and vitamin E, cadmium toxicity and possibly the use of chlorinated water and ionic detergents used to wash dishes.

What Is Cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a fat-soluble substance that is an essential component of most body tissues, especially the brain and nervous system. Cholesterol is the immediate precursor for the synthesis of pituitary hormones, the sex hormones (progesterone androgens and estrogens) and the adrenal hormones (mineralocorticoids and glucocorticoids).

Cholesterol is also required to form vitamin D in the body and to form bile acids which are required for optimal fat digestion. About 2,000 milligrams (2 grams) of cholesterol a day is synthesized in the liver. Regardless of diet, the body synthesizes its own cholesterol. Under stress, the body requires increased amounts of cholesterol, especially for the synthesis of adrenal cortical hormones. The result is increased synthesis of cholesterol by the liver. The answer to controlling excessive cholesterol levels is to enable one to better cope with stress.

When and Why Does Cholesterol Become Dangerous?

The great cholesterol debate began when it was observed that in many cases of heart disease cholesterol is deposited in the arteries. Atherosclerosis is a pathology of abnormal thickening of the inner lining of the arteries; these thickenings, or atheromas contain cholesterol and other lipid substances.

Atherosclerosis tends to progress into arteriosclerosis, in which calcium is also deposited in the atheromas. When the coronary arteries of the heart become too narrow from atherosclerosis or arteriosclerosis, ischemic heart disease (coronary heart disease) develops.

The incidence of atherosclerosis, arteriosclerosis and ischemic heart disease has increased dramatically in the Western countries since the turn of the century. The principal causes of such a rise in the above diseases are;

  • a decreased ability to cope with stress
  • increased ingestion of junk foods
  • inadequate thyroid function
  • a severe imbalance between zinc and copper in vital body tissues

Klevay has shown that an imbalance in the zinc/copper ratio contributes to elevated serum cholesterol levels and heart disease. Dr. Hans Nieper reports that widespread use of ionic detergents may be a factor that disrupts fat metabolism in the heart. Chlorine and fluorine compounds in city drinking water and other stress factors, may also play a role.

Is Dietary Cholesterol Really to Blame for High Cholesterol Levels?

An experiment by the Russian scientist Nikolai Anitschkow in 1913 seems to have triggered off the theory that eating a diet high in cholesterol results in an abnormal cholesterol buildup. Yet the animals in his study were fed an amount in which the human equivalent would be 15 grams of cholesterol per day. Even a diet high in cholesterol-containing foods would provide around 0.8 grams of cholesterol per day.

The typical American diet provides only about 25 percent of the body's requirement for cholesterol. The body itself produces the other 75 percent. Furthermore, the body seems to have a feedback loop to regulate its own cholesterol production based on variations in dietary intake.

Adelle Davis states in her book Let's Get Well: "Diets low in cholesterol have also achieved exactly the opposite from what was hoped. Such diets throw the liver into a frenzy of cholesterol-producing activity, causing the amount in the blood to increase. Conversely, liver biopsies showed that when volunteers were fed 3 or 4 grams of cholesterol daily, far more than would ever be obtained from foods, the production of cholesterol by the liver was almost completely suppressed." 1

How Dangerous are Eggs?

Gary and Steve Null, in their book The New Vegetarian, discuss the study conducted at U.C.L.A. by Dr. Roslyn Alfin-Slater, involving 52 men over a 10 week period. The men were divided into two groups by age: 25 men were between 20 and 28 years of age and 27 men were between 39 and 66 years of age. All of these men usually included eggs in their diet. The younger men ate 2 eggs a day for eight weeks, then ate no eggs for two weeks. The older men ate 1 egg a day for four weeks, 2 eggs a day for four weeks and no eggs for the last two weeks. Daily blood serum cholesterol checks revealed no significant variation in blood cholesterol in either group throughout the study.

The Nulls also cited a more dramatic study involving eight burn patients. These patients were fed 35 eggs a day for at least a month. Eggs provide very high quality protein and high quality protein is vitally needed to replace the protein loss in severely burned individuals. During and after the egg diet, the patient's serum cholesterol levels remained within normal limits and no side effects were observed.

Cholesterol Studies Around The World

In the Soviet Union, a group of men were placed on a diet that included five eggs per day. The men's cholesterol counts remained the same or decreased slightly.

There is a much higher butter consumption in Western France than in Eastern France, yet the rate of mortality from ischemic heart disease in Western France is almost half that among men in Eastern France. 2 We find the same situation in India. The incidence of acute myocardial infarction is seven times higher in southern India than in northern India; however, in southern India, dietary fat provides only 3.5 percent of total calories, 45 percent of which is polyunsaturated. In northern India, dietary fat provides 23 percent of total calories, only 2 percent of which is polyunsaturated. 3

Ischemic heart disease is not a problem in populations whose diet derives over 45 percent of its total calories from coconut-derived fat. 4 The fat contained in the coconut is 95 percent saturated fat. This percentage of fat is even higher than butter and much higher than the common vegetable oils we currently use.

Before Western dietary habits were introduced into the Eskimo population, Eskimos lived almost exclusively on animal meat and animal fat. Yet the incidence of heart disease among the Eskimos was very low and cholesterol levels were below 200 mg. 5

These studies should cause us to seriously question whether there is a direct link between the ingestion of dietary fat and arterial diseases such as athero and arteriosclerosis.

Causes of Heart Disease - Dietary Sugar and Heart Disease

For years, medical researchers have correlated heart disease and atherosclerosis with diets high in refined sugar and refined sugar products. These researchers include; Dr. A. M. Cohen, Dr. John Yudkin, Dr. Peter Kuo, Professor Margaret Albrink, Dr. D.R. Basset, Surgeon Captain T.L. Cleave, Professor N. S. Painter and Dr. G. D. Campbell. Yet this evidence has been largely ignored by the medical establishment.

For an excellent explanation as to the reasons why this information has been ignored, I refer you to Ross Hume Hall's book, Food for Nought, chapter 15 on "The Polyunsaturated Heart".

Adelle Davis states in Let's Gets Well, "animals that are fed sugar instead of unrefined carbohydrates develop high blood cholesterol levels. The blood cholesterol of healthy volunteers fell when they ate unrefined carbohydrates, but substituting sugar caused their blood triglycerides and cholesterol levels to increase markedly." 6

Unrefined carbohydrates include whole grains and whole grain products, potatoes and other root vegetables; squash, beans and peas. It is well known that the consumption of these unrefined carbohydrates has decreased markedly in the United States in the last century, along with a dramatic increase in sugar consumption and a dramatic increase in atherosclerosis and cardiovascular disease.

Vitamin and Mineral Deficiencies Induced by Sugars and Refined Carbohydrates

Dietary sugar also depletes the body of B-complex vitamins. The B-complex vitamins have been successfully used to lower abnormally high serum cholesterol levels.

"The essential fatty acid content in the blood of animals decreases far more when sugar is fed rather than starch." 7

A research study found that blood triglycerides were an average of 36 percent higher in a group eating a high sugar diet (112 grams/day) for six weeks, compared to the group on a low sugar diet (16 grams/day). 8

Drastic Lowering of Elevated Blood Cholesterol by a High Fat/Low Carbohydrate Diet

Dr. Robert Atkins, well known for his high fat, low carbohydrate weight-reduction diets, (Dr. Atkins Diet Revolution), has found that eliminating carbohydrates from the diet lowers the blood serum cholesterol level sometimes as much as 200 points. On the average, cholesterol levels have remained the same or diminished in eight out of ten of his patients, even though his patients consumed as much fat and high-cholesterol food as they pleased. 9

Dr. Atkins also mentions Dr. John Yudkin's observations that the diet of the Masai and Samburu tribes of East Africa are notably high-fat and low sugar, yet serum cholesterol is low in these people. The incidence of coronary artery disease is also extremely rare. However, when people of these cultures adopt a Western mode of lifestyle, including a diet high in refined carbohydrates, sugar and white flour, they become prone to our diseases, including coronary artery disease.

The people of the isolated island of St. Helena, 1200 miles off the west coast of Africa, eat a relatively low fat diet. However, their incidence of coronary artery disease has risen alarmingly in recent years, following a corresponding rise in dietary sugar intake which is now 100 lbs. per person per year.

Stress and Cholesterol

Numerous studies have shown that when the body is under stress, cholesterol production rises, whether or not a person is consuming cholesterol in his diet. 10 This makes sense, since earlier we stated that cholesterol is the precursor substance, or raw material required for the production of the adrenal hormones. The adrenal hormones are the stress hormones - those that are used by the body to counter any, or all forms of stress. The body produces more cholesterol to stimulate the synthesis of adrenal hormone production so as to adequately cope with stress.

Hair analysis research indicates that a high cholesterol level is to be suspected when there is a low tissue sodium/potassium ratio - an indicator of chronic stress.

High Cholesterol and Sluggish Adrenal Gland Activity

We have also noted that high cholesterol levels are not uncommon when the activity of the adrenal glands is impaired (adrenal insufficiency). This too would make sense, since weak adrenal glands prevent the body from optimally converting cholesterol into the adrenal hormones. It is not uncommon for an individual who is a strict vegetarian to have elevated cholesterol levels, due to diminished adrenal gland activity resulting from chronic stress. Their cholesterol levels usually diminish toward more normal values as their body chemistry improved.

Zinc Deficiency, Cadmium Toxicity and Arterial Plaques

Is it possible that cholesterol plaques in the arteries are, in certain cases, an effect, or defense measure, rather than a cause? It is known that zinc is essential to maintain the elasticity of the arteries. When a zinc deficiency occurs, usually due to stress, the toxic metal cadmium frequently replaces the lost zinc in the arterial walls, causing the arteries to become brittle. The body may then coat the arteries with cholesterol plaques to prevent a worse condition, an aneurism or rupture of an artery.

Although a change in diet can be helpful to remove arterial plaque, replenishing zinc and eliminating cadmium from the body can also be a key to diminishing arterial plaque. When this is done, the cholesterol plaques can slowly disappear as they are no longer needed.

Mineral Deficiencies and Cholesterol

Deficiency of essential minerals, often due to refined food diets, can play an important role in cholesterol buildup and heart disease. Administration of chromium has been shown to lower high cholesterol levels, presumably by enhancing carbohydrate metabolism. Zinc and manganese are also essential for optimal energy metabolism within body cells. Magnesium also plays a critical role in normal heart muscle function and magnesium deficiency is commonly associated with the causation of heart disease.

Oxidant Damage and Cholesterol

Another cause for atherosclerosis is oxidant damage caused by the effects of single oxygen atoms, referred to as free radicals, which attack and destroy body tissues.

Oxidant damage to the tissues is prevented by several nutrients, including vitamin C, vitamin E, vitamin A, selenium and copper. Defined food diets and especially refined oils, lack these specific nutrients and their deficiency may result in arterial damage.

The oxidant theory can help explain why human populations that eat adequate amounts of saturated fats actually have a lower incidence of heart disease.

Saturated fats cause less oxidant damage than unsaturated oils because the latter require vitamin E to avoid causing oxidant damage in the body. Refined oils or margarine, that are devoid of vitamin E, can make artery disease worse by causing oxidant damage to arteries.

Margarine and Other Hydrogenated (Synthetically Hardened) Vegetable Oils are Poison to the Body

Many of us have been misled into thinking margarine is better for our health than butter. We have been lead to believe that saturated fat is bad for our arteries and because margarine is less saturated, it is better for our health. Not True! Vegetable oil is less saturated in its natural liquid form, but not after it has been hardened by addition of hydrogen (hydrogenation). Another myth is that margarine has fewer calories than butter. In fact, they contain about the same number of calories.

Hydrogenated oils can be detrimental to one's health for several reasons.

  • Abnormal fatty acids are produced by the hydrogenation process. Our bodies are fooled by their similarity to normal essential fatty acids (EFAs) and attempts to use them in biochemical sites where normal EFAs should be present. In this way, abnormal fatty acids produced by hydrogenation actually prevent the use of EFAs, thus resulting in a EFA deficiency in the body. Essential fatty acids are necessary for normal growth and healthy blood, arteries, nerves, skin and other tissues.

  • The hydrogenation process also destroys essential nutrients including vitamin E and lecithin.

  • Often, several questionable food additives are added to margarine: diacetyl, isopropyl and stearyl citrates as flavor enhancers; sodium benzoate, benzoic acid or citric acid as preservatives; and mono- or diglycerides as emulsifiers. 11

  • A toxic metal, nickel, is also used in the manufacture of margarine and vegetable shortening and finds its way into the finished product.

Vegetable Oils Sold in Your Supermarkets

Vegetable oils commonly sold in the supermarket may also aggravate rather than help prevent heart disease. Most oils are extracted from the seed either mechanically, which involves cooking for a half hour at 230 degrees F., or chemically, using solvents such as hexane.

After removing free fatty acids with lye, the oil is bleached. It is then deodorized, which involves 330-380 degree fahrenheit temperatures for 12 hours. Finally, butylated hydroxyanisole is added as an antioxidant. The molecular structure has been changed through all this and the oil has been depleted of essential nutrients such as lecithin and vitamin E.

An alternative is to use olive oil. Olive oil contains natural preservatives and is usually unprocessed. You can also purchase cold-pressed vegetable oil at any health food store. Cold-pressed oil has not been subjected to the intense heat and chemicals that the supermarket oils have. Cold-pressed oil retains its lecithin and oil-soluble vitamins and if it goes rancid, you can taste it. You can test your cold-pressed oil by swallowing a half teaspoon full, if it produces a burning or bitter taste at the back of the tongue, for your health's sake, throw it away.

About Cholesterol-Lowering Drugs

Today there is much publicity concerning several cholesterol-lowering drugs. Although these may occasionally be useful, be sure to consider the harmful side effects of these drugs. In our opinion, such medication should not even be considered unless the cholesterol is dangerously high and all natural approaches such as oat bran fiber, niacin and balancing body chemistry have been tried first. Stress factors that may be contributing to elevated cholesterol levels should also be considered and eliminated.


The cholesterol story is clearly more complicated than we are being told by the communication media. Dietary cholesterol is only one factor among many that determines one's blood cholesterol level. High blood cholesterol levels are not necessarily an indicator that arteries are diseased.

Other major culprits in the causation of heart disease and cholesterol problems include chronic stress, high-sugar diet, smoking, deficiency of vitamin E that can be caused by refined oils in the diet, zinc deficiency, cadmium toxicity and oxidant damage. Prevention and reversal of artery disease depend on correcting all the above factors, not simply regulating cholesterol levels.

To assess the cause of elevated cholesterol, hair mineral testing is often of considerable value. The mineral screening test can detect:

  • The level of biochemical stress and whether stress is acute or chronic.

  • Sluggish thyroid and adrenal activity, which can result in a rise in cholesterol levels by impairing the conversion of cholesterol to adrenal hormones. Individuals with sluggish endocrine gland activity must also restrict fat intake.

  • Sugar and carbohydrate intolerance. Poor ability to metabolize sugar causes the body to store fats for energy.

  • Tissue deficiencies of key elements involved in cholesterol metabolism, including copper, zinc, manganese, chromium and magnesium.

We feel that the current obsession with dietary cholesterol intake is a medical fashion that will pass in time, as have so many others. Simplistic attention to only one factor as a cause of heart disease is misleading as well as less than effective.

Copyright © 1989 - The Eck Institute of Applied Nutrition and Bioenergetics, Ltd.

2225 W. Alice Avenue ¨ Phoenix, AZ  85021 ¨ (602) 995-1580 ¨ FAX (602) 371-8873



  1. Adelle Davis, Let's Get Well, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc., 1965, p. 57.
  2. R. MacLennan and F. Meyer, "Food and Mortality in France", Lancet, 2 (1977): p. 133.
  3. S. Malhotra, "Graphic aspects of acute myocardial infarction in India with special reference to patterns of diet and eating", British Heart Journal, 29:1967, pp. 337-344.
  4. I.A. Prior et al., "Cholesterol, coconuts, and diet on Polynesian atolls: a natural experiment", American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 34 (1981): pp. 1552-61.
  5. K-J Ho et al., "Alaska arctic Eskimo: responses to a customary high fat diet", American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 25:1972, pp. 737-745.
  6. Adelle Davis, Let's Get Well, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc., 1965, p. 55.
  7. Ibid.
  8. D. Werner, P.M. Emmett and K.W. Heaton, "Effects of dietary sucrose on factors influencing cholesterol gall stone formation", Gut, 1984 (Mar; 25 3), pp. 269-74.
  9. Atkins, Robert, Dr. Atkin's Diet Revolution, p. 282.
  10. Justice, Blair, Who Gets Sick, Peak Press, Houston Texas, 1987.
  11. G.D. Horsley, Commercial Foods Exposed, Hawkes Publishing Co., 1975, p.70.

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