Is High Cholesterol Really a Risk Factor?

By Michael A. Smith, MD

In 1969, an American Heart Association spokesperson stated that people with excess cholesterol levels should be treated medically.

This doctor went on to state: “In short, we have come ... to the point where we are probably preventing a disease that was considered to be an inevitable accompaniment of aging not very long ago.”1

At the time, the American Heart Association met with fierce criticism from prominent cardiologists who continued to proclaim there was no evidence that cholesterol reduction conferred protection against heart attacks. These attacks on the cholesterol theory of heart disease were published in the leading medical journals of the day.

Regrettably, it was not until 1984 that the medical establishment formally recognized the relationship between high cholesterol and heart attack incidence.2

So to answer the question: Yes, high cholesterol is a heart disease risk factor. It’s just not the only one. And that is where the problem lies.

What is Cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a type of fat that is classified as a sterol. It provides critically important functions throughout your body, including:

  • Building and maintaining cell membranes
  • Acting as a precursor to sex hormones like testosterone and estrogen
  • Serving as a precursor to fat-soluble vitamins
Since cholesterol is fatty, it can’t travel around your bloodstream without help. This is where the carrier molecules, called lipoproteins, come into play. Although you can’t live without the lipoproteins, they are also the real culprits behind the development of arterial plaques.

Cholesterol makes a circuit between your liver and your tissues. Low-density lipoprotein, or LDL, transports cholesterol to the tissues; whereas, high-density lipoprotein, or HDL, transports cholesterol away from the cells.

When one has excess LDL, too much cholesterol can be deposited into the arterial wall. Insufficient HDL, on the other hand, impairs cholesterol transport away from the arterial wall. Too much LDL and/or not enough HDL can thus set the stage for atherosclerosis — the official medical word for arterial plaques. But there’s so much more to arterial plaques than just cholesterol. And this is where the problem lies.

Conventional doctors for many years believed that statin drugs, medicines that lower cholesterol, were going to cure heart disease. But obviously they haven’t despite the billions of dollars Big Pharma makes off the drugs. So what’s going on?

Additional Heart Disease Risk Factors

There are several other risk factors involved in the development of atherosclerosis. So, yes, we believe that cholesterol is a risk factor; it’s just not the only one. Bottom line: Don’t solely focus on cholesterol, but don’t ignore it either.

Here’s a list of additional risk factors to look at:

  • Low testosterone
  • Excess estrogen
  • Low vitamin D
  • Low omega-3 fats
  • Low vitamin K2
  • Low paraoxonase-1 activity
  • High homocysteine
  • High triglycerides
  • High blood sugar
  • High fibrinogen
  • High lipoprotein phospholipase A2 activity
  • High lipoprotein(a)
  • High C-reactive protein (inflammation)
Now, we know that this is a long list, and you may not know what to do about all of these risk factors. Fortunately, we do.

So feel free to call our wellness specialists if you’d like. They can review all of these risks factors with you and even suggest blood tests for you to consider. You can reach our wellness specialists directly at 1-800-226-2370.


  1. Circulation. 1970 Apr;41(4):723-8.
  2. Available at:


Mark said...

As a long time LEF member, I have always held the organization in high esteem regarding it's independence, and objectivity. What has me now very concerned is what appears to be that missing objectivity when dealing with this topic. Whenever a study is released that puts in question the benefits of a specific dietary supplment, the LEF organziation responds by diligently pointing out the flaws in those studies, usually focusin on the poor methodology or leap in the global conclusions. Where is that same rigor in the studies that supposedly demonstrate the validity of the lipid hypothesis? You're losing me by your silence. The inability to demonstrate the lipid hypothesis through either clinical or epidemiologcial studies is now well known... so where is LEF?

Life Extension said...

Mark, we apologize for the confusion. We do agree that cholesterol is a risk factor. We agree with the Framingham Heart Study's findings which confirmed the cholesterol hypothesis. But we also believe it's not the only risk factor. That's all.

Anonymous said...

Mark, you need to research this much further. Read "One Percent: My Journey Overcoming Heart Disease" to see what one man did to reverse his heart problems and the list of books read. Cholesterol has nothing to do with heart disease. Regarding Framingham - 15% of residents suffered from heart disease in spite of lifestyle and dietary changes. In the mirror study done by Dr. Broda Barnes in which he only treated hypothyroidism symptoms with armour thyroid, regardless of any other indicator, only .2% of study participants suffered from heart disease. Keep in mind that in the early 1900s, heart attacks were so rare that they were not even taught in medical school yet the diet at that time was high in animal fats, the supposed bad fats.

Mark said...

To Anonymous: I agree with you in the context of the lipid hypothesis not being supported, as in fact I have researched this extensively. I have learned from Life Extension that one needs to take responsibility for one's own health, and look beyond the headlines to the underlying science. Hence, I continue to be a supporter and a member of LEF, and only wish they would do the same due diligence regarding the proposed link between cholesterol and heart disease.
To LEF: My research indicates thtat the Framingham Heart Study has concluded exactly the opposite of what you suggest in your response. In fact, they have publicly stated as such. Yes, it has been cited as others (incorrectly) as demonstrating the diet/lipid and lipid/CVD link, however, the actual statements made by the study (most recently Dr. Willet) state exactly the opposit. I think it would be extremely helpful for LEF to do an objective assessment of this whole debate.

Anonymous said...

My cholesterol overall reading is 6.6 (Australian) and my GP wanted to prescribe to lower it. However, I saw a heart specialist, who requested individual readings of HDL, LDL and triglicerides. It was my HDL (so-called good cholesterol) that was pushing up the overall reading, and my LDL (so-called bad cholesterol) was low. He said "You are well covered. I wouldn't treat that". Everyone should request the full reading so a true picture can be ascertained. It scares me that if I had listened to my GP only, I would have been on drugs and putting up with the risk of heart damage, depression, diabetes, muscle weakness and the other associated risks, all for no reason.

lipitor 10mg said...

High Cholesterol have became very dangerous sometime. We need to be extra aware about this. High Cholesterol is mainly due to our habit to eat junk foods. Your definition of cholesterol is quite informative.

Life Extension said...

Lipitor 10mg- We appreciate your feedback! High cholesterol can definitely stem from poor diet. If you’d like to read more about this topic, we suggest you read our cholesterol protocol:

Alinajagger said...

Nice information here you give detail about cholesterol their types. Which type is good for health and which one is harmful is very well explain.

LifeExtension said...

Alinajagger- Thanks for reading!

otto9B9otto said...

Reference #2 is not found. Please advise.

Life Extension said...

otto9B9otto - Sorry about that. Take a look at this link:

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