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Cholesterol: Important for Brain Health

For decades, we’ve seen science and the media tarnish the reputation of cholesterol. We’ve been educated (and re-educated) on eggs, LDL, HDL, and a wealth of other buzzwords that pertain to cholesterol, all the while being told that if we keep our cholesterol levels low, our bodies will stay in tip-top shape. Unfortunately, that’s just not true.

In Grain Brain, I talk extensively about cholesterol, and attempt to dispel many of the mistruths that have been circulated about this compound. In fact, cholesterol plays an important role in our body, serving as an antioxidant and the precursor to Vitamin D production, among other roles. Those high-cholesterol foods we’ve been told to avoid? You may want to reconsider them.

In fact, multiple longevity studies (available here on my website) have found that older individuals with higher levels of cholesterol frequently outlive their peers, and are at a lower risk for developing Alzheimer’s. This is certainly in conflict with that mainstream science has been telling us for some time.

While on the topic of cholesterol, I also want to point you to two articles I have written about statins, a topic I frequently receive questions about. All of my articles are available on my website, but here are the links to those two:

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  • billslo

    Dr. Perlmutter:

    We hope you don’t mind us using your blog to help us get the word out about our conference. The Central Coast Nutrition Conference here in San Luis Obispo, California on March 1st, 2014.

    We’re getting calls from all over for this event that features:

    Eric Westman, MD:
    The Latest Science on the Low Carb, High Fat Diet

    Jay Wortman, MD:
    The Ketogenic Diet for Diabetes and Other Chronic Conditions

    Steve Phinney, MD. PhD:
    Inflammation and the Low Carb, High Fat Diet

    Jeff Volek, PhD, RD:
    How your Blood Panel Values Respond to a Ketogenic Diet

    If you will be in Central California in a couple of weeks, this is
    a great opportunity to see and talk with doctors on the cutting
    edge of the LCHF revolution.

    Here’s the link to our website:



  • Tom Decker

    Dr. Perlmutter:

    Today I listened to your book for a second time in my car. In addition to your book, I listened to a Radio One Taping of an interview with Dr. Dwight Lundell. I will be 54 years old in a few weeks and coming up on the 10th anniversary of my quadruple by-pass. For the last several months, both my wife and I have practically eliminated both bread and pasta from our diets for different reasons. My weight is reasonable and I work out regularly and have been for year attempting to get in 45 minutes of cardio 2 to 3 days per week and light weight lifting 2 days per week depending upon my work schedule as I have my own business.

    Both you and Dr. Lundell state the same thing regarding carbs and cholesterol. Your book references so many more convincing studies showing that the same number of people die from heart disease regardless of how high their cholesterol. When I got home from my business trip today I quickly checked my cholesterol records for the last 4 years and the last reading was 114 total!

    Dr. Lundell has people attacking his credibility on-line. I have a meeting with my cardiologist next week and want to confront her as my mother who is 74 has just been diagnosed with the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. I want to drop my 40MG/day Lipitor and just keep on a low carb diet. What should I tell my cardiologist next Tuesday?

    Tom Decker

  • Kristi

    Dr. Perlmutter: Is there hope for those of us with naturally low cholesterol? Just had mine checked and it is 147 (90 HDL/ 49LDL/ 57 non-HDL Chol.). Is there anyway to raise it naturally? You talk a lot in your book about the dangers of having low cholesterol but not much about how to improve it. In fact, I think you said that eating high cholesterol foods actually has the opposite effect? Please clarify.
    Thank you,
    Kristi S.

  • Laurie

    Dr. Perlmutter,

    Like Kristi, I also have naturally low cholesterol. It was 141 at my last checkup. I would love to raise that number to at least over 150 since you state in your book that being below 150 is a risk factor for various neurological problems. Do you have suggestions on what people in this situation can do to improve their cholesterol numbers? Any advice you can offer would really be appreciated.

    Thank you very much!

  • Lucy

    I have recently visited my doctor for a yearly check and asked to have the blood tests done from your book “Grain Brain”, I was told no. However my doctor did the usual blood work and when the results returned they call and informed me that my cholesterol was too high and were insistent on putting me on medication. I am 5’5″tall, weigh 122lbs, I walk five to six miles a day and do strength training two-three times a week. My husband and I have been following the guide lines in your book Grain Brain since November. We feel great. I sleep well at night and no longer toss and turn. My husband no longer grabs for the Tylenol every few hours. I no longer have tummy aches or diarrhea and my husband has lost about ten pounds. My cholesterol total was 225. HDL179 and LDL 48. Should I go on medications?

    • Florence Hornbeck-Kaiser

      Lucy, those numbers are not horrible. And maybe you can’t go by what they say the numbers should be anyway. If your doctor will not order what you want and you are in the USA, look at directlabs.com. You can order what you want without a doctor. You pay online with a credit card. They email you a lab slip to print out. You take it to a local lab. I had mine checked this way. Superficially my cholesterol did not look too good. But I paid to have the analysis of the cells done (VAP?) and found mine were primarily the large buoyant type. My risk of heart attack was listed as lower than average!

  • Since discontinuing statins my total cholesterol went from 113 to 214. My doctor is concerned; should I be worried? Thank you

  • Randall

    One thing I wonder about is the Framingham Heart Study. I’ve heard researchers involved with it say that there has not been a single heart attack in any study participant whose total cholesterol was 150 or less. Isn’t that pretty strong evidence that there is a correlation between cholesterol and heart disease?

  • John

    Please note that there is some evidence that cholesterol feeds breast cancer: http://tinyurl.com/ls576vw

  • Carol Martucci

    SO WHAT is a good cholesterol level. I have been reading for days and it is NOT addressed?

    • David Perlmutter

      I do not believe that there is such a thing as target cholesterol.

      • Carol Martucci

        Hmmm. Mine went from 265 to 285 in three months. I am going to have to fight with my Dr. I think. I am 54 years old in in good health and eat extremely well.

  • Jack Elias

    I read the report at your site about the long term study showing high cholesterol: Participants with “desirable” TC levels (<200 mg/dL) performed less well than participants with borderline-high TC levels (200-239 mg/dL) and participants with high TC levels (there exists 240 mg/dL).
    My TC cholesterol is 300 mg/dl; Trig – 66 mg/dl; HDL – 82 mg/dl; LDL – 205 mg/dl.
    Is the TC 300 mg/dl cause for concern?

    My MD of course is recommending statins – I'd like to say no to that. If TC 300 is not good is there an alternative to statins?


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