Could “Bad” Cholesterol be Good for Muscle Growth?

I’m all for maintaining a healthy heart. But, could America’s quest for heart health be damaging muscle tissue (and keep in mind that your heart is the most important muscle in your body)?

For decades dietary fat, and especially saturated fat, was demonized to the point where “fat free” and “low fat” rolled off of our tongues with ease. Our friends, family and the kids behind the counter at frozen yogurt shops became so used to the question “how many grams of fat are in that?” that they often beat us to the punch, proudly exclaiming “it’s fat free!”
But in our quest  to live heart healthy our recommendations for cutting salt and saturated fat have sometimes hit the wrong crowd – young athletes who have no issues with blood pressure or cholesterol. Athletes who cut their salt intake too low could overheat and increase their risk for dehydration and low blood sodium (which can be very dangerous). And, cutting your total fat intake too low could make you feel fatigued, constantly hungry and impair your body’s absorption of fat soluble vitamins and antioxidants. But, here’s the real kicker, cut your total fat or saturated fat too low and your testosterone levels could drop.

If we need fat and some saturated fat (ah, coconut, one of my favorite sources of saturated fat), is blood cholesterol important? You bet. Despite it’s bad reputation and our quest for low cholesterol, our body depends on the stuff for several essential functions in the body (it is a component of cell membranes, precursor to bile acids, steroid hormones and vitamin D). In fact, our cells need a continuous supply of cholesterol.

And according to recent research from Texas A&M, our “bad” cholesterol may be even more important than we once thought. In this particular study, previously inactive adults were put through a training program. The adults who gained the most muscle mass had the highest levels of LDL cholesterol indicating that we may need a threshold level of LDL for gaining muscle mass. In this case, low LDL may be too low if you want a strong body.

Given that heart disease is the #1 cause of death in the U.S. and LDL cholesterol  is the stuff found stuck like glue against our artery walls, slowing down blood flow and contributing to heart attack and stroke, how can we achieve a delicate balance between having enough LDL but not too much? Keep your cholesterol levels within normal limits, be mindful if your LDL gets very low and incorporate other practices that keep your heart healthy – maintain a normal weight, get and stay active, eat antioxidant-rich foods and heart healthy fats (fatty fish, oils, nuts, seeds). If you want a strong body, don’t cut your total fat or saturated fat intake too low unless your physician tells you to do so.

As a random aside, could lowering LDL be one of the mechanisms through which statin drugs lead to statin-related myopathy? Maybe the answer doesn’t lie completely in Co-Q10.