Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Cholesterol is good for building muscle!

Researchers at Texas A&M University have discovered that lower cholesterol levels can actually reduce muscle gain with exercising.

As mentioned before, I am a cholesterol sceptic. I am not a believer in the so called "lipid hypothesis" - that eating saturated fats raises cholesterol in the blood which causes heart disease. There are lots of holes in that theory.

Anyway this blog is supposed to be about conditioning and exercise. So how does this fit in with all the cholesterol discussion? I've noted before that when it comes to cholesterol lower is not necessarily better! We also saw that dietary fat intake seems to protect female runners form injury. Now there is a piece of research (reported here) that lower cholesterol levels can actually reduce muscle gain with exercising. The abstract is here, but it actually plays down the controversial bit!

Researchers at Texas A&M University have discovered that lower cholesterol levels can actually reduce muscle gain with exercising. Lead investigator Steven Riechman, assistant professor of health and kinesiology, and Simon Sheather, head of the Department of Statistics, along with colleagues from The Johns Hopkins Weight Management Center and the Northern Ontario School of Medicine, have recently had their findings published in the Journal of Gerontology.

Bottom line: Before you have that second helping of oatmeal, it’s very possible that cholesterol may not be the mean Mr. Evil thing we tend to believe it is.

“We were not expecting to get these kind of results,” Riechman explains. [of course they weren't! Saying that cholesterol is beneficial is a heresy!]

“We need further research in this area, but what we found could really make us look differently at cholesterol, especially as it relates to a vigorous workout.”

The team studied 55 men and women, ages 60-69, who were healthy non-smokers and were able to perform exercise testing and training.

Three days a week for 12 weeks, participants performed several exercises, including stretching, stationary bike riding and vigorous weight lifting. All participants consumed similar meals.

At the conclusion of the study, the researchers found that there was a significant association of dietary cholesterol and change in strength. In general, those with higher cholesterol intake also had the highest muscle strength gain.

Cholesterol circulating in the blood also appeared to have contributed to greater muscle gain in the participants, Riechman said.

The research also indicates that statins - cholesterol lowering drugs may not be a great idea either!

Riechman said that subjects who were taking cholesterol-lowering drugs while participating in the study showed lower muscle gain totals than those who were not.

I like the conclusion of the article:

Our findings show that the restricting of cholesterol – while in the process of exercising – appears to affect building muscle mass in a negative manner. If it’s true, as our findings suggest, that cholesterol may play a key role in muscle repair, we need to know exactly how that happens. And because cholesterol is negatively associated with cardiovascular health, we need further study in this area. It shows that there is still a lot about cholesterol that we don’t know.”

So if you want to build muscle do not try to lower your cholesterol levels! It has a key role in muscle repair.

[Scott at the Modern Forager has also written a great post about this]

It shouldn't really be a surprise! Cholesterol is vital to health. It is essential for - amongst other things -
  • keeping your cell membranes intact
  • boosting mental performance
  • aiding digestion
  • building strong bones
  • building muscle
  • maintaining your energy, vitality, libido, and fertility
  • regulating your blood sugar
  • repairing damaged tissue
  • protecting against infectious diseases
Chris Masterjohn has a good website on this here.


Anonymous said...

a big thank you coming from someone who goes through a 18 pack of eggs once or twice a week. ive been catching a ton of flac from people telling me how unhealthy my low carb high fat diet is. trust ill be linking some people to this study

Chris said...

Cheers! I love lots of eggs too. Do a google search on Vince Gironda and eggs sometime to read about a big egg intake!