Vegan with High Cholesterol?
Q&A with Bill Harris, M.D.

Q. I have been a vegetarian for over 30 years and a vegan about 15. I'm very active. I work out daily. I rescue marine mammals regularly. I feel strong. I recently had a physical for a call-firefighter postion in Los Angeles. Blood work was good except for the cholesterol. It was an alarming 340. That with moderately high blood pressure. One thing that was borderline reading was the thyroid. It wasn't working that well.

I'm a vegan! Could the thyroid be causing my problem. I'm concerned and looking for answers.

our web site is hosted by Vegsource

A. Interesting website and interesting job. I saw the seal-in-the-sewer story on TV.

From the wording of your message I would suggest that your first move is to have your serum cholesterol measured again. Laboratories do make mistakes and 340 mg% is pretty high, particularly for a vegan.

The next move is to determine if you really are a vegan. Food labels must be read with great care because the dairy industry manages to sneak casein and whey into most everything and animal proteins seem to raise cholesterol as effectively as animal fat. Hydrogenated fat gets into many food products and it also raises cholesterol.

Hypothyroidism is associated with elevated cholesterol levels and it in turn can be caused by overconsumption of undercooked soy products.

Then you should contemplate your genes. Familial hypercholesterolemia is a possibility here and if that's the problem then your parents and grandparents most likely had cholesterol-related health problems (e.g. heart disease and gallstones).

Lastly, your diet should center on fresh vegetables and whole fruit, rather than starches and grains which are nowhere near as nutritious and which can raise triglyceride levels. In spite of their high fat content avocados and raw nuts lower cholesterol levels.

There may be some solace in my unproven suspicion that high serum cholesterol levels in a true vegan are not much of a risk since it's mostly dietary cholesterol that winds up in the arterial lining rather than the ~ 500 mg you synthesize daily yourself.

Hope this helps.


-William Harris, M.D.