Back in 2011 during the making of Statin Nation, I communicated briefly with Dr. Steve Riechman at Texas A&M University. Dr Riechman had completed some studies that showed people with higher cholesterol levels tend to gain more muscle mass. At the time, I didn’t realise that Dr Riechman had actually given a presentation to explain these studies. I recently found this and I think its worth sharing.
Dr Riechman was initially looking at what genetic influences determine muscle gain but he discovered that the genetic effects would get lost in what people ate - food seemed to be more important than genetics. He fairly quickly discovered that cholesterol helps to build muscle. During his studies the more cholesterol the person ate the more muscle they gained with resistance training.
The diagram above is taken from Dr Riechman's presentation. It shows the amount of cholesterol consumed against the amount of learn muscle mass gained. It is worth noting that the level of cholesterol consumption that was for decades recommended by the American Heart Association is associated with the least lean muscle gain.
Dr Riechman then compared this data on dietary cholesterol levels with total blood cholesterol levels. The yellow bars in the diagram below represent ‘healthy’ blood cholesterol levels as recommended. Low blood cholesterol levels are supposed to be ideal but low cholesterol levels resulted in an actual loss of lean muscle mass - even though the trial participants were resistance training.
Furthermore, it was the so called ‘bad cholesterol’ (LDLs) that predicted the muscle gain. The so called ‘good cholesterol' (HDLs) did not make any difference to muscle gain. Those who had higher levels of ‘bad cholesterol’ had greater muscle gain than those with lower levels of ‘bad cholesterol’.
Dr Riechman battled for 2 years with medical journals to get this research published.
In his presentation, included below, Dr Riechman then goes on to explain more about the actual mechanisms involved and also discusses some of the other important uses of cholesterol within the body.
Another important point he makes is that there is an incredible need tor cholesterol during periods of recovery and the body can’t get enough of it at these times.