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Foods & Health

Down The Cholesterol Rabbit Hole

Okay, I’m back.

Where did I go, you might ask? This past week I took an amazing journey into the dark recesses of statistical mathematics.

Okay, it wasn’t really dark, but it was a bit scary…

The statistics I explored were the numbers associated with cholesterol studies. These numbers came from multiple sources, people far more accomplished than I at the art of reading and interpreting statistical data.

I knew from reading many articles by experts in the field that cholesterol was a red herring and not the real cause of heart problems. But I hadn’t taken the time to really examine the numbers. Now that I have it’s clearer than ever that cholesterol is a non-issue.

Don’t worry, I won’t bore you with math, but you will likely find the information very interesting. I encourage you to visit the sites listed in the reference section if you want an eye-opening education about the real way to understand cholesterol and heart disease.

Among the interesting facts I ran across, the following stand out:

  • There are no studies proving that saturated fat causes heart disease. That’s zero, nada, zip.
  • According to the cholesterol theory of heart disease, the higher your cholesterol, the more likely you are to have a heart attack. The “cure” for high cholesterol is said to be statin drugs. Among their side effects, statin drugs promote cell death in heart muscle, the lining of blood vessels and brain cells. They also reduce the body’s store of the heart-protective nutrient CoQ-10. In addition, they stimulate cancer in rodents, disturb the function of muscles and can cause birth defects if taken by pregnant women. I feel healthier already!
  • Consumption of vegetable oils greatly increased in the mid-1900s. During this same time period, people were eating less animal fat. The other interesting thing about this time period is that heart disease rates went up dramatically. Coincidence?
  • Among those people who have heart attacks, at least half have normal or low cholesterol. When autopsies are performed on people who’ve died of a heart attack, those with low cholesterol frequently have plaque-filled arteries. This is true no matter how low their total cholesterol was. In other words, low cholesterol doesn’t prevent plaque forming in arteries.
  • About half the people in India are vegetarians. Even so, they have one of the highest rates of heart disease in the world.
  • The FDA’s dietary guidelines (the “Food Pyramid”) recommends a low-fat/high-carbohydrate diet. This recommendation was made up by a congressional committee and was not based on any scientific research. Can you say “follow the money?”
  • Your brain is made of around 70% fat. Children with ADD often improve once natural saturated fats are returned into their diets.
  • Saturated fat and cholesterol help produce testosterone. When men limit their saturated fat (or take cholesterol lowering drugs), their testosterone level drops. Adequate testosterone levels are crucial for health and quality of life, particularly as men get older.
  • In 1977 the McGovern Committee produced it’s “Dietary Guidelines” encouraging Americans to eat less meat and more carbohydrates. This was the same time period in which the modern obesity epidemic appeared.
  • The small benefit (very small) that indicates some people taking statins have lower risk of heart attacks could easily be related to the anti-inflammatory effect of these drugs. Given the health damaging effects statins have (see above) there are much better – and more natural – ways to reduce inflammation.
  • In one study exploring whether huge doses of statins might reverse atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), the researchers concluded, “We did not observe a relationship between on-treatment LDL cholesterol levels and the progression of calcified coronary atherosclerosis.” In other words, there was no identifiable connection between levels of “bad” cholesterol and heart disease.

Dr. Uffe Ravnskov, MD, PhD, a Swedish physician for over 30 years, has published over 80 papers, letters and books presenting the evidence that the cholesterol theory of heart disease is flawed.

In one interview, he says of statins:

“Their benefit is trivial and has been seen only in male patients who already have heart disease. Worse is that their many adverse effects are ignored or cleverly belittled by the trial directors. Independent researchers have found many more and in much higher numbers. If they are true it means that today millions of previously healthy people probably consider their weak and painful muscles, their bad memory, their sexual failure and their cancer to be a consequence of increasing age and so do their doctors.

“The risk of cancer is most alarming. Both animal experiments, epidemiological studies and several of the statin trials have shown that low cholesterol predisposes to cancer. The widespread use of statin treatment probably explains why the decrease of the smoking habit that has been going on in many countries hasn’t been followed by a decrease of cancer mortality. We should have seen a decrease because smoking predispose not only to bronchial cancer, but to all kinds of cancer.”

I could go on, but I think you get the point. If you want more on this subject, click through to some of the sites linked below.

In the meanwhile, here is my best advice: don’t fall for the cholesterol myth. Instead, discover exactly what foods are the dietary equivalent of rocket fuel for your unique metabolic needs.

The basic approach to this is to pay attention to the signals your body gives you after you eat. A quicker and more complete approach is to do Metabolic Typing®. Feel free to contact me if you’d like more information on this approach.


References:

The Soft Science of Dietary Fat, G. Taubes, “Science”, vol 291, 30 March 2001(PDF file)

Good Math Slices Bad Bologna, Tom Naughton, director of “Fat Head, The Movie”.

Interview with Dr. Uffe Revnskov, MD

International Network of Cholesterol Skeptics

Hyperlipid – Cholesterol within nations studies

The Spark of Reason – Good info on statistical analysis

Hydroxymethylglutaryl-coenzyme A reductase inhibitors induce apoptosis in human cardiac myocytes in vitro. Biochem Pharmacol. 2006 Apr 28;71(9):1324-30. Epub 2006 Mar 15.

Statin-induced apoptosis of vascular endothelial cells is blocked by dexamethasone. J Endocrinol. 2002 Jul;174(1):7-16.

Lovastatin induces apoptosis of spontaneously immortalized rat brain neuroblasts: involvement of nonsterol isoprenoid biosynthesis inhibition. Mol Cell Neurosci. 2001 Feb;17(2):329-41.

Effect of Intensive Versus Standard Lipid-Lowering Treatment With Atorvastatin on the Progression of Calcified Coronary Atherosclerosis Over 12 Months. Circulation. 2006 Jan 24;113(3):427-37. Epub 2006 Jan 16.