Fear of saturated fats and cholesterol levels are commonplace these days. We are constantly bombarded with advertising convincing us to lower our cholesterol levels by not eating saturated fat. We’re also being given drugs, called Statins, that are designed to lower cholesterol and, therefore, reduce the risk of having a heart attack.
The problem is that these approaches to improving our cardiovascular health are not working and feel very wrong. In this article, we will investigate the two recommendations that the drug companies base their approach to cholesterol control upon:
- Limiting cholesterol and saturated fat consumption
- Keeping serum cholesterol levels as low as possible
We’ll discover that the conventional view of fat and cholesterol is 100% wrong – and find out what you really have to do to reduce your weight and benefit your cardiovascular health.
Some Diet History
The first recorded modern account of an overweight person trying to lose weight was William Banting (1797 – 1878). Banting’s doctor recommended a low carbohydrate diet that eliminated such things as potatoes, bread, and sugar. He was able to eat as much meat and animal products as he desired.
This approach was very successful, with Banting losing 46 pounds, and living into his 80’s. He went on to write a book in which he detailed what he ate to achieve his weight loss. Banting’s take home message was that reducing carbs was the key to fat loss.
A few years later, doctors in the US began turning their attention to the problem of weight gain. In 1892, Dr. Emmett Densmore wrote a book called Observations on Obesity. Just like Banting, Densmore stated that obesity is caused by foods high in carbohydrates.
During the 1950’, a leader in the field of obesity study was Alfred Pennington. In one of his many papers, Pennington recommended that people should eat the following on a daily basis . . .
One half-pound or more of fresh meat with the fat.
Pennington further stated that most of the meat people buy is not fat enough, so they should buy extra beef kidney fat. Not only that, but he urged readers to eat as much of this food as they want.
In harmony with his predecessors, Pennington advised avoiding bread, flour, and sugar. Then, of course, came Dr. Robert Atkins in 1972, with his Diet Revolution. But, as we’ve seen Atkins’ low carb ideas followed over a century of research emphasizing that it’s the carbohydrates that make you fat – and that eating fat is actually healthy.
Is It Healthy to Eat Low Carbs and High Fat?
150 years of research has established that, contrary to generally accepted wisdom, it is healthy to eat a high-fat diet.
A 2006 study, by Dashi, et al, showed that not only was a high fat, low carb diet effective at reducing body fat, it also reduced all of the significant biomarkers. HDL (good cholesterol went up), fats in the blood went down, and blood glucose drops dramatically.
In 2015, the Journal Nutrition cited the work of over 200 scholars who emphasized that carb restriction is the ideal approach to treating Type 2 Diabetes, Obesity, and Cardiovascular Disease.
So, 150 years of research confirms that carbohydrates are the demon on your plate. Why, then are we still so fat and cholesterol averse?
The reason is that, despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary, the American Heart Association, dietitians, and nutritionists are demonizing fat. To lose weight, they say, we need to be eating fat-free.
Why the Low Fat Mania?
These recommendations are completely out of touch with the science. How can this be?
The low-fat food mania began in 1955 when President Eisenhower had a heart attack. This incident highlighted the growing incidences of American, in general, having heart attacks.
Everyone ignored the fact that Americans, including their President, had become chain smokers. Instead, it was claimed that what was killing Eisenhower was the sausage he was eating with breakfast. Fat in the diet was pinpointed as the cause of weight gain and heart attack.
The Rise of Ancel Keys
In 1953, Ancel Keys, the man behind the fat is a bad myth, published a newsletter in which he proposed a relationship between fat in the diet and people dying of heart attack.
However, Keys manipulated his data to make it appear that fat was related to obesity. He had 22 countries to draw data from, but handpicked six of them to back up his claims, ignoring the other 16. When you look at all of the data, you realize that there is, in fact, no relationship between fat in the diet and heart disease.
Despite this, Ancel Keys became the leader of nutrition and cardiovascular research in America. It was he who pronounced the mantra that Americans eat too much fat. Keys became such a dominant figure in the American Heart Association, that their current recommendations still follow Key’s original faulty ideas.
Keys is the father of the Mediterranean Diet, advocating that we eat just 15% of our overall calories from fat and only 4% from saturated fat. However, studies in the 2000’s actually show that more fat in the diet is correlated with fewer incidences of heart disease – the direct opposite of what Keys had claimed.
The French Paradox
In a study published in the 2012 British Journal of Nutrition, a comparison was made between countries related to obesity and heart attack. The country which had the lowest incidence of heart attack was the very country that ate the most saturated fat- France. French people eat 40% fat and 15% from saturated fat.
Because the results from France ran counter to the hypothesis created by Keys, it was labeled a paradox.
The well known Food Pyramid was developed by the US Dept. of Agriculture. It advocated a high-carb, low-fat diet. This is what guided what people ate in the 1970’s and 1980’s. The result was that people got fat.
Americans got fat as a result of the demonization of fat. Fortunately, good science ultimately prevails. As a result, in the last 5 years, the message that it is carbs, and not fat, that is the problem is becoming clearer. Studies are now coming out, one after the other, showing that the guidance based on Keys’ theory is wrong.
Everybody’s afraid of cholesterol in their blood. Even though it’s produced by our own bodies, we’ve been told it’s only goal is to block our arteries. This sludge, it is claimed, is the enemy of your heart. As a result, more than half of Americans take some kind of medication to control their cholesterol.
What Does Cholesterol Do?
The brain is about 25% cholesterol. It needs cholesterol to produce new brain cells and make connections. In fact, cholesterol is contained in every cell of your body. It is a key part of the production of hormones, Vitamin D and digestive acids.
Cholesterol also helps the skin and other organs to grow.
In the early part of the 20th century, research began to focus on cholesterol. People with the disease known as hypercholesteremia had high cholesterol, including cholesterol in their arteries. A study in 1951 made the link between high cholesterol clogging up the arteries and people dying of heart attack.
The problem that these researchers made, however, was that they mistook association with causation. Because cholesterol was present, it must be the cause. If this were true, then people with high cholesterol levels should be dying prematurely from heart disease. In turn, reducing cholesterol should reduce the incidence of heart disease.
Is this the case?
The largest study even done on people with extremely high cholesterol was done in 1966. Published in the Journal of Medicine, it stated that there was no evidence that high cholesterol shortens the life of people. They went on to say that high cholesterol was compatible with survival into the 70’s and 80’s.
A 1991 study, published in the British Journal of Medicine, showed that people in the 60’s and 70’s with elevated cholesterol levels actually had a 31% lower risk of death than people with levels less than 200.
There are dozens of other studies that show exactly the same thing. It was even found that you are less healthy if you have low cholesterol levels over the age of 60. A 2011 study by Naoki, et al concluded . . .
We observed that low cholesterol was associated with increased risks of cancer, hemorrhagic stroke, and heart failure.
These facts fly in the face of conventional wisdom.
So, why do some people with high cholesterol have heart attacks?
A 1985 study of people with high cholesterol, looked at two groups who had the same cholesterol levels. Yet, one group had heart disease and the other did not. The difference between the two groups was seen to be clotting factors. People who have more clotting factors had more heart disease. In other words, their platelets got sticky and blocked their arteries.
So, every risk factor for heart disease comes down to the issue of activated platelets. So, what causes platelet activation?
- High blood sugar
Just as we discovered earlier that fat is not the cause of obesity, cholesterol is not responsible for heart attack. So, why do people want to get their cholesterol as low as possible?
The False Study
In 1984, JAMA published a study which tested the blood of 480,000 men. The 5% with the highest cholesterol levels were included in the study. The hypothesis of the study was that, by giving these men drugs to reduce cholesterol, you would be saving their lives.
Half of the group were given a statin to reduce cholesterol, while the other half were given a placebo. They were then monitored for 7.5 years. The group who were given a drug to lower their cholesterol were shown to have a 24% reduction in chronic heart disease death. Overall, however, these people were not living longer.
In both groups, almost nobody died of a heart attack. The actual difference between the two groups was 0.4%. So, how did they turn 0.4% into 24%?
With some very misleading data manipulation, known as relative risk reduction. By taking the %age difference (0.4%) and dividing it by the rate of heart attacks in one of the groups (1.6%), you end with the extremely misleading figure of 24%.
This totally erroneous figure caught the imagination of the medical community. Rather than stating that this $150 million study proved that cholesterol has nothing to do with heart disease, the exact opposite was claimed. In fact, this research was labeled ‘a turning point in cholesterol research.’
It was this study that fueled the development of drugs to lower cholesterol.
The Statin Era
Statin drugs are now everywhere. One of the most common is Lipitor. Its advertising touts a study which it claims reduced heart attacks by 36%. However, this study played the same game with the numbers as in the 1984 study. The real difference was just 1.1%.
That means that you have to give Lipitor to a hundred people to have one less heart attack in one of those people in three years.
There is no doubt that statin drugs are effective at bringing down cholesterol. But, as we’ve seen, lowering cholesterol to defeat heart disease is as ineffective as cutting out fat to reduce weight. Unfortunately, introducing statins to the body presents a whole host of new problems.
Statin Side Effects
Statin studies have revealed that people taking statins have a higher incidence of diabetes. Women who use statins for over 10 years have almost double the rate of breast cancer of nonusers.
Additional side effects of statins include:
- Erectile dysfunction
- Memory loss
- Acute renal failure
- Liver dysfunction
So, what can we conclude about cholesterol? Since 1984, a war has been declared on this sterol compound. This war has been driven by the use of statistical deception in order to create the impression that statins are wonder drugs. The reality is that the trivial benefit of statin use is hugely offset by their adverse side effects.
Statins remove a vital substance from the body with harmful drugs. That is as illogical and dangerous as the bloodletting practice that was commonplace in centuries gone.
Breaking out of the fat and cholesterol phobia that has made the Western world fatter and more prone to disease are two of the healthiest things you can ever do.