Tuesday, 21 February 2012 00:00

Cholesterol Gets a Bad Rap

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One of the key reasons that we need to spend approximately one third of our lives sleeping is to give the body time to produce cholesterol, repair cells and perform other essential maintenance.  Of the 500 or so roles that the liver has – one is to produce cholesterol.

So, how did something so life vital become more vilified than a mass murderer? Author and researcher, Zoe Harcombe think it comes down to three things:

1) Rabbits;
2) Ancel Keys;
3) Money!

1) In 1913, a Russian chap called Nikolai Anitschkow decided to feed rabbits purified cholesterol and he managed to get their blood cholesterol levels in excess of 1,000 mg/dl (nearly 26 mmol/L! He then noticed the formation of “vascular lesions closely resembling those of human atherosclerosis” forming in the arteries of the rabbits. The obvious flaw in the experiment should have been that rabbits are strict herbivores. They do not eat animal products, which is the only source of cholesterol. Hence rabbits are in no way designed to digest cholesterol or animal fat and no one should be surprised if cholesterol or animal fat ended up stuck in any part of the poor rabbit. The only surprise is that no one thought to ask Anitschkow why he was feeding cholesterol and animal fat to herbivores. Interestingly, far less well known is that a parallel test was done on rats and dogs (omnivores) and feeding cholesterol to these species failed to produce lesions.

2) Ancel Keys. What is little known is that Keys originally tried to establish a link between cholesterol in food and cholesterol in the blood (our cholesterol levels when we have a blood test) because he thought (probably because of poor Bugs Bunny) that cholesterol in the blood causes heart disease.

Keys did multiples of studies, changing the diets of his human ‘guinea pigs’, and he presented his conclusions in The Journal of Nutrition, November 1955: “It is concluded that in adult men the serum cholesterol level is essentially independent of the cholesterol intake over the whole range of natural human diets. It is probable that infants, children and women are similar.” i.e. I only tested adult men and there is no relationship between cholesterol eaten and cholesterol in the blood and it is probable that there will similarly be no relationship for women or children.

In 1997 Keys put this even more assertively: “There’s no connection whatsoever between cholesterol in food and cholesterol in blood. And we’ve known that all along. Cholesterol in the diet doesn’t matter at all unless you happen to be a chicken or a rabbit.”

Keys wanted to find an explanation for heart disease and he was not about to be deterred. For some reason, he then turned to fat (the entire literature on this topic is very vague about “fat” vs. “saturated fat” so his early writings are also very vague on the topic). Here’s a bit of Mensa logic for those who like this kind of thing:

i) Only animal foods contain cholesterol (meat, fish, eggs, dairy). NO non animal foods contain cholesterol.

ii) All animal foods contain fat – saturated and unsaturated. Some may be very low in fat (e.g. white fish), but they all contain some fat.

iii) If there is no link whatsoever between increased consumption of foods containing cholesterol and blood cholesterol levels, there can be no link whatsoever between increased consumption of animal foods and blood cholesterol levels since only animal foods can be increased in consumption to increase consumption of cholesterol!

So, Keys first did the graph that was presented at the Mount Sinai hospital and then went on to do the Seven Countries study

The studies showed that there is not even an association between saturated fat and heart disease – let alone a causation. However, Keys published his findings and, as they say, is history.

3) The Robert Redford film All the Presidents’ Men that had the memorable quote “follow the money”. This is absolutely at the heart of everything in the diet industry from national dietary organizations to the food, drink and drug industries and individuals in between.

The Ancel Keys work interestingly claimed that saturated fat consumption (A) caused heart disease (C) not directly, but by raising cholesterol (B). Hence A was supposed to cause C through B. For this to even get off the starting blocks, A and C have to be related (plot one against the other and there has to be a clear relationship); A and B have to be related and B and C have to be related. None of these in fact holds.  Studies show that A and C are not related. There is no logic that A and B could be related – because of the problem of fat and cholesterol being found in the same foods and presented studies showing that B and C were not related.

By having cholesterol as this middle-man, this has allowed an entire pharmaceutical industry (and stupid cook books) to come up with ways of lowering cholesterol. The most lucrative of these has clearly been statins – drugs designed to stop the body producing the cholesterol that it is designed to produce. It never hurts to remind people that one statin alone, Lipitor, is worth $12 billion to Pfizer. Gary Taubes has a deeply troubling passage in Why we get Fat and What to do About it looked at the committee who approved a lowering of the target cholesterol levels for the USA population. From memory (it’s a big book to find a reference!), a number of people were on the committee and all but one were funded by pharma companies and one didn’t want the target cholesterol level lowered. I wonder which one!

So, cholesterol will remain the mass murderer for as long as statins are as lucrative as they are or until the public are enlightened and courageous enough to say no to doctors who try to put them on this medication.

Excerpt from Zoë Harcombe - The Obesity Epidemic


Read 6107 times Last modified on Wednesday, 04 February 2015 15:21
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