Thursday, 20 October 2016 11:07

Should We Worry About Cholesterol?

Written by

Belief in the high cholesterol myth has caused us to take our eye off the ball when it comes to preventing heart disease. This belief has caused us to ignore the real causes of heart disease while obsessively focusing on a harmless molecule that’s essential for life and has only a minor role in heart disease.

And you should care about all this for two reasons. One, the cholesterol myth has been the basis of dietary advice people have been saddled with for the past thirty years, “official” dietary advice that has directly contributed to the greatest epidemic of obesity, diabetes and heart disease in history.

8 Cholesterol Myths Your Doctor Still Believes

Here are eight of my favorite cholesterol myths.

MYTH: High cholesterol is the cause of heart disease.

FACT: Cholesterol is a fairly insignificant player in heart disease.

MYTH: High cholesterol is a good predictor of heart attacks.

FACT: High cholesterol is a lousy predictor of heart attacks. Half the people admitted to hospitals with heart disease or for heart surgery have normal cholesterol, and plenty of people with elevated cholesterol have perfectly healthy hearts.

MYTH: Lowering cholesterol with statin drugs will prolong your life.

FACT: There is no data showing statins have any impact on longevity. In virtually all of the studies, the people taking statins have a couple of less deaths from heart disease and a couple of more deaths from other causes like cancer, making the total number of lives saved… let’s see.. that would be zero.

MYTH: Statin drugs are perfectly safe.

FACT: Statin drugs have significant side effects, including loss of memory and libido, muscle pain and fatigue, and approximately 65% of doctors don’t report those side effects.

MYTH: Statin drugs are appropriate for men, women, children and the elderly.

FACT: The only group in which statins have been shown to have even a modest effect is in middle-aged men who’ve already had a heart attack. If you’re not in that group, you’ve got no business on a statin drug.

MYTH: Saturated fat is dangerous.

FACT: Saturated fat is mostly neutral and may even have some health benefits. Recent peer-reviewed studies have shown no association of saturated fat with heart disease.

MYTH: The higher your cholesterol, the shorter your lifespan.

FACT: In the Framingham Study, the people who actually lived the longest had the highest cholesterol.

MYTH: A high carbohydrate diet protects you from heart disease.

FACT: Diets that substitute carbohydrates for saturated fat actually increase the risk for heart disease.

What is cholesterol?

Total cholesterol, HDL, LDL, and triglycerides are the blood fats commonly viewed as risk factors for heart disease. To our minds, the only two important ones are triglycerides and HDL. The most meaningful lipid value predictor of heart disease risk is clearly the ratio of triglycerides divided by HDL. A number over 5 warns of increased risk; a number below 5 is a good sign, and the further below, the better. As to total cholesterol numbers, even in people with extreme levels of cholesterol, the incidence of heart attack is not worse than in people with lower numbers, making it questionable to worry about total cholesterol or LDL.

The common practice of putting everybody on a statin who has an LDL reading over 5 mmol/L is insanity. That’s particularly true for women, in whom not a single shred of evidence exists that lowering cholesterol with a statin does any good whatsoever. Moreover, cholesterol is a molecule of critical importance, produced by the liver, the gut, and every single cell in the body. If it were the evil you’ve probably been led to believe it to be, why would every cell in the body produce it?

Cholesterol is a very misunderstood molecule

And though many people might not be aware of it, there has long been a vocal minority of doctors, researchers and health professionals who believe that cholesterol and fat have been wrongly convicted as the primary promoters of heart disease.

Along with a growing body of fellow health professionals, I believe that this emphasis on cholesterol has caused us to take our attention off what I believe to be the true promoters of heart diseases – inflammation, oxidative damage, stress, and sugar.

Cholesterol is needed for life

It’s the parent molecule for all the major sex hormones, including estrogen, progesterone. and testosterone. It’s needed for the immune system, and it’s needed for the brain. (In fact, one of the most serious side effects of cholesterol-lowering medication is memory loss.)

Trying to prevent heart disease by lowering cholesterol is like trying to reduce calories by taking the lettuce off your double cheeseburger. It’s not that the lettuce doesn’t have any calories – it’s that lettuce is the wrong target.

And cholesterol is the wrong target if you’re trying to prevent heart disease.

Neither cholesterol nor fat is the major villain in today's diet – sugar is. The case against cholesterol, which was made nearly 30 years ago, was based on faulty evidence. Continuing to believe that saturated fat causes heart disease, cholesterol clogs your arteries, and statin drugs are the 21st century’s version of penicillin—costs all of us. The belief in the dangers of cholesterol allow doctors to continue to practice medicine as a paint-by-numbers affair, allows them to continue treating numbers rather than patients, blood tests rather than diseases, and symptoms rather than causes.

Your cholesterol is high? Get out the script pad. Never mind the fact that statin drugs have only been shown to be beneficial (and modestly so at that) in middle-aged men with previous heart disease. Never mind that there’s not a single research study showing a single woman’s life has ever been extended by statin drugs. Never mind that research shows that higher cholesterol is protective in older people. Never mind that we’re measuring cholesterol with old-fashioned, out-of-date tests. Never mind that several major studies published in conservative journals like the Annals of Internal Medicine and the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition  have exonerated saturated fat of any involvement in heart disease.

And never mind that the side-effect profile of statin drugs includes memory loss, muscle pain, fatigue, and loss of libido. (Is it really a coincidence that we have an epidemic of “erectile dysfunction” in middle-aged men precisely when millions of those same men are on statin drugs? Maybe it is. But it doesn’t pass the smell test.)

We’ve been on the wrong track in our attempts to extend life by lowering this critical, vital molecule. The dietary recommendations of the last forty years have been built on a house of cards that crumbled when saturated fat was found “not guilty”.

The true promoters of heart disease—and practically every other degenerative disease you don’t want to get—are inflammation, stress, and oxidation. By obsessively focusing on cholesterol, we’ve taken our collective eyes off the things that really matter when it comes to health.

Sugar—not fat—has always been the culprit in the modern diet.


To understand the cholesterol myth, check out: Heart of the Matter Part 1 Dietary Villains and Part 2:  

For much, much more, check out “The Great Cholesterol Myth: Why Lowering Cholesterol Won’t Prevent Heart Disease and the Statin-Free Plan that Will” written by Jonny Bowden, PhD, CNS, aka “The Rogue Nutritionist”™, and co-authored with cardiologist Stephen Sinatra, MD of “The Great Cholesterol Myth”.

Last modified on Thursday, 20 October 2016 11:36
Login to post comments