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The Cholesterol Myth
Web ^ | Summer 2000 | Barry Groves, PHD

Posted on 10/07/2006 3:09:58 PM PDT by djf

Part 1: Introduction

The tragedy of science is the slaying of a beautiful hypothesis by an ugly fact. T H Huxley

Over the past couple of decades there has been a growing concern about fats and cholesterol. Dieticians, nutritionists and doctors have been telling us that fat is a killer. Governments have introduced national policies based around its reduction. Eat less cholesterol, saturated fat and salt, eat more fibre-rich foods we are all told. The evidence is incontrovertible that if we do not, we are doomed to the West's greatest killer - heart disease.

But is the evidence so clear? Despite the certainty implied by the propaganda, the debate continues in the medical journals, behind the scenes. Is diet a killer? Apart from those with a very rare disease, has cholesterol got anything to do with heart disease - or any other disease? And even if it has, will a change of diet be beneficial?

Like all debates, this one about cholesterol has two sides. The Cholesterol Myth explores the evidence on which present healthy eating' dietary recommendations are based.

Much of the evidence used in the cholesterol debate is complex. Nevertheless, with so much of only one side of the debate having been published and your having been subjected to so much that is misleading, I will try to explain the other side in as much detail as this paper allows.

* * * * * *


On the basis of research in the 1920s and 1930s by Sir John Boyd Orr and others, that was the advice given to the British people in 1938. The Government introduced free school milk - full cream, that is - and later we 'went to work on an egg'. As a consequence, child deaths from diphtheria, measles, scarlet fever and whooping cough fell dramatically - well before the introduction of antibiotics and widespread immunisation. Rickets, called 'the English Disease' because it was so wide-spread, and other deficiency diseases were relegated to the past. Other factors helped, but most important of all was the better nutrition that gave children a higher resistance. The recommendations above shaped our diet for nearly fifty years and helped to give us a mean life expectancy that is now among the highest in the world. Sixty years in 1930, our mean life expectancy had climbed to seventy years by 1960 and to seventy-five years by 1990. Now we are told they are shortening our lives - killing us with coronary heart disease. Why the sudden change? To discover that, we need to know something of the history of coronary heart disease and how the strategy to combat it evolved.

Coronary heart disease There are many diseases that affect the heart but the one that the 'healthy eating' strategies seek to prevent is Coronary Heart Disease (CHD), more correctly called ischaemic heart disease (IHD). CHD is a condition where the coronary arteries that supply blood to nourish the heart muscle are narrowed by a build-up of material on their walls (an atheroma) to such an extent that they become blocked. This cuts off the blood supply to part of the heart muscle, and we have a heart attack. The narrowing also encourages the clotting of blood and, in consequence, it is possible for a clot to cause a heart attack long before the atheroma is large enough to do so. The material generally blamed for the build-up is cholesterol and the 'healthy eating' advice given to the public to reduce the incidence of CHD is aimed simply at reducing the levels of cholesterol in the blood.

Cholesterol Because of the propaganda, you can be forgiven for thinking that cholesterol is a harmful alien substance that should be avoided at all costs. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. Cholesterol is an essential component in the body. It is found in all the cells of the body, particularly in the brain and nerve cells. Body cells are continually dying and new ones being made. Cholesterol is a major building block from which cell walls are made. Cholesterol is also used to make a number of other important substances: hormones (including the sex hormones), bile acids and, in conjunction with sunlight on the skin, vitamin D 3 . The body uses large quantities of cholesterol every day and the substance is so important that, with the exception of brain cells, every body cell has the ability to make it.

Cholesterol may be ingested in animal products, but less than twenty percent of your body's cholesterol needs will be supplied in this way. Your body then makes up the difference. If you eat less cholesterol, your body merely compensates by making more. Although the media and food companies still warn against cholesterol in diet, it has been repeatedly demonstrated that the level of cholesterol in your blood is affected very little by the amount of cholesterol you eat.

Cholesterol and CHD For reasons still unknown, coronary heart disease suddenly took off during the 1920s throughout the industrialised world. By the 1940s it was becoming the major cause of premature death. And nobody knew why.

In 1950 an American doctor, John Gofman, hypothesised that blood cholesterol was to blame. This was supported in 1951 when pathologists were sent to Korea to learn about war wounds by dissecting the bodies of dead soldiers. To their surprise they discovered unexpected evidence of coronary heart disease: unexpected for they knew that death from heart disease was extremely rare under middle age and these men averaged only twenty-two years of age. So the pathologists performed detailed dissections on the hearts of the next 300 corpses. In thirty-five percent they found deposits of fibrous, fatty material sticking to the artery walls. A further forty-one percent had fully formed lesions, and in three percent of the soldiers these lesions were sufficiently large that they blocked at least one coronary artery. Thus, over three-quarters of all the men examined showed evidence of serious coronary heart disease - and they were barely out of their teens.

Doctors now had a problem. As there are no symptoms with the partial blockage of the coronary arteries, how could they tell, without resorting to surgery, who was in danger? They had to find what was different in those with the disease and those free of it.

To cut a long story short, they found cholesterol in the material that builds up on artery walls and causes them to become blocked; people who died of heart disease often had high levels of cholesterol in their blood; and those who suffered the rare hereditary disease, familial hypercholesterolaemia (hereditary high blood cholesterol), also suffered a higher incidence of CHD. And so, not unnaturally perhaps, cholesterol and heart disease became linked.

But there are a number of significant points that the cholesterol theory overlooks. For example, there is a marked difference between the build-up found in those with familial hypercholesterolaemia and those with coronary heart disease: hypercholesterolaemia causes large deposits at the mouths of the coronary arteries, often leaving the arteries themselves unblocked, and so does not reproduce the type of obstruction found in coronary heart disease. People with myxoedema or nephrosis also have high blood cholesterol levels - yet in them, there is no increase in the incidence of CHD. Neither is raised blood cholesterol a predictor of CHD in people over sixty. It has also long been known that simple events, such as putting a cuff around the arm prior to taking a blood sample, or fear of the needle, can result in raised cholesterol values. And, even where these are avoided, large fluctuations are known with peak to nadir variations of as much as twenty-three percent. Lastly, cholesterol is only one of the constituents of an atheroma and, if you think about it, cholesterol is so necessary and so widespread in the body, it would have been surprising if it had not been found. Nevertheless the lowering of blood cholesterol became the sole objective in the fight against CHD; and the two principal methods used to achieve this are with diet and drugs.

References: J W Gofman, et al. The role of lipids and lipoproteins in atherosclerosis . Science. 1950; 111: 166.

J P Strong, H C McGill jr. The natural history of coronary atherosclerosis. Am J Pathol . 1962; 40: 37.

W F Enos, R H Holmes, J Beyer. Coronary disease among United States soldiers killed in action in Korea. Preliminary report. JAMA 1953; 152: 1090.

TOPICS: Food; Health/Medicine; Science; Society
Link to 9 part series about cholesterol and diet. Heavily referenced and footnoted.

Not exactly what the talking heads want you to read.

1 posted on 10/07/2006 3:09:59 PM PDT by djf
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To: djf
Health science has advanced far beyond that article. They even test you these days for HDL and LDL.

There was yet another report posted on FR last night that suggested lowering cholesterol is not the benefit to the heart everyone thought but the anti-cholesterol drugs are of great benefit in and of themselves even if cholesterol levels don't change.

One thing the statins do is cause cholesterol to precipitate out of the blood and cling to the walls of blood vessels thereby sealing any leaks.

BTW, some of us have naturally LOW cholesterol levels, and try as we might we can't improve the good cholesterol levels ~ I could eat nothing but walnuts and drink fishoil night and day and it wouldn't budge ~ that's because I've tried that and it didn't work.

2 posted on 10/07/2006 3:19:19 PM PDT by muawiyah
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To: djf

microorganisms are less likely to eat food with goods made with shortening (partially hydrogenated fat) compare with natural vegetable oil giving vendors more shelf life, which has got to mean something, so I dont even pour melted shortening down my drain, (imagine the clog), much less my throat, just call be cautious with the brain of an amoeba, I dont care...

3 posted on 10/07/2006 3:19:30 PM PDT by seastay
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To: djf

We're all going to die from *something*, aren't we? By a matter of degrees, depending upon your DNA and background.

I'd rather go out at 61, after a full life of eating good (my choice) food and drink, than live to 74, eating grass and leaves. No, I don't recommend eating lard sandwiches or trans-fat milkshakes.

Be sensible, but screw the grass, leaves and organic pond water w/ lemon wedges.

These pseudo-medical, lib-dem "nanny staters", who think they know best for us, and that we should all follow their 'expert lead', should drop dead tomorrow, from anorexia, bulemia and AIDS.

Pass those BBQ Ribs, mashed potatoes and gravy, please!

4 posted on 10/07/2006 3:21:06 PM PDT by butternut_squash_bisque (The recipe's at my FR HomePage; try it!)
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To: djf
Heavily referenced and footnoted.

And yet, no mention of Uffe Ravnskov?

5 posted on 10/07/2006 3:26:42 PM PDT by Lil'freeper (You do not have the plug-in required to view this tagline.)
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To: seastay

What's ironic - butter has been long railed against as being "bad" - however its taste is unmatched, but *margarine* is now considered by the health experts revised view as being really, really "bad". For years people have eschewed butter for reasons other than price. I kind of consider it part of the "wholly trinity" of butter, onions and garlic as far as cooking goes. Eggs, butter and milk are wholesome foods and help kids grow up strong and healthy. A well rounded diet with beef, poultry, fish and veggies is about as good as it gets. Fresh air, exercise, sunshine too. Don't smoke, keep a clean mind and body. Be mentally alert and morally straight...

Hm, sounds like the Boy Scouts!

6 posted on 10/07/2006 3:28:07 PM PDT by Freedom4US (u)
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To: seastay

I read a story about a guy who took a tub of margarine, you know, the heart healthy stuff. He opened it up and left it on the counter in his garage.

Nothing grew on it. Not mold. Not any kind of fungus. Even the flies avoided it like the plague.

It may just be an anecdotal report, but I have for along ime believed our bodies actually know how to digest most of the animal fats and naturally occurring vegetable stuff.

From what I've been reading, two of the worst for you are corn stuff and soy.

7 posted on 10/07/2006 3:28:25 PM PDT by djf (There is no such thing as "moderate muslims". They are all "silent supporters!!")
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To: butternut_squash_bisque
"Be sensible, but screw the grass, leaves and organic pond water w/ lemon wedges."

Words to live by! lol
8 posted on 10/07/2006 3:29:46 PM PDT by Freedom4US (u)
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To: Lil'freeper

TY. I never heard of him, but did a google.

Not surprising that independent researchers would come to the same conclusions.

I will try to catch up on his stuff.

9 posted on 10/07/2006 3:44:48 PM PDT by djf (There is no such thing as "moderate muslims". They are all "silent supporters!!")
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To: little jeremiah; WKB; neverdem

I switched to butter a long time ago because I couldn't pronounce the ingredients in margarine and I figured, if I had to take my chances with something, it might as well be something my body recognises as food.

I also seem to recall reading that very high fat diets are supposed to help kids with epilepsy. The children put cream on their cereal instead of milk. Somehow it's supposed to contol or lessen the severity of their seizures.

10 posted on 10/07/2006 8:44:31 PM PDT by metmom (Welfare was never meant to be a career choice.)
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To: metmom

Maragine is a "non-food item". Ditto for all hydrogenated/partially hydrogenated fats. They don't pass our lips here.

One half of the ljs has high cholesteral (the skinny one!) and the chubby one has low cholesterol. I knew another couple, same thing. A lot of it is genetic. Not that one should ignore the high cholesterol - we lowered it with diet. And there are herbs (including garlic) which are said to lower cholesterol. Actually, I put together a list of food items and herbs which are traditionally used to lower cholesterol, if anyone wants it freepmail me.

11 posted on 10/07/2006 9:33:14 PM PDT by little jeremiah
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To: butternut_squash_bisque

Bring back MSG!

12 posted on 10/07/2006 9:37:47 PM PDT by Extremely Extreme Extremist
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To: scripter

FYI. I'm going to read the other articles and see what they say.

13 posted on 10/07/2006 9:48:53 PM PDT by little jeremiah
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To: metmom

Fats are the primary component of the myelin sheaths, the insulation that protects nerve cells and keeps them from shorting out.

I think I've also read that they are needed to make some of the neurotransmitters.

14 posted on 10/07/2006 10:05:23 PM PDT by djf (There is no such thing as "moderate muslims". They are all "silent supporters!!")
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To: little jeremiah

Thanks for the ping. I've read similar reports and want to read more, so let me know what you find.

15 posted on 10/07/2006 10:27:52 PM PDT by scripter ("You don't have a soul. You are a soul. You have a body." - C.S. Lewis)
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To: djf
Cholesterol and CHD For reasons still unknown, coronary heart disease suddenly took off during the 1920s throughout the industrialised world. By the 1940s it was becoming the major cause of premature death. And nobody knew why.

Central heating and advances in medicine reduced death by pneumonia (sp).

16 posted on 10/08/2006 9:15:33 AM PDT by aimhigh
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To: aimhigh

TB used to kill alot. My grandmother didn't die directly from it, but the doc said having it her youth had weakened her so bad, she died fairly young, in her late 50s.

17 posted on 10/08/2006 9:21:34 AM PDT by djf (There is no such thing as "moderate muslims". They are all "silent supporters!!")
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To: djf
IIRC, according to Dr. Atkins' book, high density ("good") cholestrol that circulates in the blood slowly changes into low density ("bad") cholesterol. When the body digests fat, it gets turned into good cholesterol. When the body burns fat, both types of cholesterol get consumed.

Thus, if one is constantly taking in and burning fat, the bad cholesterol in the bloodstream will be constantly diluted with good cholesterol. If one is subsisting on a carbohydrate diet, even if one is not gaining weight, the cholesterol in one's blood will be replaced much more slowly and thus much more of it will have a chance to turn into bad cholesterol.

18 posted on 10/08/2006 11:43:28 AM PDT by supercat (Sony delenda est.)
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To: djf
Eat 40% more butter? I thought butter was bad for your cholesterol! It seems like everything goes in cycles. One decade doctors are reporting one thing, the next they are reporting the complete opposite.
19 posted on 06/07/2007 8:37:00 AM PDT by TamiSpeaks
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