The Cholesterol Myth: The Scapegoat of Heart Disease is Vindicated
Updated: Oct 3, 2019
In 1984, Time influenced public perception with an article demonizing cholesterol as the cause of heart disease. This came on top of the growing misconception, thanks to Ancel Keys, that saturated fats were the primary cause of heart disease. Ancel Keys originally
appeared on the front cover of Time magazine in 1961. In the cover story, Keys claimed that saturated fats in the diet clogged arteries and caused heart disease. His theory and falsified research began a powerful movement of manipulating public perception that led to the unnecessary death and disease of millions of people around the world.
Known as one of Time’s most memorable covers, the message delivered in that 1984 cover story was made abundantly clear: “Cholesterol is proved deadly, and our diet may never be the same.” Time asserted that the diet-heart hypothesis - eating cholesterol and saturated fat raises cholesterol in the blood contributing to heart disease - had finally been proven. The article took the world by storm, allowing widespread fat phobia to take root for decades to come. The fallout? Over thirty years of blaming saturated fats and cholesterol and promoting a low-fat, high carb diet has created one of the worst health tragedies in history. In 2014, Time had a change of heart on fat, reportedly based on current research of course - never mind that similar research was already done exonerating fats even before the 1984 article.
So where are we thirty years later? Decades of low-fat diets and rebound high carb have coincided with rising rates of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease and it appears that Time has had a change of heart. Simply, “Eat Butter.” Ending the War on Fats goes further. “For decades, it has been the most vilified nutrient in the American diet. But new science reveals fat isn’t what’s hurting our health.” Yes, Time did give an apology of sorts, but that doesn’t do much good for all of my diabetic patients in wheelchairs with leg amputation from diabetes. With greater power, comes greater responsibility for that power to end at the truth. The evidence was there, it appears that Time just didn’t do its homework.
What is important to note through all this is that saturated fats in meats, butter, dairy, etc. in and of themselves are not the cause of heart disease or any of the chronic diseases. The chemicals associated with the farm to table experience can be problematic, but not the meat or butter product itself in its natural form and within reasonable limits. Neither is high cholesterol necessarily a problem! That’s right. High cholesterol is not the cause of heart disease. Even Dr. DeBakey, the famous heart surgeon and heart transplant pioneer, said as much over thirty years ago. As a matter of fact, one of his operation room assistants has said that he would routinely eat a small block of cheese for lunch back when all the other docs were convinced that fats and cholesterol were the cause of heart disease. He just ignored them. He knew what he was seeing in the operating room contradicted that idea because he was doing as many bypass surgeries on people with low cholesterol as high cholesterol.
What is cholesterol anyway? Cholesterol is a large and complicated molecule. It is vital – animal life cannot exist without it. It can be made by all cells in our body – built up from simple small molecules. The starting point for cholesterol synthesis is acetic acid, or vinegar. No, that doesn’t mean that you should stop using vinegar. This is 2-carbon molecule which can be made from fat, sugars such as glucose and from proteins. Further bits are added on in a stepwise fashion until it is 30 carbon atoms – squalene. Squalene is a useful substance in the body – it is used to make earwax. Out body produces about 80% of the needed cholesterol. The cholesterol in our diet comes from animal products. Egg yolks have a lot, so does some seafood, such as shrimps, and milk.
The main use for cholesterol, and other sterols, is to make better cell membranes. Cholesterol is also the starting point for a number of really important hormones. The most important is cortisol, made by the adrenal glands (small glands which live on top of each kidney and regulates a whole range of metabolic processes. We cannot survive without cortisol. The sex hormones - progesterone, estrogens, and testosterone - are all made from cholesterol. Vitamin D is also made form cholesterol. It is extremely important in maintaining a healthy immune system and bones. Hopefully you can see how important cholesterol is to our ability to survive.
Unfortunately, thanks to manipulated research and poor reporting by media outlets like Time magazine, cholesterol has received a bad rap. High cholesterol was not necessarily causing coronary artery disease. As a matter of fact, there really is no such thing as good cholesterol and bad cholesterol as medical professionals use the terms. Docs may tell their patients for the sake of simplicity that HDL (high-density lipoprotein) is “good” cholesterol and LDL (low- density lipoproteins) is “bad” cholesterol. Actually, HDL and LDL are “taxi cabs” for cholesterol (and others like triglycerides), which cannot travel the blood stream by itself. These are two of five types of transporters. Then there is another lab measurement called total cholesterol which is used to determine risk of heart disease. But just because total cholesterol is normal, that does not mean it is healthy. The problem is not necessarily high cholesterol, it is OXIDIZED cholesterol.
When HDL is measured for example, the measurement is including its passenger in the taxi, cholesterol. The taxi is on a mission to take cholesterol back home to the liver after a hard day’s work out in the body. HDL removes cholesterol from the bloodstream, “lowering” blood cholesterol.
LDL does just the opposite - it takes cholesterol to the job sites in the body and will also go out into the blood stream when there is any kind of stress. They all live in the same neighborhood in the liver. When there is a call to the brain that cholesterol is needed for cellular repair for example, the LDL taxi is called, and it goes to cholesterol’s house to make the pickup. Cholesterol then goes to the address given by the brain to work. Once the work is completed, the work supervisor calls the brain and says to come and pick up the remaining cholesterol - that they are getting cranky and need to go home to see their family. The HDL taxicab then makes the run to go and pick up the remaining cholesterol and takes it back to the liver and out of the bloodstream.
This is a very sophisticated and balanced system and runs very smoothly most of the time, if we are healthy. The things that get in the way are the traffic jams caused by chronic stress, oxidation, and inflammation. Tensions are high, and there is a lot of stress. There are wrecks, flat tires, angry drivers, - five o’clock city traffic but 24/7. The normal traffic highway “arteries” are clogged. The more the stress, the more the damage, and the more calls to the brain to bring reparative cholesterol to the scene. LDL does that.Then, because things are such a mess and cells are dying, the immune system is activated to bring the emergency crews to help the injured cells and to clean up some of the debris. Patching things up causes further congestion and repair, so the immune system puts up “blockades” that may close down a lane of the highway while they do the repair, further complicating the congestion and damage. Arteries in the heart get blocked through this process. If things get too bad, the circulation highway shuts down completely- heart attack!
To put it another way as current research clearly demonstrates, it is the stress, inflammation, oxidation, and free radical cycle that causes so much congestion on the highway and cell damage, including damage to arteries and the cholesterol/LDL complex with triglycerides and platelet adhesion, which contribute to heart disease and stroke by clogging up the arteries. The internal cell walls of the coronary arteries become inflamed and sticky, and damaged cholesterol/VLDL sticks more easily to the arterial wall. The immune system responds to the “wreck,” trying to clean things up, but causes scar tissue and thickening of the arterial wall, closing it down in the process. Oxidative stress comes from various sources including diet, environmental contamination, toxic chemicals, and even medications. All contribute to the chronic diseases that are so commonplace today.
Here’s an interesting note about LDL. It is actually not bad, as we have come to understand it. We are told that saturated fats raise LDL and that increases the risk of heart disease. From the discussion above, we know that oxidation is what damages the LDL/cholesterol unit and contributes to heart disease. Although saturated fats increase LDL in the short-term, plenty of long-term observational studies find no link between saturated fat consumption and LDL levels. For testing purposes, the way to get a more accurate assessment of cardiovascular risk is to get HDL, LDL, VLDL, LDL-P, apolipoprotein (apoB), and triglycerides. Lab designation may be different but whatever the terms used in the labs, they should include these components. And, if you want to reduce the inflammatory events that can damage the cholesterol complex and oxidation and heart disease, then just maintain healthy lifestyle practices. And, unless you are one of the very few that has a gene malfunction that causes your cholesterol to go out the roof, cholesterol lowering medication is not generally necessary and can actually be a very bad idea because of the side effects - I go over these in my book, Your Health has Been Hijacked. Click on link below.
Excerpts from Your Health Has Been Hijacked
The Evidence-Based Book that Belongs in Every Health-Conscious Home
Defend Your Family!
Available on this website. Click on the link below.