Cholesterol – Sunny Side Up

eggs for your heartRecent studies confirm cholesterol is not the killer we have come to believe.

After decades of being told we need to lower our cholesterol, avoid egg yolks and saturated fats, clear evidence is emerging of the vital role that the cinderella molecule, cholesterol, plays in supporting our health.

Much of the blame for cholesterol’s bad name can be laid at the feet of scientists who in the first half of the 20th century observed fatty plaques of cholesterol in atherosclerotic arteries. Noting that rabbits fed cholesterol developed chronic atherosclerosis, they wrongly assumed dietary cholesterol would cause the same problems in humans. An idea long since abandoned by scientists, but somehow alive and not-so-well in the public mind half a century later. Enter stage left, a researcher who would become known as ‘The father of the diet-heart hypothesis’, Ancel Keys. Keys disagreed, noting that dietary cholesterol was only really a problem for herbivores. Here is what he said in 1956:

“In the adult man the serum cholesterol level is essentially independent of the cholesterol intake over the whole range of human diets.”

Great. But most ordinary people don’t seem to have been copied in on that message, and still believe the myth sixty odd years on!

Keys, however, had his own (dodgy) ideas, blaming heart disease on saturated fat because of its ability to raise blood cholesterol levels. One of his main sources of evidence was his 1953 paper Atherosclerosis: A Problem In Newer Public Health – in which he created a neat curve linking saturated fat and heart disease for six countries – the more saturated fat a nation ate, the more heart disease they appeared to suffer. At the time both his theory and the evidence he used for his graph were hotly contested, but one way or another his paradigm stuck. One of the best recent critiques of his data can be read here, thank’s to Denise Minger of Raw Food SOS. Unfortunately, when correlations such as ‘dietary saturated fat is correlated with heart disease deaths’ get stated often enough they turn into causation in most people’s minds – you know, the old ‘saturated fat causes heart disease’ mantra? Worse still, when politicians and health authorities get hold of such half-baked ideas and start promoting national guidelines for reduction in dietary saturated fat to (hopefully) reduce cholesterol levels with the well-intentioned (and even more hopeful) aim of reducing heart disease. And that’s where we are today: A cholesterol-phobic public health policy which is repeated ad-nauseum by the media, and the food industry, directly or indirectly, with millions of people on statins to reduce their ‘dangerous’ cholesterol levels. Thankfully, there are a whole bunch of great people working full-time to dispel the cholesterol myth. Hats off to Dr Malcolm Kendrick, Chris Masterjohn and Justin Smith among others – they have genuine science on their side!

Cholesterol is a highly important bio-molecule manufactured by our own body, cycled and recycled continuously. It should be no surprise to anyone that it has a whole raft of distinctly positive roles in our health. It is essential for the structure of every cell in your body, and involved in hundreds of important biochemical processes. It is transformed into vitamin D in sunlight, used to manufacture sex hormones and as the articles below reveal, has a role in the immune system and cell communication. Low cholesterol levels, on the other hand, are associated with many conditions In the video clip below you will see that in a very large study people dying of heart attack actually had low levels of ‘bad’ cholesterol. For older women in particular, a higher cholesterol level is associated with longevity. The truth is that for almost everyone cholesterol levels can be ignored – they look after themselves and don’t signify very much. That said almost all studies of low-carbohydrate, high-fat diets show ‘improved biomarkers’ for heart disease risk. So, here’s some of the latest good cholesterol news…

Recent Cholesterol Good News Roundup

Thanks to Justin Smith, producer of Statin Nation, for this summary.

(1) New research has confirmed that derivatives of cholesterol play an important
role in the immune system and could protect humans from a wide range of
viruses such as Ebola, Rift Valley Fever, Nipah, and other deadly pathogens. (read more…)

(2) Professor Wonhwa Cho and colleagues found that cholesterol interacts
directly with proteins in the inside of the cell. These proteins play
an important role in cell signalling. (read more…)

(3) A study published in the Journal of the American College of
Cardiology has provided more evidence that the muscle weakness
experienced by significant numbers of people taking statins, is at
least in part, due to decreases in CoQ10. (read more…)

Statin Nation – excerpt of the documentary

Footnote
Call me weird, but on Christmas day I sat down with my family to watch a DVD I had bought for the occasion. No, it was not the latest Hollywood blockbuster. We watched Statin Nation! And very good it was too.

One thought on “Cholesterol – Sunny Side Up

  1. Hi Afifah it was very nice meeting you at the FAB sugar and public health symposium yesterday! Glad we networked. Nice blog you have here! Another coincidence is that I am currently reading Catching fire how cooking made us human! Will buy the Vegetarian Myth! The book I recommended on the evils of food industry is Fat sugar and Salt by Michael Moss. Speak soon and keep spreading the good word! :-)

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