As you read this article, I would like you to keep an open mind and continue reading it all the way through. Much of what I’m going to share with you will most likely be at odds with everything you have ever been told by your parents, doctors, and the media. I am asking you to accept this information, no matter how difficult it is to accept, and continue to challenge the status quo of western medicine and nutritional recommendations. Some of you may already know this information, and if that’s the case, I want you to share it with as many people as possible so we can help slow and eventually improve the rates of chronic disease and obesity in our society.
Before I get into the details of cholesterol and dietary fat, I want to share some statistics with you about chronic disease in our country, so that you can understand how serious of an issue it is. First off, in a 2014 report by the National Health Council, it was estimated that approximately 40% (that’s 133 million people) of the United States was affected by a chronic disease. They further estimated that by the year 2020, that number was projected to increase to around 157 million, with 81 million having multiple conditions. Well, it’s 2019, and what do these numbers look like now? The National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (NCCDPHP) estimates that 6 in 10 (that’s 60%) adults in the United States have a chronic disease and 4 in 10 adults have two or more! How does that translate into “healthcare” costs? Reports from the NCCDPHP estimate the following costs from treating just a few of the more common chronic diseases:
- Obesity: $137 billion each year
- Cancer: expected to reach $174 billion by 2020
- Heart disease and stroke: $199 billion per year
- Alzheimer’s disease: $159-215 billion each year
- Diabetes: $237 billion each year
So, how does that sound to you? Does that sound like a pretty serious issue? What’s it going to take for people to start taking their own health into their own hands and PREVENT disease rather than waiting for it to happen, treating it, and becoming yet another statistic?
The first step is awareness of the truth. With this article, I hope to shed some light on this question by addressing one of the worst myths, created from a collection of misinformation, that has contributed to this rise in chronic disease rates. By spreading this knowledge, I hope to empower you to take your own health and well-being into your own hands, and respectfully question anyone’s recommendations to avoid dietary fat (especially saturated fat) and cholesterol, in favor of eating more carbohydrates. With that, let’s begin by taking a look at what this myth is and how it started.
A hypothesis exists that is known as the “lipid hypothesis”, which posits that consumption of foods high in dietary fat and cholesterol, and having elevated cholesterol levels significantly increases your risk of cardiovascular disease. This hypothesis was established in the 1950s by nutritional health scientist, Ancel Keys.
Dr. Keys began investigating why American businessmen were having such high rates of cardiovascular disease. So, he decided to conduct a research study across several countries, in which he studied the relationship between diet and cardiovascular disease. This study is known as the Seven Countries Study. The results of the study showed that, in the countries they studied, those individuals with higher saturated fat consumption also had increased cholesterol levels, and had higher rates of cardiovascular disease. Based on this information, Dr. Keys concluded that saturated fat consumption and elevated cholesterol played a causal role in cardiovascular disease.
The results of the published study were so clean-cut that it captured the attention of the American Heart Association in 1956. Soon after, real foods that were once viewed as healthy (e.g. butter, lard, eggs, and beef) were vilified, and the low-fat, high-carb movement began around the 1980s. This led to the USDA’s Dietary Recommendations to eat fat-free or low-fat foods and limit saturated fats. These recommendations also state that elevated total cholesterol levels above 200 mg/dL (as an individual risk factor) put you at an increased risk for developing cardiovascular disease.
Furthermore, food manufacturers (i.e. “big food”) continued removing the fat out of their products and replacing it with sugar, industrial oils, and preservatives designed to prolong shelf-life (not your life), while jumping on the new opportunity to label their foods as “heart healthy”. The pharmaceutical industry (i.e. “big pharma”) also introduced cholesterol-lowering medications known as statins in 1987. “Big food” and “big pharma” are the two big issues I will continue to address later in this series.
Keeping all this in mind, I’d like to revert back to the Seven Countries Study. As I’ve alluded to, this study had a huge influence on current nutritional recommendations, modern “prescribe and treat” medicine, and the food industry (all of which are big issues in our society). Unfortunately, the study wasn’t as clean as it seemed. One very important flaw was that Dr. Keys could have included other countries in his study where people ate lots of saturated fat and had less cardiovascular disease, and those countries where people ate little saturated fat and had more cardiovascular disease. Instead, he chose to omit these countries, maybe because they didn’t fit his hypothesis. Also, perhaps even more important, is this little excerpt from page 262 of his study that reads “The fact that the incidence of the rate of coronary heart disease significantly correlated with the average percentage of carbohydrates from sucrose in the diet is explained by the intercorrelation of sucrose with saturated fat”. What does this mean? Essentially, he was saying that carbohydrate intake was just as significantly correlated to coronary heart disease as saturated fat, but he apparently downplayed the role of carbohydrate intake in favor of saturated fat as the sole contributor. Finally, although the study concluded that saturated fat intake and elevated cholesterol levels were causative, they were no more than associations, and many more lifestyle factors are associated with cardiovascular disease. It is very difficult to say whether one factor alone can be the sole cause, and just because two variables are associated does not mean one causes the other.
So, now that you know the history about where this cholesterol and dietary fat myth came from, I’d like to conclude part 1 of this series with these overarching key points:
- Obesity and chronic disease are major issues in our country and they need to be addressed through proper lifestyle choices (i.e. proper nutrition, exercise, stress management, etc.), and the recommendation of cutting out your fat and cholesterol intake is incredibly misleading.
- Our modern nutritional recommendations are based on flawed science and have contributed to this modern epidemic of obesity and chronic disease. There are more nutritionists, researchers, and doctors coming to this realization, but the process is very slow. A paradigm shift, especially in the medical and research communities, takes a long time to be realized when one particular way of thinking has predominated for so long. As the research continues, we should not fear dietary saturated fat and cholesterol, but rather consider the quality of the source the fat is coming from.
- The “prescribe and treat” approach toward elevated cholesterol levels, which is evident in modern medicine, needs to be questioned. The human body is far too complex to look at total cholesterol by itself as an individual risk factor for disease and attempt to artificially lower it immediately with statin drugs without considering other biomarkers and other risk factors.
- The processed food industry does not have your best interests or health in mind. They will continue to find clever ways to market their garbage food to you so they can continue to make money.
In part 2 of this series, I will cover why dietary fat and cholesterol are important, what their roles are in the body, what your cholesterol numbers actually mean, and what you should really be paying attention to on your next blood panel.
Moore, J., Westman, E. C. MD. Cholesterol Clarity: what the HDL is wrong with my numbers? Victory Belt Publishing. 2013. ISBN 13: 978-1-936608-38-6.
Bowden, J. Ph.D, C.N.S., Sinatra, S. T. M.D., F.A.C.C. The Great Cholesterol Myth: Why Lowering Your Cholesterol Won’t Prevent Heart Disease-and the Statin-Free Plan That Will. 2012. Fair Winds Press, 1 Edition. ISBN-13: 978-1592335213.