Diet Heart Hypothesis – Part 2

Part 2

Cholesterol as an Enemy of Heart…

Cholesterol is an organic molecule that is essential for the normal function of our cells and our body is capable of making all the cholesterol it needs. We all have heard of LDL (“bad”) and HDL (“good”) cholesterol and how supposedly high LDL is related to the high risk of CVD. So how did the scientist came to this conclusion?

Let’s look at the studies that tried to support the idea of cholesterol causing cardiovascular disease.

In 1986 the Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA) has published a study that became a standard and is used as a reference to this day. “Relationship between serum cholesterol and risk of premature death from coronary heart disease” by Stamler et al. In this study, scientists came to conclusion that “ 1% higher serum cholesterol level was associated with an almost 2% higher CHD risk”.

But let’s look at the actual numbers in the study and see if this conclusion makes sense.

People with the lowest LDL cholesterol:

99.7% – didn’t die from CHD

0.3% – died from the CHD

People with the highest LDL cholesterol:

98.7% – didn’t die from CHD

1.3% – died from the CHD

So how did the scientist came up with a risk factor for high cholesterol, you ask? If you take the extremes and divide 1.3% / 0.3% you will get 4.13 which translates into 400% risk factor or increase in deaths. Math magic isn’t it?! 

It’s worth remembering an important point: correlation doesn’t equal causation. 1% rate of deaths across the entire range of cholesterol amount is a way too small to be considered a “cause” for any type of disease.

There several other studies, including the ones from the large pharmaceutical companies (the ones that produce statin drugs) that also manipulated data in such fashion. But we also have a few that have some evidence showing LOW levels of cholesterol AND LDL can be linked to the increased risk of CVD.

  1. Familial Hypercholesterolemia: a genetic and metabolic study” by Harlan et al, published in 1966: “no evidence that familiar hypercholesterolemia appreciably shortens the life and affected individuals. On the contrary, they show that high levels of serum cholesterol are clearly compatible with survival into the seventh and eighth decades”.

  1. Cholesterol and all-cause mortality in elderly people from the Honolulu Heart Program: a cohort study” (20 year long study) by Schatz et al., published in 2001: “Our data accord with precious finding of increased mortality in elderly people with low serum cholesterol, and show that long-term persistence of low cholesterol concentration actually increases risk of death”

  2. Lack of an association or an inverse association between low-density-lipoprotein cholesterol and mortality in the elderly: a systematic review”, meta-analysis by Ravnskov et al, published in 2016: “ Since elderly people with high LDL-C live as long or longer than those with low LDL-C, our analysis provides reason to question the validity of the cholesterol hypothesis.

As you can see, the actual studies give quite opposite answers to what we normally hear these days.

The reasons behind cardiovascular diseases are quite versatile and cholesterol DOES play a role but not in the way you probably used to think.

Here are some facts:

  • There are 5 types of LDL and HDL molecules

  • Not all LDL is bad and not all HDL is good

  • LDL-a are “fluffy”, large molecules that are harmless and serve their purpose

  • LDL-b molecules, are very small and “hard’, golf-like molecules that are dangerous for our health

  • Some HDL types do not reduce inflammation that’s why some people with high HDL still develop heart disease

  • At least 50% of people with high total cholesterol have healthy hearts

  • Cholesterol alone is not a reason for heart disease.

Useful to know: Next time you do your cholesterol check instead of simply checking total cholesterol, do the particle test. That’s the only way to know what is actually happening with your cholesterol. Low total cholesterol but a high amount of LDL-b particles are BAD news. On the other hand, over the top high total cholesterol with a high count of LDL-a particles are GREAT news.

Unlike in the criminal justice system, where you are innocent until you are proven guilty; in science, the hypothesis is considered wrong until proven right.

This post is my attempt to bring your attention and to encourage you to think cryptically of anything you hear on the media, literature and even your doctors. As my 7th-grade physics teacher said: “don’t believe everything people say just because they say they know better. Analyze before you come to your own conclusion”.

This post is inspired by the work of many influential people, including Dr. David Diamond, Uffe Ravnskov, Nina Teicholz, Dr. Thomas Seyfreid, and many others. I highly recommend reviewing their lectures and books for a more in-depth understanding of the topic of nutrition.

The “Diet-Heart Hypothesis”

Part 1

The great tragedy of science: the slaying of a beautiful hypothesis by an ugly fact” – Thomas Huxley

It all started in the early 1900s when American oil manufactures found themselves in a tough spot wanting to produce more packaged foods with longer shelf life and cheaper production cost. Series of changes in the products manufacture strongly correlated with a rapid increase in a number of heart disease cases which by 1950s became almost epidemic.

In response to the skyrocketing number of heart disease cases, scientists began a frantic search for the reason, which eventually led them to a hypothesis: a diet that is high in saturated fats causes heart disease.

A hypothesis became an accepted truth before there was any evidence to support it and Ancel Keys was the one of the main reasons for that.

Ancel Keys was a very smart, charismatic and influential individual, with BA in economics and political science, Ph.D. in zoology and human physiology, he became the main driving force and a father of “Diet-Heart Hypothesis”. In 1961, Mr. Keys appeared on the cover of the Time magazine with the main article stating that Americans eat too much of saturated fat, which leads to the increase of blood cholesterol, which leads to the damage of the arteries and causes coronary disease. Keys advised to cut saturated fats to 4% of the total calories and reduce total fat intake to no more than 15%.

This article became the base of the recommendation for the entire U.S. nation (and many other countries) that is used today by the majority of doctors.

So what is wrong with it, you ask?

The problem is that all studies on the diet-heart hypothesis had a very high failure rate, but due to the series of chronological events, greediness of big corporations and political interests, these result had to be rationalized and altered in order to fit the hypothesis that became a matter of institutional credibility.

Majority of American society, including doctors, sincerely believe that low-fat diet is beneficial and can prevent heart disease. Ancel Keys had such a powerful influence that American Heart Association still follows the guidelines Keys provided in 1961.

There were several big-name scientists who were strongly against such dramatic changes in dietary guidelines for the entire nation, but their voices were not heard until the recent years. How could that have happened, you ask?

The explanation is very simple actually, in today’s world it is easy to express ourselves and therefore being heard with a help of internet and social media. Regardless of your beliefs, associations and/or support from big names your opinion can be heard by millions of people with just a “click of the button”. The internet gave us the power we never had before. Back in the 20th century, on the other hand, your opinion could only be heard if it aligned with the opinion of highly influential subjects of the society. While today we don’t need anyone’s permission to publish our opinion or a study, back in the day, you needed the approval of people in power. Ancel Keys, American Heart Association (that was given a check for 1.2 million by the Oil Company in the exchange for the support. Talk about conflict of interests) and other big names of that time, had no interest in being proven wrong. So the truth had slipped through the fingers for quite some time.

Since the scientists that disagree with Keys’ theory were a minority, they were not favored by big companies who funded research, they were pushed out of the publications and generally didn’t get any light outside of the science community, which means general public was greatly unaware of their existence.

Over the years, more and more scientists from all over the world were piling up the evidence against diet-heart hypothesis and in 2015 the Time magazine had published another article stating that saturated fat doesn’t cause an increase of cholesterol and/or risk of cardiovascular disease.

To be continued…

What Motivates You?

The Statistics

50% of people give up on their new exercise regiment within the first 6 months. The reason for that is pretty simple, people who drop out so soon don’t value their health and fitness goals enough. It’s a simple fact of human psychology if you want something bad enough you will find a way to make it happen.

You don’t have to be a part of 50%

Do it for your health

Regular exercise and diet help you develop strong and healthy heart, reduce the likelihood of developing cancer and diabetes, keep a sharp mind and reduce your chances of getting dementia, and avoid many of the common ailments that come with aging. IT IS possible to age without decay and the key is to key to this is to exercise and eating well.

Do it to be strong

There is nothing like bending over and picking up something that normally results in discomfort, strain or even pain, only to find out that it feels like a piece of cake. By getting strong you also reduce your risk of age-related falls and fractures because you have strong muscles to support you and balance to support you.

Do it for your loved ones

Not everyone feels motivated by the promise of better health in the future. If you are that person, it may be helpful to shift your perspective to something else and think about your loved ones, and what YOU mean to them. If you cannot do it for yourself, maybe, you can do it for somebody else. Think about how much more time would you have to spend with your kids, grandkids, and partners if you wouldn’t have to spend the time at the Dr’s office. Or about activities that you would be able to enjoy if your knees and back didn’t hurt with every step you take. Do it for the people that mean the world to you.

Do it for the stress relief

Exercise really does cause physical changes in your brain and nervous system and results in feelings of calmness and well-being. Over time, most people become addicted to exercise (I definitely do) and start craving it.

It worth taking time to discover the powerful motivators in your life, YOUR WHY. Find out what makes sweating worth it. Find out what do you want more than a cookie. Your life depends on it – do what it takes to get moving!

-GymKat