“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…