The great cholesterol con finally unravels: Researchers find lowering cholesterol has NO EFFECT on risk of heart disease or death
Common dietary advice is to avoid saturated fats and instead consume polyunsaturated fats, like those found in vegetable oils. But this dietary consensus is starting to crack in the face of study after study showing no health benefit to avoiding saturated fat.
The most recent study was conducted by researchers from the universities of North Carolina and Illinois, in conjunction with the National Institutes of Health, and published in the British Medical Journal. It found that while a diet that replaced saturated fat with polyunsaturated fat did cause blood cholesterol to drop, this led to no change in the risk of heart disease or death.
Except among the people who had the greatest drop in blood cholesterol. Those became more likely to die.
Cholesterol? Saturated fat? Probably fine
The researchers re-analyzed data gathered from the 1970s Minnesota Coronary Experiment, in which 9,423 residents of state mental hospitals and a nursing home were randomly assigned to either keep the same diet or to replace butter and other saturated fats with polyunsaturated fats (in the form of margarine and corn oil).
There was no connection at all between polyunsaturated fat consumption and heart disease risk.
The study did not examine another category of fats, monounsaturated fats, found in high levels in olive oil and many nuts.
The researchers concluded that there has been an "overestimation of the benefits of replacing saturated fat with vegetable oils."
British cardiologist Aseem Malhotra, and adviser to the National Obesity Forum, agrees.
"The public health message needs to change to focus on d ietary changes that are proven to improve health and that means following a high fat Mediterranean style diet."
The official consensus on cholesterol has already started to change. In 2015, the United States became the last nation on earth to drop its warning against dietary chole sterol, after the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee concluded that there is no scientific evidence of a connection between cholesterol intake and heart disease.
Even so, the government was reluctant to abandon its former position entirely, and still recommends "eat[ing] as little dietary cholesterol as possible." In spite of – it bears repeating – absolutely no evidence that dietary cholesterol is bad for your health.
The U.S. Dietary Guidelines still recommend that people limit their intake of saturated f at, but evidence suggests that this may be the next false dietary idol to fall. A number of major studies have repeatedly shown that people with a high saturated fat intake are no more likely to die early than people who eat less of it.
In 2015, a paper in the British Medical Journal reviewed the results of 50 prior studies into the connection between saturated fats, trans fats and health outcomes. They found strong evidence that trans fats are dangerous – a 21 percent increase in h eart disease risk, a 28 percent increase in death from coronary heart disease risk, and a 34 percent increase in risk of early death from all causes.
They found no evidence that saturated fats are bad for health. None.
It was the sixth study in recent years to find the same thing: Trans fats are terrible for your body. Saturated fats seem to do no harm. Other studies, in fact, have suggested that saturated fats, as essential nutrients, actively promote good health.
Drug industry will resist new findings
Why are government agencies and the medical establishment so reluctant to abandon their outdated guidelines in the face of overwhelming new evidence? In part, people are simply slow to change their ideas.
In part, it is likely due to the disproportionate influence of the drug industry, which wants to keep a high market for its blockbuster cholesterol-lowering drugs, statins – the best-selling prescription drugs of all time.
Scientists are now beginning to challenge the blind acceptance that has characterized the establishment attitude toward statins since their introduction 20 years ago. Strong proof that the drugs effectively lower blood cholesterol levels by blocking the activity of an enzyme involved in cholesterol synthesis caused sta tins to be quickly embraced as a "miracle drug." The threshold for people to be placed on these drugs for life continues to drop.
But as the most recent study has reiterated, blood cholesterol may be a marker for heart dise ase, but it's certainly not a cause. And according to a study published in the Expert Review of Clinical Pharmacology in 2015, statins may actually increase the risk of heart disease.
Another study published in the same journal last year reviewed prior studies on the safety and effectiveness of the drugs. It found that the effectiveness of the drugs was only a paltry 1 percent reduction in heart disease risk, not the 36 to 54 percent claimed by the drug companies. At the same time, it found shockingly high rates of serious side effects.
"Increased rates of cancer, cataracts, diabetes, cognitive impairments and musculoskeletal disorders more than offset the modest cardiovascular benefits of statin treatment," the researchers wrote.
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