The Original Research was Flawed
For decades fat has been blamed for many of our health woes. This thinking was the result of Dr. Ancel Keys and his study of seven countries diets finding "that those with lower saturated fat intake, had lower levels of heart disease". The American Heart Association embraced his recommendations and the consequence was a wave of low fat messages and products like skim milk, margarine, and the condemnation of the egg.
It has taken researchers decades to show that Keys' research was flawed. For instance he left out countries such as West Germany, and France that had high fat diets but low rates of heart disease. Additionally, Keys' study began after WW II, when the island of Crete which he highlighted, was working hard to rebuild from German occupation. Another Greek Island, Corfu ate far less saturated fat than Crete but had much higher rates of heart disease.
The Science You Don't Hear About
Doctors still hold onto the idea that fats are dangerous because reducing saturated fat does indeed lower LDL cholesterol, (often called the bad cholesterol). However, lowering saturated fat also lowers HDL (often called the good cholesterol), which has a protective effect on cardiovascular health. It is also now known (and rarely checked on blood tests) that LDL has two types, small and large. The large are protective and the small are sticky and seem to be linked to heart disease. Carbohydrate intake seems to increase the small sticky LDL's. Hence while saturated fat seems to have a neutral effect on cardiovascular health, it is the excessive intake of refined carbohydrates that seems to be a greater link to cardiovascular health risks.
The Reasons For High Cholesterol
Refined carbohydrates such as white sugar, high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), and man made hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated vegetable oils such as margarine, are the lynchpins for increased heart disease and obesity today. Calories from refined carbohydrates have increased 42% since the 1970's. Dr. Robert Lustig author of the book Fat Chance, proves the replacement of healthy saturated fats that are more stable at high temperatures with unsaturated vegetable fats in many products that are baked causes oxidative stress to our bodies, and this increases our cholesterol.
What is Oxidative Stress?
It is the overproduction of free radicals that deplete our body of antioxidants causing tissue damage. The problem as it relates to cardiovascular issues is tissue damage in our arteries from these oxidative chemicals will increase cholesterol production to repair the tissue damage and cause narrowing of those same arteries (arteriosclerosis).
An example of oxidative stress and cholesterol can be seen with smokers. There isn't any cholesterol in tobacco so it appears that the free radical oxidative stress from smoking is causing an increase in the livers cholesterol production. What other chemicals in our environment do what tobacco does? Could pollution or the pesticides in our food also be at fault?
A Little About Statins
Lipitor uses an ad that says "it reduced the risk of heart attacks by 36%". However the real facts are that in a large clinical study, 3% of patients taking a sugar pill or placebo had a heart attack compared to 2% of patients taking Lipitor. So for every 100 people, Lipitor had a benefit of one person out of a hundred. Researchers call this NNT or numbers needed to treat to see a benefit. In Lipitor's case it is 100 or another way of looking at it is, 99% of the people don’t benefit who are taking it! Additionally, statins deplete a vital nutrient called Coenzyme Q10, which has a protective effect on the heart!
What To Do?
It is hard to measure oxidative stress, but oxidative stress does create inflammation in the body. In addition to measuring cholesterol the following tests should be considered in order to understand your risk for a cardiovascular problem.
Cholesterol total, HDL, LDL, and particle size
5MTHF genetic test
C reactive Protein
It appears that high fructose corn syrup along with other refined sugars and fats in foods especially those heated by frying and broiling contribute more to increased cholesterol levels than we imagined. It also appears that chemicals in our environment do the same. Essentially, they both contribute to oxidative stress causing tissue damage and burdening the liver into increasing cholesterol production to repair that damage. Placing the blame on saturated fat for many years was convenient but misguided.
If someone has concerns about their cholesterol, blood tests like the ones above can be used to make appropriate dietary changes and taking supplements to reduce those risks. There are many plant based foods such as flax seeds, nuts, etc., that act as natural statins! Contact me for to get more information on available tests.