Bad theories die hard, and one of those that seems to have the gift of eternal life is the cholesterol theory of heart disease. It was launched on faulty science, the famed Seven Countries Study conducted by American physiologist Ancel Keys, who claimed to show that countries whose population consumed a high-fat diet had a higher incidence of heart disease.
Over the years, his ‘high dietary fat equals high cholesterol, which equals blocked arteries and heart attacks’ theory spawned a giant low-fat food industry and also a giant cash cow for the drug companies. Statins, which claim to lower cholesterol and so prevent heart disease, have been among the drug industry’s bestselling money spinners of all time, even now, with patents expiring and cheaper generic drugs available.
The problem is that nobody has ever been able to prove that high cholesterol is the culprit. And those that claim to have done so turn out to have deliberately hidden or manipulated data showing that the entire cholesterol theory is wrong.
Several years ago, researchers from the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) discovered a discrepancy in old research from the 1960s and ’70s involving 9,000 patients—the largest study ever of diet, cholesterol and heart disease. Far from demonstrating that a ‘heart-healthy’ vegetable oil-based diet lowered the incidence of heart disease, those patients given vegetable oils turned out to have a higher incidence of fatal heart attack than those who consumed saturated fats.
As the NIH researchers discovered, the study had been held onto for 16 years, and by the time it was published in 1989, all the inconvenient truths had been left out or massaged away.
Then, a few years later, the US Surgeon General’s Office carried out 11 years’ worth of research to examine the link between fats in the diet and heart disease, but shut down the project in 1999 for lack of evidence.
By 2014, even Time magazine had outed Keys, revealing that Keys had cherry-picked the data, choosing “the countries most likely to confirm his hypothesis, while excluding nations like France—where the diet is rich in fat but heart disease is rare—that might have challenged it.”
The magazine labeled the theory “junk” and the war on fat completely wrong.
And in the UK, after re-analyzing the six most rigorous trials on cholesterol, researcher Zoe Harcombe from the University of the West of Scotland found an absolutely identical incidence of death from heart disease among the approximately1,200 men given the heathy heart diets using vegetable seed oils and the 1,200 controls, who ate normally. Although cholesterol levels had been vastly reduced in the vegetable oil group, that did not translate into a single life saved.
Nevertheless, the fact that the cholesterol theory has been demonstrated, again and again, to be at best misguided, at worst a deliberate deceit, hasn’t made one bit of difference to modern medicine’s views about the causes and treatment of heart disease.
With so much money at stake, few people are willing to dismantle the giant cholesterol industry. Low-fat foods and drinks generate around $8 billion in sales every year and account for 99 percent of sales growth in the entire American food industry. Estimates are that by 2020, worldwide sales of statins will hit the $1 trillion mark. Presently, 37 million Americans take a statin every day.
The true cause
Fortunately, evidence is appearing here and there about the alternative causes of heart disease and better and safer cures. The true culprit behind heart disease was never cholesterol. It’s actually insulin resistance.
In fact, one of the latest studies labels insulin resistance “the most important single cause of coronary artery disease,” which, if tackled, could nearly halve heart attack rates.
Other studies in conventional medicine are catching up with what naturopaths have known for years: that supplements such as B3 can support mitochondria in the cells, which are critical for heart health as well as many other bodily processes.
The bottom line is that the answer to heart disease is fairly rudimentary, a matter of simple dietary and lifestyle changes, and many alternative therapists of every variety have great success in preventing or successfully treating it with a number of treatments and supplements. But those treatments have nothing to do with eliminating saturated fats.
Conventional medicine is too enmired in the profit motive to look further than the idea that fat in the diet ends up in the coronary arteries. It’s time to look at the wider picture—the nutrient-starved processed food, the sedentary lifestyle, the insane stress and busyness, the shift from family cohesion to isolation.
And once you walk away from that lifestyle, even to some degree, you’ll also walk away from heart disease.
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