It's Monday – and time for another Real Food Quote Monday (RFQM). Today, I'm continuing what I began several weeks ago, sharing from Dr. Mary Enig's and Sally Fallon Morell's book, “Eat Fat, Lose Fat.”
In Chapter 2, their goal is to debunk the lipid hypothesis through answering four questions – or as they put it, exploding four myths.
Here's a quick recap of the myths Chapter 2 addresses:
- Myth: High fat foods cause heart disease. Blog post here, 3/20/10.
- Myth: High cholesterol causes heart disease. Blog post here, 3/27/10.
- Myth: High-fat foods increase blood cholesterol. Blog post here, 4/5/10.
- Myth: Cholesterol causes plaque buildup in arteries. (Topic of this blog post.)
This week, we're concluding this series by discussing the fourth myth.
Myth: Cholesterol Causes Plaque Buildup In Arteries
Another assertion generally taken as axiomatic is that high levels of cholesterol in the blood cause atherosclerosis, the buildup of the fatty plaques that obstruct arteries. Yet much research evidence indicates that high blood cholesterol has no relationship with degree of atherosclerosis.
Here's what the authors reviewed:
Canadian Veterans – The cholesterol levels and arteries of 800 hospitalized veterans were the subject of a long-term study in London, Canada and results published in 1963. Researchers found that the individual men's cholesterol levels remained more or less the same, and that the men with low cholesterol had just as much atherosclerosis as those with high cholesterol.
Japanese – “The Japanese have low blood cholesterol, and their risk of heart attack is much lower than that of any other nation.” So atherosclerosis should be rare in Japan, right? Two studies were conducted.
- The first study (1985) contrasted American and Japanese men and found very little difference between the two groups, at all age levels.
- The second study (1977) compared the arteries of the brain of American and Japanese men. In every age group, the Japanese had more atherosclerosis. In the coronary arteries, the Japanese had less atherosclerosis, which may explain why they are less prone to heart attacks. However, the authors of this book find it unlikely that high cholesterol causes atherosclerosis because the amount of cholesterol is the same throughout the body, and doesn't account for varying levels of atherosclerosis in different arteries.
Cholesterol Lowering v. Plaque Buildup – A study in 2003 found that patients “who successfully lowered their cholesterol levels did not reduce plaque buildup in their arteries.” Researchers studied two groups – one taking a strong dose of a cholesterol-lowering drug, and the other taking a low dose of the same drug. Ironically, after more than one year, both groups showed a 9.2 percent increase in plaque buildup, “suggesting that plaque buildup is not related to cholesterol level.”
Conclusion: Cholesterol Does NOT Cause Plaque Buildup In Arteries
In all the weeks of this series, we've learned that 1) high fat foods do not cause heart disease, 2) high cholesterol does not cause heart disease, 3) high fat foods do not raise cholesterol, and finally, 4) that cholesterol does not cause plaque buildup in arteries. So, we're all done exploding the myths behind the lipid hypothesis – “the theory that saturated fats and cholesterol in our food raise cholesterol levels in the blood, leading to heart disease.”
You might wonder why the lipid hypothesis is so prevalent. The authors of this book astutely point out that many stand to benefit from an unchallenged lipid hypothesis: the multi-billion-dollar pharmaceutical industry, as well as a food industry dependent on cheap vegetable oils.
And that's it for this week's Real Food Quote Monday, and for our series on “Eat Fat, Lose Fat.” What do you think? Next week, I have a lighter quote to share. 😉 Please feel free to share anything you're thinking in the comments!
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