Cholesterol and Fats: Myths and Facts

There is so much "misinformation" with respect to saturated fat, cholesterol and  heart disease, that the truth  is now almost impossible to believe even by many doctors and researchers who study it.  Learning the truth about this one myth alone could truly be a matter of life or death for you or someone close to you so we urge you to read and carefully consider the information provided here, then explore further as time permits.

We start with an explantion of what cholesterol is and its role in the body, then move on to facts and myths surrounding cholesterol, saturated fats and heart disease, quoting directly from outpsoken and courageous M.D.'s and  researchers who describe, among other things, how studies get ignored and misinterpreted. We end with a few "factoids" from medical and health journals. We sincerely hope that this will stimulate further research on your part - or at the very least motivate you to seriously question what is most charitably described as myth, now very sadly accepted as fact.  Some pertinent books and reading resources are given at the end of this article. 

We begin with a description of CHOLESTEROL:

 “Our bodies cannot function without cholesterol. This waxy lipid (fat) [sic] is used to manufacture estrogen and testosterone, vitamin D, bile, skin oils, nerve- and brain-cell sheaths (indeed, the body’s richest concentration of cholesterol is in the brain). Our livers make all the cholesterol we need [whether or not we eat it] . .  .Under optimum conditions, cholesterol constantly shuttles back and forth between the liver and body cells, where it’s needed aboard lipoproteins (these too are synthesized in the liver).. . . What about too little blood cholesterol? Is that dangerous? Researchers now believe that people with cholesterol levels below 160 are at greater risk of liver cancer, non-malignant lung disease, brain hemorrhage, even alcoholism and suicide, although they can’t say why. Nor can they explain why some people have basement blood cholesterol levels although they suspect it has more to do with heredity than diet.”  The Nutrition Bible by Jean Anderson, M.S. and Barbara Deskins, Ph.D., R.D.

Moreover, according to Master Herbalist Steven Horne and former NASA scientist Dr. Kimberly Balas both of the Tree of Light Institute, "Recent studies have shown that you are twice as likely to die of a heart attack if your cholesterol is below 175 than if your cholesterol is 250 or over."

Now for a word about fats,
excerpted from Life without Bread
by Christian B. Allan, PhD and Wolfgang Lutz, M.D.:

"Many organs prefer fat for energy. . .We have all been led to believe that low-fat diets are heart-healthy. But did you know that your heart primarily uses fat for energy? That’s right. Carbohydrate contributes very little to the energy necessary to keep your heart beating, and the preferred fat is saturated fat."  (p56)

"Mitochondria are the power plants of the cell. Because they produce most of the energy in the body, the amount of energy available is based on how well the mitochondria are working. . . Mitochondria were specifically designed to use fat for energy. . . Fatty acids [unlike glucose] are transported into the mitochondria completely intact. L-Carnitine is the compound necessary to transport medium- and large-sized fatty acids inside the mitochondria from the cell soup (called cytosol) . . . L-carnitine is chiefly found in animal products [and] is one of many important substances that are only found in appreciable quantities in animal foods . . . " (p64-65)

"Bacteria are able to use some fat for energy, but they prefer glucose and other easily oxidized carbon sources." (p67)

The following are excerpts on cholesterol myth v. fact from Heart Frauds by Charles T. McGee, M.D.:

"In 1991 I saw a man who had a blood cholesterol of 450mg/dl. His entire family runs blood cholesterols between 400 and 600, so they must be carriers of the abnormal hereditary trait. Not one person in the entire family has ever had a heart attack and many lived to ripe old ages. .  .On the other end of the scale was a man who had a blood cholesterol of 115. He suffered a stroke and a heart attack two months before his first visit with me. The low blood cholesterol level triggered the lab's computer to print out, "THIS PATIENT IS AT VERY LOW RISK FOR ATHEROSCLEROSIS." . . . . Every doctor sees patients who have high cholesterol and never have heart attacks. When patients ask about this they are told they must be one of the exceptions to the cholesterol theory. There seems to be a lot of exceptions walking around." (p68)

"As this manuscript was being prepared additional papers were published that are beginning to dismantle the cholesterol theory. The American Heart Association's own medical journal, Circulation, published (in 1991) the largest review of possible risks of blood cholesterol levels on health. The report summarized 19 studies of nearly 650,000 men and women worldwide. .  . Cholesterol levels were found to have no predictive value in women at any age. Levels of cholesterol between 160 and 240 had no predictive value in men. Men with cholesterols under 160 were 17 percent more likely to die from all causes than men with moderate levels between 160 and 190. . . An editorial by Dr. Stephen Hulley, of the University of California, San Francisco, appeared in the same issue. Dr. Hulley stated that routine screening for blood cholesterols had no value in women or children. About the only time screening might be of value was in men who had already had a heart attack or were at high risk of developing coronary artery disease. Actually, this can't really be called screening. These men would have these tests done routinely because of current or possible future problems. Hence the massive cholesterol screening program is of no value. " (p74)

"You don't have to look very far to find exceptions to the cholesterol theory. Early animal studies that launched the theory were flawed. Reports of later studies in humans have been slanted. Statistics have been misinterpreted to support the theory since 1970. The theory developed a life of its own and has risen to the level of a religious dogma." (p76)

"A coalition of vested interests supports the cholesterol theory. Supporters include the American Heart Association, the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute of the National Institutes of Health, drug companies who manufacture cholesterol-lowering drugs, the producers of vegetable oils and margarines, and the medical industry. This is a powerful alliance.  It will be most difficult to remove ourselves from the influence of the cholesterol theory simply because the facts show it is false." (p81)

The following is a series of excerpts on cholesterol myth v. fact from Health Myths Exposed by Shane Ellison, M.Sc.:

"The assertion that high cholesterol is a major risk factor for heart disease is the biggest health myth of all time.  . . the truth speaks for itself. . . . [Nevertheless] this dogma is well entrenched in the minds of professionals and laymen alike. To be exact, it is highly touted by the American Heart Association (AHA), who states that: "High blood cholesterol is a major risk factor for coronary artery disease and stroke." Medical evidence acquired over the last 100 years disproves this myth faster than a doctor can prescribe Lipitor."  (pp 101-102). . .

Decades of research failed to find any correlation between atherosclerosis (heart disease) and cholesterol levels.  (p104) . . .

"Let's go ahead and hammer the nail into the cholesterol coffin. If it is true that the risk of heart disease rises as blood cholesterol rises, then we should see elevated total cholesterol among those who die early from heart attack. This too has not been the case. Specifically, half of all heart attacks and strokes occur in persons without elevated levels of cholesterol." (P109)

"Let's cover the coffin with a layer of cement. If cholesterol caused atherosclerosis (heart disease), then we would find atherosclerosis throughout the 70,000 miles of arteries within the body through which cholesterol travels. Yet, 90% of the time, atherosclerosis is found in the coronary arteries, while the rest of the arteries remain unharmed by cholesterol. Hence, to say that cholesterol is the culprit is akin to saying that if you jump in water, only your hair will become wet while the rest of your body remains dry. While this may sound absurd to you, so does the cholesterol myth when you consider the facts." (p110)

The following on insulin, low-fat diets, cholesterol, and statin drugs is excerpted from The Schwarzbein Principle by Diane Scwarzbein, M.D.:

" . . . Dietary cholesterol does not play a role in overproducing cholesterol in the liver. In fact, the only "low-cholesterol" diet you can go on is a diet rich in cholesterol. The only way to switch off the enzyme HMG Co-A Reductase is by eating a sufficient amount of cholesterol. . . .When HMG Co-A Reductase is blocked, cholesterol  cannot be formed from sugar. In other words, the intake of dietary cholesterol stops the internal production of cholesterol. . . Drug companies are well aware of the function of the enzyme HMG Co-A Reductase. This knowledge has led to the invention of drugs that switch off production of cholesterol in the body by blocking HMG Co-A Reductase. These are called "statin" drugs. . . Drug companies continue to market these drugs while researching new drugs to switch off cholesterol production in the body, instead of simply telling people to eat cholesterol and decrease sugar and stimulant consumption. Eating cholesterol is the only healthy way to block cholesterol production in the body. Eating cholesterol is one of the best things you can do for your body. . . It is important to emphasize that insulin is the major hormone directing overproduction of cholesterol in the body. Regardless of what causes insulin to rise, the body responds to elevated insulin levels by overproducing cholesterol. High insulin levels are caused by [ insulin stimulants]. " (pp70-71)

"Since HDLs, LDLs, and VLDLs all perform different functions in the body, adding them up to arrive at a total cholesterol number does not tell you anything. In other words, there is no such thing as a "normal" or "abnormal" total cholesterol. . ." p78

"Most people over the last thirty years have come to believe that reducing or eliminating cholesterol from their diets will decrease their risk of heart attacks. This is not so. The only way to prevent a heart attack is to evaluate your entire lifestyle, and then take appropriate steps to improve it.. . " p79

"All of the processes leading to plaqueing of the arteries are caused by overproduction of insulin. We know this from studies on insulin and clogged arteries (plaqueing) that started in the 1960s. In the most startling study, 'Effect of Intraarterial Insulin on Tissue Cholesterol and Fatty Acids in Alloxan-Diabetic Dogs," published in 1961 in Circulation Research, researchers actually infused insulin into the femoral arteries of dogs. Plaqueing occurred in every dog, demonstrating that insulin causes this to occur."  p81-82

". . . the truth is, more people are dying of heart disease by eating a low-fat diet, with or without exercising. . . You can see initial good results with a low-fat diet. When you exercise and eat a low-fat, high carbohydrate diet, excess carbohydrates will be turned into cholesterol and fats that are then used by the body as energy. But a low-fat, high carbohydrate diet burns muscle mass, especially if you are exercising. This causes your metabolism to slow down, which in turn During this stage, your cholesterol profile will significantly improve.lowers your requirement for energy. Now any excess carbohydrates you eat will be converted into cholesterol and not used. Over time, your cholesterol will rise." pp 90-91

The following is an exerpt on cholesterol from Prescription Alternatives by Earl Mindell, PhD:

"High cholesterol is a symptom of an underlying nutritional deficiency and/or toxicity (such as those mentioned [earlier]) that damages the arteries. Cholesterol takes on many forms, and some forms act as a component in the repair glue that the body calls on to repair damaged artery walls. If the cholesterol called in to do repair work is oxidized, the artery continues to get the message that it's damaged, and more cholesterol gets piled on. In a kind of double whammy, the same nutritional deficiencies and toxins that allow cholesterol to become oxidized also impair the ability of the liver and other organs to do their clean-up work to eliminate harmful fatty acids in the blood. . .

[Futher] our individual biochemistry allows for a wide range of cholesterol levels. . . " p 162

The following is an excerpt on cholesterol from The Protein Power Life Plan by Michael R. Eades, M.D. and Mary Dan Eades, M.D. :

"Although people are all too familiar with the supposed risks of high cholesterol, many people are unaware of the newer research that has shown that a high triglyceride level puts you at the highest risk of all for having a heart attack. p95 ....  Recent research has shown that the two readings most predictive of those who will have a heart attack are not the amount of cholesterol or even the amount of "bad" LDL. Instead your best assessment of risk comes from your triglycerides and your "good" HDL cholesterol. The lower the triglyceride-to-HDL ratio, the lower your risk for heart disease. A reading of 5 is set as the break point; above 5 there's risk, and the farther above 5 the more risk. Conversely, below 5, risk decreases, and the farther below 5 the better. . . By simply changing the way you eat to a diet lower in starch and sugar and higher in good-quality fats, you can reduce elevated cholesterol, lower your triglycerides, alter the type of "bad" LDL you produce, increase your "good" HDL levels, and reduce your risk for heart disease - without resorting to expensive and potentially damaging medications." p 109

"Over the last decade, the medical-pharmaceutical-media complex has demonized and villified cholesterol as if it were a serial killer and not the naturally occurring and necessary substance that it is. The press to drive cholesterol readings ever lower has resulted in revised "safe" normal readings that will place upward of 40% of adult Americans in need of powerful and potentially dangerous prescription cholesterol-lowering medications to "protect" them from the risk of cardivascular disease from elevated cholesterol. .  .

" . . .What is cholesterol? Far from villain, this waxy alchohol (not a fat at all) occurs in every cell of every organ and tissue in your body. It functions there in many ways, among them, giving shape and structure to the cell membranes and providing raw materials to produce the sex hormones, "youth" hormones, and the hormones that help us to withstand stress and reduce inflammation.  Without enough cholesterol, the body can't properly replace and renew its worn or damaged cells, since making a new cell requires the production of a new cell membrane, and making a new cell membrane requires cholesterol. Without new cells, the body will age and die. . .

". . . The vast bulk of the cholesterol in your blood (about 80%, in fact) is produced by your own liver. Only about 20 percent bears any relation to the cholesterol you eat. In fact, the body can sense how much you eat and step up or slow down its production of this critical substance according to your need. And getting a sufficient amount of cholesterol from the food you eat is critical to maintaining a stable mood. Without it, both animals and people become depressed, in part because the brain contains enormous amounts of it. When cholesterol falls too low, it's as dangerous to health as rising too high. . .  .

"Taking potent cholesterol-lowering medications to achieve a "risk reduction" has never been shown in clinical research to actually improve mortality. In fact, in the biggest trials, significantly more people who took the drug died than those who did not. They didn't die of a heart attack, but dead is dead whatever the cause. And the drugs aren't without risk of serious side effects, such as muscle and liver destruction."(pp 107-108)

The following on cholesterol and low carb diets is excerpted from Dr. Atkins New Diet Revolution by Robert C. Atkins, M.D.:

In advising readers to have a medical checkup, including blood chemistry, done BEFORE they embark on his low carbohydrate/high protein/high animal fat diet to use as a baseline from which to monitor changes, Dr. Atkins says:

"If you keep track of those hidden physical changes that are measured in your blood - and these numbers your doctor can best interpret for you - you'll find, after you go on the diet, that they begin improving steadily. I'm talking about uric acid levels, cholesterol and triglyceride levels, glucose and insulin levels. . . if you have your blood chemistries done, you'll discover that the "experts" on low-carbohydrate dieting - those physicians who never studied a low carbohydrate diet in their lives - will be proved wrong yet again. For them, being wrong must be habit-forming. . . Here's what you should expect: Your uric acid levels will be normal, your kidney function will be excellent, your blood glucose and insulin levels will have stabilized, your triglyceride level will almost certainly have fallen sharply, and your cholesterol level will already be starting to go down . . . While checking your lab work, get your entire state of health estimated.  Make sure to have your blood pressure done. High blood pressure is known for its insidiousness. . . What happens to blood pressure on the diet? Just this: Nothing is more consistently and rapidly observed on the Atkins diet than normalization of blood pressure.  [Atkins later warns that certain health conditions including diabetes and those taking diuretics will require close monitoring by a personal physician as medication requirements can drop dramatically, and even too fast. Other health conditions, most especially yeast overgrowth - or Candida - may inhibit the benefits of his diet.] (p84-86)

Here is how one study on saturated fats was incorrectly interpreted:  

To wit: A study out of the University of Minnesota (Am J Clin Nutr 2003 July:78(1):91-8), and reported in the December, 2003 issue of Prevention Magazine, found that “among 3000 people tested, those with the highest blood levels of saturated fats were twice as likely to develop diabetes as those with the lowest.” According to Aaron Folsom, MD, one author of the study, “Saturated fats in the blood appear to affect your body’s ability to effectively use insulin, the hallmark of type-2 diabetes.” Naturally this report was followed by warnings not to eat saturated fats like butter, cream and the fat on meat. But Dr. Folsom makes an error common to those not trained in fatty acid metabolism. A high level of saturated fatty acids in the blood is reflective of high carohydrate intake and subsequent synthesis of fatty acids from excess carbohydrates. SATURATED FATTY ACIDS ARE NOT AN APPRORIATE MARKER OF DIETARY FAT INTAKE BUT ARE RATHER A MARKER OF CARBOHYDRATE INTAKE. What the researchers at the University of Minnesota actually discovered (or rather, reaffirmed) was that people who eat a lot of carbohydrates are more likely to develop diabetes. Cited from page 11 of the Spring 2004 issue of Wise Traditions, a magazine of the Weston A. Price Foundation.

Here is what the literature reveals about cholesterol-rich animal fats causing heart disease:

Doctors and other health professionals claim there is ample proof that animal fats cause heart disease while they confidently advise us to adopt a lowfat diet; actually the literature contains only two studies involving humans that compared the outcome - not markers like cholesterol levels - of a diet high in animal fat with a diet based on vegetable oils, and both showed that animal fats are protective.

The Anti-Coronary Club project, launched in 1957 and published in 1966 in the Journal of the American Medical Association, compared two groups of New York businessmen, aged 49 to 59 years. One group followed the so-called “Prudent Diet” consisting of corn oil and margarine instead of butter, cold breakfast cereals instead of eggs and chicken and fish instead of beef; a control group ate eggs for breakfast and meat three times per day. The final report noted that the Prudent Dieters had average serum cholesterol of 222mg/l, compared to 250 mg/l in the eggs-and-meat group. But there were EIGHT deaths from heart disease among the Prudent Diet group, and NONE among those who ate meat three times a day.

In a study published in the British Medical Journal, 1965, patients who had already had a heart attack were divided into three groups: one group got polyunsaturated corn oil, the second got monounsaturated olive oil and the third group was told to eat animal fat. After two years, the corn oil group had 30 percent lower cholesterol, but only 52 percent of them were still alive. The olive oil groups fared little better – only 57 percent were alive after two years. But of the group that ate mostly animal fat, 75 percent were still alive after two years. Cited in Wise Traditions, Spring 2004

Here are some "factoids":

**   The all-cause death rate is higher in individuals with cholesterol levels lower than 180 mg/dl. (Circulation 1992 86:3:1026-1029)

**   Another study found that low cholesterol was associated with worse outcomes and impaired survival rates while elevated cholesterol was NOT associated with hypertension, diabetes or coronary heart disease. (Journal of Cardiology, August 2002)

**   Japanese study finds that as cholesterol levels went up, death rates from cardiovascular heart disease went down. (Journal of Epidemiology Dec. 1993)

**    European study of 11,500 patients found that risk of death in those with cholesterol below 160 was 2.27 times HIGHER than those with cholesterol over 240. (European Heart Journal, 1997)

**    The International Atherosclerosis Project found that vegetarians had just as much atherosclerosis as meat eaters. (Lab Invest 1968 18:498)

**   Low-fat diets are associated with increased rates of depression, psychological problems, fatigue, violence and suicide. (Lancet 3/21/92 v339)

**   Children on low-fat diets suffer from growth problems, failure to thrive & learning disabilities. (Food Chem News 10/3/94)

**   The fatty acids found in artery clogs are mostly UNSATURATED (74%) of which 41% are POLYUNSATURATED. (Lancet 1994 344:1195)

**    The annual all-cause death rate of vegetarian men is SLIGHTLY MORE than that of non-vegetarian men (93% vs 89%); the annula all-cause death rae of vegetarian women is SGINIFICANTLY MORE than that of non-vegetararian women (86% vs 54%). (Am J Clin Nutr 1982 36:873)

**   Fifty years of mainstream nutritional research and hundreds of millions of research dollars have NOT proved that eating a low fat diet will help you live longer. Gary Taubes, Science, March 30, 2001.

For Further Reading :
Two articles, one titled "The Skinny on Fats" in two parts and the other titled "The Dangers of Statin Drugs" both at this page (scroll down to articles):

Two articles, the first a short one as a preview titled "Cholesterol and Heart Disease: A Phony Issue" by Mary Enig, PhD  and a long article in 4 parts titled "The Oiling of America" by Mary Enig, PhD and Sally Fallon which exposes the collusion of the American Heart Association, AMA, the food industry, the government and university research groups - both at this page

And these books
(use our links to purchase at Amazon):

The Cholesterol Myths by Uffe Ravnskov, M.D., PhD
Heart Frauds: Uncovering the Biggest Health Scam in History by Charles T. McGee, MD
Lipitor: Thief of Memory, Statin Drugs and the Misguided War on Cholesterol by Duane Graveline, MD
The Cholesterol Conspiracy by Russell Smith
Health Myths Exposed  by Shane Wllison, M.Sc.

Know Your Fats by Mary Enig, Ph.D.