One of the most damaging myths in medical history
Cholesterol has been blamed for heart disease, but inflammation is actually the true culprit. When the body experiences an inflammatory response due to an injury, the system responds by constricting blood vessels, thickening the blood, and triggering cells to multiply in order to repair the damage. Cholesterol is produced because cells need it to form. Vascular plaque is created when a damaged artery needs to be repaired. When an individual is in a chronic state of inflammation, the risk of high blood pressure and heart attack greatly increases.
The Great Cholesterol Myth authors Jonny Bowden, Ph.D. and cardiologist Stephen Sinatra state:
"We believe that a weird combination of misinformation, questionable studies, corporate greed, and deceptive marketing has conspired to create one of the most damaging myths in medical history: that cholesterol causes heart disease."
Through reviewing the data of numerous studies, Bowden and Sinatra found that cholesterol levels are not a good predictor of heart attacks; half of the people who have heart attacks have normal cholesterol; half of the people with high cholesterol have healthy hearts; keeping cholesterol levels low has few benefits. The Framingham Heart Study, which began in 1948 and continues to this day, distinctly shows that those who lived the longest were inclined to be in the highest cholesterol category.
The Lyon diet-heart study
Another study presents startling evidence regarding the role diet plays in heart health. Researchers in France during the 1990s decided to observe the effect different diets have on heart disease. Two groups of high-risk men participated. All had survived heart attacks. Everyone had high cholesterol and stressful lifestyles. They also smoked and did not exercise.
One group was asked to eat the American Heart Association diet which is low in fat and cholesterol. The second group ate a Mediterranean diet, rich in fish, omega-3 fatty acids, vegetables, and olive oil.
The study ended early because the results of the Mediterranean diet were so striking. Those in this group had a 70 percent reduction in fatal heart attacks, yet their high cholesterol levels remained the same throughout the study. They simply stopped dying.
As observed by Bowen in Better Nutrition magazine:
"The tragedy is that by putting all our attention on cholesterol, we've ignored the real causes of heart disease: inflammation, oxidation, stress, and sugar. Things we can actually control with foods, supplements and lifestyle changes - none of which have the costs or side effects of pharmaceutical drugs."
Sources for this article include:
"The cholesterol myth? Why lowering cholesterol isn't nearly as important as you think" by Jonny Bowden, PhD, CNS, Better Nutrition, July 2012