Busting the Cholesterol Myth
By Dr. Stephen Sinatra
For decades, the public has been relentlessly brainwashed about cholesterol and today practically everybody thinks that cholesterol is the main cause of heart disease.
It's not, as many of you know who regularly visit this website. To me, and to other doctors who contribute opinions here, the cholesterol story is perhaps the biggest medical con in existence. I think nothing matches it as medical hooey.
Most physicians, unfortunately, have also bought hook, line, and sinker into the propaganda that if cholesterol reaches some artificially-established cutoff point you need a drug to lower it in order to prevent a heart attack, even if you are totally healthy, and, not to worry, the drug is really very safe to take. I, for one, bought into that lie big time and actually used to lecture about the importance of statins, the cholesterol-lowering drugs. I even got a paycheck from drug companies to talk up their statins.
I stopped doing that routine years ago as I began to learn, from medical research and my own clinical observations, that the cholesterol story was more fiction than fact. I realized that the story was so skewed and manipulated that I decided to finally do something about it, and try, to the best of my ability, to educate the public.
That why I teamed up with expert nutritionist Jonny Bowden, Ph.D., to write The Great Cholesterol Myth: Why Lowering Your Cholesterol Won't Prevent Heart Disease and the Statin-Free Plan That Will (Fair Winds Press). The book, based on strong science and collective clinical observations, presents a message about cholesterol and saturated fat that is quite different than the official "party line."
What we have learned is this:
● The fear of cholesterol is medical propaganda designed to sell cholesterol-lowering drugs. The adoption of the cholesterol ideology by mainstream medicine and the government had a strong political lobbying component to it.
● Most forms of cholesterol are not harmful at all.
● Cholesterol is not your enemy. It is a natural substance made in your body to produce hormones, vitamin D, neurotransmitters, and healthy cell membranes. Your body makes it and needs it.
● The concept of "good" and "bad" cholesterol is utterly outdated, as are the total cholesterol and LDL levels documented on standard lipid tests. They predict heart disease poorly. If, after a standard test, your doctor says your cholesterol is too high and you need to lower it, ask for a follow-up advanced cholesterol particle test that reveals more details. Specifically, it tells you the proportion of large vs. small, dense LDL particles, the latter being much more likely to participate in the inflammatory process. This is important information.
● Inflammation, sugar, and stress are the main causes of heart disease - the enemies of heart health. You need to do something about these things and stop worrying about your cholesterol and fat.
● The number one dietary contributor to heart disease is sugar. It contributes to inflammation in the artery walls. Reduce or eliminate sugar and processed carbohydrates in your diet and you knock down inflammation and triglycerides. High triglycerides are far more of a danger for heart disease than high cholesterol.
● Good fat (as in saturated fat, avocado, and nuts) increases the big, fluffy, benign LDL particles and reduces the small, dense particles that actually do play a role in heart disease. Sugar, in contrast, has the opposite effect.
● The benefits of statin drugs have been widely exaggerated, and any benefit of these drugs has nothing to do with their ability to lower cholesterol.
● Statin side effects are very often dismissed by doctors and grossly underreported. They include muscle pain, memory problems, cognition difficulties, cataracts, liver problems, polyneuropathy, impotence, and immune decline. As many as 15-25 percent of statin users may develop muscle pain, and often along with weakness, anywhere from within a few weeks to several years after the start of regular usage.
● Statins inhibit the body's production of an antioxidant nutrient called CoQ10. That's a big negative because CoQ10 serves as a central agent in the generation of cellular energy. Without enough of it, the physiology suffers in many ways.
● There are 60 million Americans on statins alone, and many more worldwide. Very few learn from their doctors that the drugs inhibit CoQ10 and to therefore take CoQ10 to prevent side effects. Unfortunately, most doctors are either ignorant of the connection or too infatuated with cholesterol-lowering to seriously consider the side effects. Anyone taking a statin drug MUST take a minimum dose of 200 mg of a CoQ10 supplement daily in divided doses.
These are some of the inconvenient truths you don't hear about.
Dr. Bowden and I both believe that the public needs REAL education instead of propaganda via a conspiratorial combination of misinformation, scientifically-questionable studies, corporate greed, and deceptive marketing. Many, many millions of marketing dollars are spent to perpetuate this myth and keep the public narrowly focused - and obsessed - on a relatively minor participant in the heart disease process. The effort has paid off handsomely though. Cholesterol-lowering drugs represent a nearly $30-billion-a-year business.
In our book, Dr. Bowden reflects on the beginning of his career, which started as a personal trainer for a major New York City health club. At the time, he vigorously promoted the low-fat mantra to his clients. Yet he soon found that clients did better on diets with ample fat. I was finding the same thing in my cardiology practice and through my research.
Over the years we both learned from Mary Enig, Ph.D., a leading lipid biochemist, that there was little to fear from saturated fats in the diet. The real fat felon in the diet, she has correctly identified, is trans fat, a processed unsaturated fat that potently raises the risk of heart disease. Trans fats are inflammatory, and found commonly in fried and snack foods, baked goods, and frozen dinners. You're likely familiar with the term hydrogenated oil on many foods labels. That's a trans fat and should be avoided.
Dr. Bowden, like me, has looked for strategies that seemed to work for the healthiest, longest-living peo¬ple on earth. In our search, we both found that lowering cholesterol has almost nothing to do with reducing heart disease, and definitely nothing to do with extending life. Only a tiny minority of patients live longer by taking cholesterol drugs, another fact unfortunately lost on the multitude of mainstream doctors who prescribe them, almost automatically, at record-setting levels.
Statins are being prescribed or recommended for the very young and very old, the healthy and unhealthy. The wacky way things are unfolding I wouldn't be surprised to see statin inoculations recommended for newborns. I only recommend statins as therapy, never for prevention, and only for a targeted patient: a male between the age of 50 and 75 with documented heart disease, low HDL cholesterol, and no diabetes. I do so not for any cholesterol-lowering effect, but because statins have anti-inflammatory properties, and heart disease is all about inflammation. As far as women are concerned, there is no clear evidence that statins are effective for them, so why prescribe them? Nor should they be prescribed for the elderly or for children.
In our cholesterol myth book, we quote one of the world's foremost cholesterol debunkers, Swedish researcher Uffe Ravnskov, MD, Ph.D.: "People with high cholesterol live the longest. This statement seems so incredible that it takes a long time to clear one's brainwashed mind to fully understand its importance."
The introduction to our book was written by Michael and Mary Eades, both medical doctors who authored Protein Power and other important diet books. They bemoan the sad fact that tens of thousands of doctors today succumb to "group think" to treat a non-existent disease - elevated cholesterol - with drugs that are far from benign. It's similar, they say, to the nonsensical pursuit of healing in the past with leeches and bloodletting.
"Unfortunately, the vast majority of laymen have been bombarded with so much misinformation about cholesterol that most take it as a given that cholesterol is bad and that the less they have the better," they write. "Nothing could be further from the truth. Cholesterol is an essential molecule without which there would be no life, and so important that virtually every cell in the body is capable of synthesizing it." So true. Your body makes cholesterol because it needs it.
We cite major scientific research routinely ignored by the medical system, such as a recent study showing that almost half of nearly 140,000 patients admitted to hospitals for heart disease had LDL cholesterol levels under 100 mg/dL - the current mainstream therapeutic target for LDL. You would think such a result would cause reflection. It didn't. Instead, the researchers suggested the need for an even lower target. Such is the reigning insanity.
Another inconvenient fact is that a cholesterol level of 160 mg/dL or less, has been linked to depression, aggression, cerebral hemorrhages, and loss of sex drive! Obviously, your brain needs cholesterol.
Our book is a search for the truth, and I am confident that we found it. We're spreading the word and trying to bury an entrenched myth. For more information about cholesterol and heart health, I invite you to visit my informative website, www.heartmdinstitute.com
STEPHEN T. SINATRA, M.D., F.A.C.C. (Fellow of American College of Cardiology), F.A.C.N. (Fellow of American College of Nutrition) is a board-certified cardiologist and certified bioenergetic psychotherapist with forty years of clinical experience treating, preventing and reversing heart disease. He is also certified in anti-aging medicine and nutrition.
He is also the host of the Internet's leading integrative cardiology website for the public, www.heartmdinstitute.com