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Dietary Cholesterol and Saturated Fat Have Little Bearing on Heart Disease


Processed fats are harmful


For several decades now we have been bombarded from the conventional media, supported by the conventional medical establishment, that dietary cholesterol and saturated fats lead to higher blood levels of cholesterol, atherosclerosis, heart attack and death.  This simplistic approach and jump to conclusions has produced a significant change to America's eating habits, with little to show in results.

It is true that atherosclerotic plaque is largely cholesterol, but to make the jump that the simple presence of cholesterol in the blood is the reason plaque forms is simply not true.  An analogy would be that congestive heart failure symptoms are due in large measure to fluid retention and, since this fluid is mostly water, that heart failure patients should drink less water!  An excellent discussion of the history of the situation and the lack of facts is available at The Oiling of America.  A paper by Alan R. Gaby, M.D., Nutritional Factors in Cardiovascular Disease, was published in the Journal of Advancement in Medicine, Volume 2, Numbers 1/2, Spring/Summer 1989.  I quote the ABSTRACT:

    The hypothesis that excess consumption of saturated fat and cholesterol is an important cause of coronary heart disease (CHD) is based on incorrect assumptions and has failed the test of controlled clinical trials.  In the present review it is suggested that CHD may, in fact, be caused by consumption of modern processed food.  Diets containing large amounts of sugar, refined flour, and oils are greatly depleted of a wide range of vitamins and minerals.  Even a marginal deficiency of some of these micronutrients may play a major role in the pathogenesis of CHD.  In addition, some components of processed food, such as trans fatty acids, heated vegetable oils and sucrose, may have a direct toxic effect on the cardiovascular system.

These "modern" foods contain so little nutritive value and may, to add insult to injury (literally), actually be harmful.  Seems to me that we don't have much chance of avoiding CHD without a change to more whole foods and supplementation of our diets.

The famous Framingham heart disease study was the largest ever undertaken.  Reviews of the data collected continue as we learn better how to interpret them.  From The Oiling of America:

    The ongoing Framingham Study found that there was virtually no difference in coronary heart disease "events" for individuals with cholesterol levels between 205 mg/dL and 294 mg/dL -- the vast majority of the US population. Even for those with extremely high cholesterol levels -- up to almost 1200 mg/dL, the difference in CHD events compared to those in the normal range was trivial.

So, let's take a look at the correlation of the elements of our diets that the medical community implicates and the incidence of heart attack (myocardial infarction or coronary "event").

First, I must explain the chart.  It is meant to illustrate some general trends regarding heart attack incidence and several components of the western diet.  The plot lines do not accurately show the changes in the short run.  Especially since the "low fat" rage has developed, but the generalities are quite telling none the less.  The left edge represents the time around the turn to the twentieth century and I use this as a starting point for each of the elements.  The starting point for all elements is normalized to a value of one so that the change from 1900 will be easy to see.  The right edge corresponds generally to about 1970.  So, what do we see?

First, heart attacks, or myocardial infarctions (the red line) have increased from virtually nonexistent in 1910, to causing about 3,000 deaths per year by 1930 and 500,000 deaths per year in 1960!  Looking only at recent numbers to better reflect the improvements the "low-fat" diet is supposed to have brought, the Medical Tribune News Service stated on 09/24/1998:

    "Although deaths from heart disease have declined in recent years, the number of people hospitalized for heart attacks seems to be holding steady."

The Anti-Coronary Club

From The Oiling of America

In 1957, Dr. Norman Jolliffe, Director of the Nutrition Bureau of the New York Health Department initiated the Anti-Coronary Club, in which a group of businessmen, ranging in age from 40 to 59 years, were placed on the Prudent Diet. Club members used corn oil and margarine instead of butter, cold breakfast cereals instead of eggs and chicken and fish instead of beef. Anti-Coronary Club members were to be compared with a "matched" group of the same age who ate eggs for breakfast and had meat three times a day. Jolliffe, an overweight diabetic confined to a wheel chair, was confident that the Prudent Diet would save lives, including his own.

In 1966 the results of Dr. Jolliffe's Anti-Coronary Club experiment were published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Those on the Prudent Diet of corn oil, margarine, fish, chicken and cold cereal had an average serum cholesterol of 220, compared to 250 in the meat-and-potatoes control group. However, the study authors were obliged to note that there were eight deaths from heart disease among Dr. Jolliffe's Prudent Diet group, and none among those who ate meat three times a day. Dr. Jolliffe was dead by this time. He succumbed in 1961 from a vascular thrombosis, although the obituaries listed the cause of death as complications from diabetes.


Second, vegetable oil consumption has increased dramatically as expected from all the publicity of eating a "low-fat (especially low saturated fat) diet".  In the period from 1900 to 1950, vegetable oil consumption, per capita, has more than tripled.  A more recent statistic I found shows that world vegetable oil consumption has increased 75% from 1987 to 2000.  We can say with confidence that vegetable oil consumption has risen much more dramatically than the chart would indicate, especially recently, making it the only element that even closely parallels the increase in heart attacks.

Third, animal fat, the dreaded "saturated fats", consumption has declined, but only a little from 104 grams/person/day in 1909 to 97 grams/person/day in 1972.  Again, we assume that this trend has continued, probably even accelerated, but not tremendously.

Forth, butter consumption, a truly "evil" food, we are told, has declined by about 50% from 1900 to 1950.  Again these trends have certainly continued.

Fifth, egg consumption has declined to only about 1/3 its 1900 level.  This while heart attacks have gone through the roof.


I have heard the saying "numbers, tortured sufficiently, will admit to anything".  I do not want to draw any detailed conclusions from the data I have presented.  What I do want you to consider is this-Does it really make sense to associate heart attacks with dietary saturated fats and cholesterol when one hundred years ago consumption of fats, mostly saturated fats, accounted for 35-40% of American's caloric intake and heart attacks were extremely rare?  And here is what a newer review of the Framingham study says about serum cholesterol:

From the Archives of Internal Medicine: "In Framingham, Massachusetts," admitted Dr. William Castelli, "the more saturated fat one ate, the more cholesterol one ate, the more calories one ate, the lower people's serum cholesterol."

To me, the serious diet-related problem pointed out by the chart is the potential danger of manufactured and altered vegetable oils.  These, indeed, are dangerous and should be limited or avoided.


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