According to the American Heart Association, coronary artery disease alone accounts for over a half million deaths — the single leading cause of death in the United States. 70 million Americans have had one or more forms of cardiovascular disease (CVD) with nearly a
million people dying from it every year (8).
It’s interesting to note that in the early 20th century, atherosclerotic-related heart diseases were relatively rare accounting for approximately only 8% of all deaths in the U.S. Myocardial infarctions (MI) were almost nonexistent in 1910 — and by 1930 caused no more than 3,000 deaths per year (9).
However, by 1950, coronary heart disease (CHD) was the leading cause of mortality and in 1960, 500,000 people died from MI related-deaths (10). What can account for such diverging statistics?
Leading cardiologists, pharmaceutical manufacturers, the American Heart Association, and the American Medical Association aren’t quite sure; yet they continue to maintain that the Lipid Hypothesis still holds relevancy. In very simplified terms, this theory states that when foods rich in saturated animal fats and dietary cholesterol are consumed, that cholesterol is then deposited in our arteries, causing plaque and contributing to a series of cardiovascular-related events that are life threatening (11).
This fifty-year-old hypothesis has continued to dominate the medical establishment’s thinking on which factors contribute to heart disease due in part to the work of the famous Framingham Heart Study of 1948 and the work of Ancel Keys, a public health scientist at the University of Minnesota. The Framingham Study looked at diet, lifestyles and environments and tried to draw correlations between high cholesterol and heart disease. Around the same time, Keys conducted his well-publicized Seven Countries Study to try and prove his hypothesis that there was indeed a relationship between dietary fat composition and serum cholesterol levels.
When one researches Keys’ findings they find serious flaws. There were twenty countries that participated in the study, yet only data from the seven countries that supported his hypothesis ever got reported (12). Even within the reported data there are in congruencies. For example, Greece (specifically the Greek island of Crete) was found to be the country with the lowest rate of heart disease. Yet, their cholesterol levels were well over 200 and they ate plentifully of goat cheese and full-fat yogurt.
In France, similar findings were found — very high cholesterol levels. Interestingly, the medical establishment has arbitrarily linked this “French Paradox” to red wine instead of the French diet, which is rich in butter and creamy sauces (13). Despite this manipulation of data, Keys’ relentless push back in the 50s for a low-fat, low-cholesterol diet became mainstream. Cardiologists at the time were hesitant to support this theory. But they eventually succumbed to the pressure — despite the fact that the “research” didn’t correlate with the anecdotal evidence seenin their practices. These published studies later became the catalyst for the American Heart Association’s first official endorsement of a low-fat diet and its ability to prevent heart disease (14).
The following is an excerpt from Good Calories, Bad Calories, by Gary Taubes. The book chronologically depicts the shift in consciousness that surrounded the
historical Lipid Hypothesis debate: “From the end of World War II, when the USDA statistics became more reliable, to the late 60s (where coronary heart-disease mortality rates supposedly soared), per capitaconsumption of whole milk dropped steadily and the use of cream was cut by half. We ate dramatically less lard (13 lbs per person per year compared with 7 lbs) and less butter (8.5 lbs versus 4). Yet, we ate more margarine 4.5 lbs versus 9 lbs), vegetable shortening (9.5 lbs versus 17), and vegetable cooking oils 7 lbs versus 18). As a result, during the worst decades of the heart-disease “epidemic,” vegetable fat consumption per capita in America doubled, while the average consumption of all animal fat (including the fat in meat, eggs and dairy products) dropped from 84 lbs to 71. So the increase in total fat consumption, to which Ancel Keys and others attributed to the “epidemic” of heart disease, paralleled the increased consumption of vegetable fats, which were considered to be heart-healthy, with a decreased consumption of animal fats.” (15)
Despite many attempts, researchers in the 50s were unable to establish a correlation between patients with atherosclerosis who had significantly more cholesterol in their bloodstream to those who didn’t. Furthermore,
if the Lipid Hypothesis held true then those with the genetic disorder known as hypercholesterolemia should be getting atherosclerosis and dying of heart attacks — yet the opposite was happening (16).
The Lipid Hypothesis is still indoctrinated in mainstream cardiology circles today despite these historical findings, and as a result, cholesterol continues to be made guilty by association. Yet, as previously discussed, cholesterol accumulates at the site of a cardiovascular injury as it works to help heal damaged tissue. This takes place regardless of whether serum cholesterol levels are high or not because one of cholesterol’s primary roles is that of an antioxidant carrier, helping to reduce inflammation (17).
An analogy that is frequently used in holistic circles is that cholesterol is like that of firemen at the scene of a fire — they are there to lend assistance during the
accident — to help to put the fire out. They are not the cause of it.
Read Part 3: Lab Tests and Lifestyle
Hollie Greenwood is a certified nutrition consultant, certified personal chef and owner of Real Cooking — a sustainably-operated business based with offices in Santa Monica, California and Missoula, Montana. Hollie became interested in how and why food influences health at a young age. With this passion, she created a business to help individuals and families with the tools needed to transition from eating processed foods to whole foods. Created in 2004, Real Cooking has always been a unique business, in that it offers holistic nutritional consulting, personal chef services, kitchen clean-outs, guided grocery shopping and farmer’s market tours, cooking instruction and custom meal plans all under one roof.
Hollie obtained a Master’s of Science degree in Holistic Nutrition with high honors from Hawthorn University and her personal chef certification from the Culinary Classroom in Los Angeles, CA. She is currently a member of the National Association of Nutrition Professionals, the Community Food and Agriculture Coalition, the Sustainable Business Council, the Montana Organic Association and is co-chapter leader for the Weston A. Price Foundation in Missoula, MT. www.realcooking.net
1. Murray, Michael, T and Joseph E. Pizzorno Jr. Textbook of Natural Medicine. 3rd Ed. Vol. 2.
St. Louis, Missouri: Churchill Livingston Elsevier. 2006. 1501.
2. Sinatra, Stephen T., M.D. Reverse Heart Disease Now. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc. 2007. 23.
3. Bartholomy, Paula. Lecture notes from MSHN 213. Hawthorn University. 2006.
4. Murray, Michael ND. Total Body Tune-Up. New York, New York: Bantum Books. 2000.
5. Sinatra, Stephen T., M.D. Reverse Heart Disease Now. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc. 2007. 28.
6. Ibid. 29.
7. Bartholomy, Paula. Lecture notes from MSHN 213. Hawthorn University. 2006.
8. Sinatra, Stephen T., M.D. Reverse Heart Disease Now. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc. 2007. 3.
9. Fallon, Sally and Mary Enig, Ph.D. What Causes Heart Disease? Pamphlet distributed by the Weston A. Price
12. Taubes, Gary. Good Calories, Bad Calories: Challenging the Conventional Wisdom on Diet, Weight Control and
Disease. New York, NY: Random House, Inc. 2007. 18.
13. Sinatra, Stephen T., M.D. Reverse Heart Disease Now. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc. 2007. 37.
14. Taubes, Gary. Good Calories, Bad Calories: Challenging the Conventional Wisdom on Diet, Weight Control and
Disease. New York, NY: Random House, Inc. 2007. 4.
15. Friend, B. L. Page, and R. Marston. “Food Consumption Patterns, U.S.A.: 1909-13 to 1976.” In Nutrition,
Lipids and Coronary Heart Disease: A Global View, ed. R.I. Levy, B.M. Rifkind, B.H. Dennis and N. Ernst. New
York: Raven Press. 1979. 489-522.
16. Ahrens, E.H., Jr., J Hirsch, W. Insull, Jr., T. Tsaltas, R. Blomstrand, and M.L. Peterson. “Dietary Control of
Serum Lipids in Relation to Atherosclerosis.” JAMA. Aug 24, 1957. 164 (17): 1905-11.
17. Berman, Layna and Jeffrey Fawcett. “Cardiovascular Disease Prevention.” Your Own Health and Fitness. Podcast.