So what do people know about heart disease? Well that is often determined by what their healthcare providers tells them. And what is their healthcare provider likely to tell them? Well, unless they constantly keep up with the latest research, they are likely to tell them the knowledge they were educated with themselves. For myself, I was taught to inform patients that they should eat a low fat (especially of animal fats) and low cholesterol diet (along with low sodium but that’s for another discussion) if they wanted to reduce their incidence of developing heart disease. From my Pathology and Nutrition textbooks:
“A major intervention related to atherosclerosis is encouraging the consumption of a low-fat diet, with those fats being primarily polyunsaturated (from vegetable sources as opposed to animal). Additionally, exercise and weight control are effective in improving lipid profiles. Pharmacologic management of elevated serum lipids is encouraged as a prophylactic intervention”
“Saturated fats are of animal origin. Fats from plant sources usually are unsaturated fats and help reduce health risks (notable exceptions are coconut and palm oil).”
By now this is common sense right? After all, everybody knows that eating fats is unhealthy and will clog your arteries. But in case you forgot, celebrity doctors like Dr. Oz was on the other day informing viewers that “cutting the fat in half saves a lot of lives.” So how do we know all this? There must be thousands of research studies that show consumption of fat and cholesterol is bad right? Actually…not really.
The connection between heart disease with cholesterol and saturated fat is often taught as eating saturated fat raises cholesterol (LDL) which ends up clogging your arteries. This connection is often cited as if it were unquestionable medical dogma but the evidence of this ever being clear cut is shaky at best. Much has been discussed at length about this by other medical professionals such as the bloggers in my dispatch link. If this is the first time you’ve heard about this, an entertaining documentary about the matter can be found in Fathead by Tom Naughton. For those who want more details, Good Calories, Bad Calories by Gary Taubes provides much more detail about the matter. So instead of going over the subject matter I thought I’d share my thoughts on the unintended consequences of this.
With everybody believing saturated fat and cholesterol are the culprits without solid evidence what has happened?
We now have supermarkets filled with low-fat options that substitute the fat with more carbohydrates when some research is showing carbohydrates as the original culprit.
We’ve developed drugs (Statins) which are now one of the most prescribed medicines that are believed to reduce risks of heart attacks since they lower cholesterol. However, if cholesterol was never a cause for heart disease, then patients have been taking a drug they have never needed while being exposed to adverse risks such as cognitive dysfunction and increased risk of diabetes from these drugs.
We can’t be objective because everything is viewed through this diet-heart hypothesis. A good example of this is the “best diets” list by U.S News which seems to have diets ranked upon how little saturated fat and cholesterol they compose of. It doesn’t bother asking whether the assumption of saturated fat and cholesterol being bad is valid in the first place.
It’s created an obesity stigma where people who can’t lose weight are viewed upon as lazy, incompetent and lack will power. However, if carbohydrates are the original cause, their obesity may have been contributed because they were informed to eat less fat and more carbohydrates!
Defining cholesterol and saturated fats in this manner without reexamining them focuses a lot resources used in research on potentially the wrong cause and treatment.
More importantly, if everything was based on the wrong hypothesis, then the rises in obesity, diabetes, childhood obesity, heart disease, metabolic syndrome, and etc were the cause of unintended consequences!