Ignore the Awkward! How the Cholesterol Myths are Kept Alive
By Uffe Ravnskov, MD, PhD
Building cell walls and nerve fibers requires cholesterol. Sex and stress hormones require cholesterol. Converting sunlight into vitamin D requires cholesterol. You could say you only need cholesterol if you need cell walls, nerves, hormones and vitamin D.
Cholesterol is also important for brain function. Again, if you don’t need brain function, you don’t need cholesterol. That one fact could explain a lot. Apparently you don’t need brain function to be a cholesterol expert. These low cholesterol levels make the experts impervious to any mountain of evidence that low cholesterol levels don’t help heart health and that higher levels are even beneficial in many cases.
Astronaut Duane Graveline has published an account of his own experience with cholesterol-lowering drugs, which degraded his memory to the point where he didn’t recognize his own wife. Millions of people take statins, making them the best selling drugs ever. Why do multitudes continue to take them when the side effects are so disabling, and the drugs provide almost no benefit? Probably because they can’t remember how much better life was before the drugs, and they keep listening to the low-cholesterol experts who say they need these drugs or they will die.
Ronald Kraus is a member of the committee that writes the dietary guidelines for the American people. Research done by Kraus indicated that total cholesterol was not correlated with heart attacks and neither was LDL cholesterol. He did find a correlation with a special, small dense type of LDL. He also found that this special type of LDL decreased with increased saturated fat consumption and yet the committee he serves on recommends the opposite. When Ravnskov asked Kraus about that he explained to Ravnskov that committee members often don’t agree. When that happens they vote. That is how we conduct science these days. It is easier to ignore awkward evidence and vote.
Ravnskov found that Swedish Food Administration guidelines were based on World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines, which are based on a fog of studies that make claims not supported by their own data. This information included claims that eating saturated fat raises cholesterol, which in turn causes coronary heart disease (CHD). Recently WHO along with FAO came out with a new report. They reviewed the studies and were unable to find a connection between saturated fat intake and CHD.
Many experts resort to the Framingham study to support the claim that high cholesterol kills. What do the findings of the Framingham study actually report? One of the conclusions is that for every 1 mg/dl drop in cholesterol there was an 11 percent increase in coronary and total mortality. I suppose if your cholesterol is low enough, that tradeoff sounds perfectly reasonable.
There are many other awkward facts to ignore. While cholesterol levels are much higher in Americans than in Japanese, both populations have the same level of atherosclerosis. Ravnskov explains in some detail why the JUPITER trial is flawed and Crestor is not as beneficial as the trial claimed. All you really need to know is that the trial was carried out by Astra-Zeneca, the manufacturer of Crestor.
Covering the topic of conflict of interest in scientific research would take volumes so Dr. Ravnskov only exposes the tip of the iceberg. The guidelines from the National Cholesterol Education Program were published in the medical journal Circulation in 2004. The authors of those guidelines are listed in this book along with their extensive ties to the pharmaceutical industry. This fact was not published in the journal. Medical journals in general depend heavily on ads from pharmaceutical companies. History has shown that publishing anything unfavorable to those companies will have devastating consequences. Pharmaceutical companies hold the financial strings to researchers, journals, and schools such as Harvard Medical School. This is legal because the pharmaceutical lobby far outnumbers members of Congress. Marcia Angell, former editor of the New England Journal of Medicine commented, “All of this makes a mockery of the traditional role of researchers as independent and impartial scientists.”
An interesting secret is revealed in the book as to how to turn major side effects into minor ones. If your statin drug has a major side effect like amnesia, for example, what you do is split that serious symptom into a bunch of different categories so that each individual category appears to be merely a minor nuisance. The drug doesn’t cause amnesia, it causes confusion, memory weakness, senility, dementia, and impaired cognitive function.
Another trick is to screen study participants before the trial begins. If test subjects have any complications other than the condition being studied, they are rejected for the study. Test subjects often get a dose of the drug to be studied during screening. If the test subject has an adverse reaction, that would be a complication that would warrant disqualification. That kind of screening will cut down observed side effects during the study nicely. If you find that patients with normal or below normal cholesterol levels are still having heart attacks, you conclude that cholesterol needs to be lowered even more.
In the final chapter, Dr. Ravnskov speculates on the real cause of heart attacks. It would be interesting to see him put his analytical genius into explaining why many heart attack victims seem to have no blocked coronary arteries, but he doesn’t address that. While I don’t completely agree with that last chapter he does indicate clearly that it is a hypothesis and the tone of the chapter is somewhat speculative so that does not weigh heavily on this review. The book is less than one hundred fifty pages—relatively short compared to other similar books. It is a good summary of what is going on in cholesterol research. It is easy to read (if you have enough cholesterol) and it rates a THUMBS UP.
This article appeared in Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts, the quarterly magazine of the Weston A. Price Foundation, Spring 2011.