Friday, March 11, 2011

OMG I'm Healthy

Fascinatingly, I am not about to drop dead from either too much cholesterol or one tipple too many. The news I believed my blood test contained was mis-interpreted. Never read results out to a man without his glasses...

I had a cosy chat with my GP yesterday and he told me the surprising news that my cholesterol levels are totally fine, I'm not in any way a boozer (no red nose, for example), and am, in fact, the picture of health. I celebrated with a nice red wine aperitif and some crisps. Tonight, my eldest and I are going to sink our teeth into a piece of steak.

However, in my initial panic, I did what all modern folk do when faced with a conundrum - I turned to Google, aided and abetted by some advice from a member of the Survive France Network. She suggested that I research 'cholesterol myths', which surprised me because I hadn't ever heard of an issue about cholesterol. (When I spoke to my mother about it she, naturally, had. She knows everything!) I thought it was a pretty open and shut case: high bad cholesterol (LDL) = heart attack, low bad cholesterol = no heart attack.

But NO! To my delight, I discovered a whole bunch of bad science on the subject, although surprisingly I didn't find any references to it on Ben Goldacre's site Bad Science. I love it when bad science is exposed, and believe me, there's a lot of it about!

I read all about it on Dr Uffe Ravnskov's site The Cholesterol Myths. He's also written books on the subject and, of course, a ton of peer-reviewed articles, and is a member of THINCS. What he's done is to take a look at all the studies on cholesterol and subject them to scrutiny. They do not stand up well, or rather, the declared results don't. The fact that investment in anti-cholesterol products by big business is massive has nothing to do with it, natch...

Dr Ravnskov has discovered from the studies that:
1. Cholesterol is not a deadly poison... A high cholesterol is not dangerous by itself, but may reflect an unhealthy condition, or it may be totally innocent.
2. A high blood cholesterol is said to promote atherosclerosis and thus also coronary heart disease. But many studies have shown that people whose blood cholesterol is low become just as atherosclerotic as people whose cholesterol is high.
3. There is no evidence that too much animal fat and cholesterol in the diet promotes atherosclerosis or heart attacks. 
4. The only effective way to lower cholesterol is with drugs, but neither heart mortality or total mortality have been improved with drugs the effect of which is cholesterol-lowering only. On the contrary, these drugs (statins) are dangerous to your health and may shorten your life.  

For each claim, he provides hard evidence. He then goes on to describe the benefits of high cholesterol which you can read about here. Basically though, high LDL levels protect against infection (like sepsis) and allergies.

But, you may cry, there was that bunch of Nobel prize winners who found that high cholesterol leads to atherosclerosi, and even the WHO endorses their findings! This is what Dr R says about them:
"Their finding is certainly interesting, a result of careful scientific work. Unfortunately, the conclusion they drew was too hasty."
"In Finland, Professor Tatu Miettinen and Dr. Helena Gylling studied about one hundred individuals with familial hypercholesterolemia.16 Fourteen to seventeen years later, 30 had died, 26 because of a heart attack and four of other causes. On average, initial LDL cholesterol was the same among those who had died and those who still were alive. If high LDL cholesterol was the most important cause of atherosclerosis and heart disease, as postulated by Nobel Award winners Goldstein and Brown, then we should have expected higher cholesterol in those who died, but that wasn’t the case. Many other researchers have confirmed the Finnish findings.17-23
Another conflicting observation is the fact that people with familial hypercholesterolemia have normal cerebral arteries, even though the same cholesterol-rich blood flows through their brain as through the rest of their body.25 "

Even the WHO has caught on, and published, back in September 2009 a report on Fats and Fatty Acid Requirements for Adults declaring that "the available evidence from cohort and randomised controlled trials is unsatisfactory and unreliable to make judgement about and substantiate the effects of dietary fat on risk of CHD-
"there is insufficient evidence at this time to determine the association between diabetes risk and intake of total fat or of any particular type of fat”
And on the same page you can read that “the data on the association between total fat intake and saturated fat intake and body weight remain inconclusive”.

So, to be quite frank, I've stopped worrying about my cholesterol levels, which are not in fact 'high' anyway, and will carry on as I am, thank you.

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