Cholesterol: Why Boomers Need More Not Less

by Research Insights

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‘The Greatest Scientific Deception’

‘Saturated fat and cholesterol in the diet are not the causes of coronary heart disease. That myth is the greatest scientific deception of this century, perhaps of any century.’

Dr George V. Mann, Associate Director, Framingham Heart Study.

Main Points

  • Cholesterol is essential for life and, for boomers, essential for our brains;
  • Cholesterol and fat were said to cause heart disease in the 1950s so many of us gave them up;
  • The French eat masses of both yet have lower heart disease rates than the US, UK & Down Under;
  • You can eat high fat, high cholesterol foods and reduce your risk of heart disease.

(If you’re a boomer who likes triple cream brie, fried eggs other high-fat, high-cholesterol foods, get the facts in full. The latest research plus cooking tips plus mouth-watering recipes feature in our $12 guide: MMM! Lose Weight The Food Lover’s Way. It’s about reducing the risk of heart disease, dementia and cancer, while whittling your waistline.)

Our Brains Need It

Cholesterol is absolutely essential to our health and survival, even more so as we get older. Cholesterol plays a key role in building cell membranes, nerve conduction, synthesis and intracellular transport of fat‐soluble vitamins (A, D, E, and K), and as a precursor for sex and steroid hormones.

25% of the cholesterol produced by our livers goes to our brains; the myelin sheath surrounding our nerves is next in line. We couldn’t function without cholesterol, so why did it get such a bad wrap?

The 7 Countries Study

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In the 1950s, American physicist Ancel Keys promoted the idea that eating saturated fat raised serum cholesterol, and that cholesterol caused heart disease. Keys devised the famous 7-countries study, which was widely accepted as proof of his hypothesis.

Keys study didn’t include countries like France, Spain, Belgium or Switzerland, which have the lowest rates of heart disease in Europe. Keys also argued that neither exercise nor smoking played a role in heart disease, yet physicians and dieticians bought his story. By the time Britain’s foremost nutritionist John Yudkin’s book Pure, White and Deadly saw the light in 1972, Keys’ cholesterol hypothesis had become doctrine.

The Bad News

In the 1980s, the US National Institutes of Health launched the Lipid Research Clinics Coronary Primary Prevention Trial (LRC-CPPT), which enrolled 3,800 American men with high cholesterol and gave half of them cholestyramene, a foul-tasting bile acid sequestrant you had to sprinkle over your breakfast cereal.

There was no placebo group, and all participants were encouraged to reduce their saturated fat and cholesterol intake, so this was hardly a gold-standard trial.

The absolute risk reduction of non-fatal heart attacks was 1.1%, yet the trial leaders reported a risk reduction of 19% (relative). Their take-home message was: any 1% reduction in cholesterol reduces the risk of a heart attack by 2%.

Paradoxes By The Number

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In the early nineties, a research paper stunned the medical world, because it showed that the French ate their way through mountains of triple cream brie, pâté de foie gras and duck cooked its own fat. They also had half the rate of heart disease compared to Americans, Britons and Australians, and lived two years longer.

Given this news and the millions of lives lost to heart disease every year, you’d expect cardiologists and nutritionists to jump on the next flight to France to fact-check the story. They didn’t do that, but simply called it a paradox.

The only paradox here is that the Spaniards, Italians, Belgians and Swiss also eat rich diets high in saturated fats yet have the lowest rates of heart disease after France. Another paradox is the poor correlation between cholesterol readings and mortality. The Swiss have the highest readings in Europe (6.4) yet among the lowest rate of heart disease; and their obesity rate is just over 10%.

France has normal cholesterol readings, yet the French consume more butter than any country on earth. Belgium’s cholesterol levels aren’t far behind Switzerland’s, yet its rate of heart disease is in the lowest 5. Russia has very low cholesterol readings yet heart disease is out of control. It’s the same story with our aborigines.

Drugs to the Rescue

The patents on statin drugs were running out around 2010, and their makers were busy testing a promising replacement: Cholesteryl Ester Transfer Protein inhibitors. Suddenly in 2015, Eli Lilly announced the termination of a Phase III trial with its CETP inhibitor evacetrapib, which had enrolled 12,000 patients in 37 countries. The trial had been running for 2 years, and had 2 more to go.

In early trials, CETP inhibitors had lowered LDL levels by 40% and more than doubled HDL levels. When the trial leaders checked the interim results, the number of deaths in the drug group was the same as in the placebo group. It was the same story with heart attacks and strokes. They checked the records of participants, to see if the drug had failed to work. The drug had worked brilliantly: it had reduced LDL readings by 37%, and increased HDL readings by 125%.

Pfizer and Roche also abandoned trials of their new CETP inhibitors. When reporters asked the experts what had gone wrong, Steven Nissen from the famous Cleveland Clinic said it wasn’t just a matter of lowering LDL; how LDL was lowered was a critical factor. If my grandson gave an answer like that in his science class, the teacher would suggest to his parents that he might be more suited to the arts.

Boomers Need More Cholesterol

A recent meta-analysis of studies involving more than 68,000 participants over 60 years of age found that older people with high levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL-C) live as long, and often longer, than their peers with low levels of LDL-C.

In recent years, a number of studies have shown similar results. This is hardly surprising given that cholesterol is essential for repairing damage to our boomer bodies caused by wear and tear. It’s the glue and the putty.

High cholesterol is most likely a marker of poor health. Metabolic Syndrome is a pre-diabetic condition that spells trouble. The signs are: abdominal obesity, insulin resistance, hypertension, hyperlipidemia (cholesterol). Together these conditions indicate increased risk of heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes. Yet experts insist that we boomers should be taking statins for the rest of our lives.

If you’d like to bring back those foods you banned back in the 1970s – like eggs, brie and cream – because you were worried about heart diseases, find out how you can eat more of them, lose weight AND thumb your nose at old myths. Check out our anti-diet eBook for boomers below.

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References

Lack of an association or an inverse association between low-density-lipoprotein cholesterol and mortality in the elderly, British Medical Journal
Cholesterol goes up heart disease goes down, Malcolm Kendrick
The Highs and Lows of Cholesterol: A Paradox of Healthy Aging?, American Geriatrics Society

Kim Brebach

Kim Brebach

Hi, I’m Kim Brebach, boomer, information researcher, technical writer and Joiner of Dots at M&M. In my spare time, I review wines and love to cook.

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