The writer and social critic, H.L. Mencken once wrote, “For every complicated problem there is a solution that is simple, direct, understandable and wrong.”
Our ancestors believed that the stars rotated around the Earth. From our perspective, it made perfect sense. Of course, the idea was completely wrong. In fact, throughout history, people have believed ridiculous things. And we believed them so strongly you would have been persecuted for suggesting otherwise.
So little has changed…
Today’s gospel truth is that excess saturated fat in the diet clogs the arteries and causes heart disease. The only problem with this medical “fact” is that it isn’t a fact at all. It is a fraudulent and faulty hypothesis from the 1950s that has never been proven.
I didn’t plan to write about this topic today. But I had to speak up when I saw the same article in four major publications this week. The headline: “Leading Surgeon Wants to Ban Butter.”
Dr. Shyam Kolvekar, a heart surgeon at University College London Hospital, says that by the time he sees many of his patients, it is too late. Their hearts and cardiovascular system are too damaged for repair. He wants to stop heart disease before it starts by getting people to limit saturated fat in the diet. And to get the ball rolling, he suggests “banning butter.”
Kolvekar is particularly worried that heart disease is growing rapidly in the younger population. “It’s because most kids start the day with some toast and butter,” he says. “Porridge is a much better alternative.”
Why the butter and not the toast? Two slices of bread contain the equivalent carbohydrates of five teaspoons of sugar. And elevated blood sugar has been directly associated with heart disease. But more on that later…
Dr. Kolvekar also suggests replacing natural butter with the industrially-processed, chemically-modified yellow-colored substance known as margarine. Great idea, doc! In the interest of disclosure, the Daily Mail notes that, “Dr. Kolvekar’s comments were issued by KTB, a public relations company that works for Unilever, the maker of Flora margarine.”
Well, that might explain his motivations. But what about the veracity of his argument? And what can explain the last fifty years of propaganda against saturated fat? Is it really the villain it has been made out to be?
I asked our own heart-health expert, Dr. Dwight Lundell , for his thoughts. Dr. Lundell knows the heart and cardiovascular system as well as anyone on the planet. During his 25-year career in medicine, he performed more than 5,000 open heart surgeries. And for much of that time, he toed the party line on saturated fat and cholesterol. But his own experience – and a closer review of the literature – caused him to reject the premise. He later wrote a book on the REAL causes of heart disease, which you can learn more about here .
Dr. Lundell writes, “One wants their heart surgeon to be exacting. But, in the case of Dr. Shyam Kolvekar, who called for the banning of butter to prevent the epidemic of heart disease, he is exactly wrong!”
According to Dr. Lundell, “The theory that saturated fat causes heart disease fails on many accounts.” First, it is said that saturated fats raise cholesterol levels in the blood, and elevated cholesterol levels cause heart disease.
Lundell points out that an article published in the American Heart Journal last year, showed that in an examination of 137,000 people admitted to the hospital with heart attack, 70% of them had normal blood cholesterol levels!
It should also be noted that the long-running Framingham Heart Study showed that after the age of 50 (when 90% of all heart attacks occur), lower cholesterol levels are clearly associated with a shorter life expectancy.
But let’s put cholesterol aside for a moment and discuss the purported mass killer, saturated fat. Certainly there must have been conclusive studies and solid evidence that kicked off the campaign against animal fat. Not quite.
One of the first studies to implicate animal fat in heart disease came in the early 1900s. See if you can spot the flaws in this one. In 1908, Russian scientist, M.A. Ignatovsky fed protein-rich animal foods to a group of rabbits. He soon discovered that the rabbits developed arterial plaques and cardiovascular disease. Researchers discovered that the same thing happens when chickens, guinea pigs and goats eat a high-fat diet.
Later these studies were cited as evidence of a high-fat diet causing heart disease in humans. Hmm… let’s see. All of these animals are obligate herbivores. They evolved eating nothing but plants. They are clearly not designed to eat meat. When we feed them meat and fat it makes them sick. That makes perfect sense. What doesn’t make sense is why researchers extrapolated these results to omnivorous humans.
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The Fraud of Ancel Keys Kicks off the Lipid Hypothesis
But the “lipid hypothesis” really gained traction in the 1950s, when physiologist Ancel Keys, Ph.D., published what became known as the Seven Countries Study.
Keys presented a comparison of heart disease mortality and fat intake across seven different countries. His comparison showed a “remarkable relationship.” The countries with the highest fat intake had the highest levels of heart disease. The countries with the lowest fat intake had the lowest levels of heart disease. Those in the middle fell conveniently in between.
At the time, Jacob Yerushalmy, a PhD statistician, at the University of California at Berkeley pointed out that we had data on the amount of fat consumed in 22 countries. So why wasn’t it called the 22 Country Study?
It wasn’t called that, because Ancel Keys started with the conclusion. Then he cherry-picked the countries that matched his pre-conceived notion and threw out the ones that contradicted it. And most of them did! When all 22 countries were analyzed, the “remarkable relationship” remarkably disappeared.
Furthermore, Keys established no causative basis. And he based his conclusions on only two phenomena – dietary fat and heart disease. This did not account for the possibility that something else could have caused the heart disease.
It might seem hard to believe that this flawed and fraudulent study was the genesis of the entire animal-fat-causes-heart-disease movement. Certainly, in the last sixty years, there must be hundreds of controlled studies that prove the link, right?
Not quite… there are NONE!
What about the societies that consume a very high percentage of saturated fat in the diet – groups like the Maasai in Africa or the Inuits in the Arctic North? Do they show signs of heart disease? No, and in fact, quite the opposite is true.
In the 1960s, Vanderbilt University scientist, George Mann, MD, studied the nomadic Maasai in Kenya and Tanzania. These populations consumed a very high saturated fat diet, including drinking the blood of their cattle. Yet they were not only lean and virtually free of heart disease, they also had some of the lowest cholesterol levels ever measured!
Skeptical scientists argued that they must have some sort of hereditary protection. However, British researchers found that when Maasai men moved to the city and began to consume a modern diet, their cholesterol levels skyrocketed!
In an editorial published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 1977, Dr. Mann called the cholesterol theory of heart disease “the greatest scam in the history of medicine.”
But let’s get back to those studies… or, more accurately, the lack of studies proving a link between saturated fat and heart disease.
There have been about 30 long-term population studies that have attempted to link saturated fat to heart disease. Of those, only four have shown even the weakest association. And all four had major disqualifications: they were either too small to be significant, they did not isolate the variables properly, or they showed a slight decrease in heart deaths but an increase in death due to cancer.
But population studies are notoriously unreliable anyway. The gold standard among health studies are controlled, randomized trials. And not a single study of this nature has ever shown definitive evidence that saturated-fat consumption leads to heart disease. In fact, many have shown the exact opposite!
Authors of the MR-FIT trial were determined to prove the case. They enrolled 350,000 men, all of whom were considered at high risk of heart disease. In one set of participants, cholesterol consumption was reduced by 42%, saturated fat by 28%, and total calories by 21%.
What happened? Nothing. The authors referred to the results as “disappointing,” stating that “The overall results do not show a beneficial effect on Coronary Heart Disease or total mortality from this multifactor intervention.”
The Women’s Health Initiative was a huge government study, costing almost three quarters of a billion dollars. Among 20,000 women in the study who adhered to a diet low saturated fat diet for eight years, there was no reduction in the rates of heart-disease or stroke.
Then there was the Cochrane Collaboration, in 2000. This group rigorously selected 27 low-fat and cholesterol-lowering trials to review (more than 200 trials were rejected). Their conclusion was that diets low in saturated fat have “no significant effect” on heart attack mortality. Lead researcher Lee Hooper, PhD, said “I was disappointed that we didn’t find something more definitive.”
Or how about something more recent?
This month, the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition published a review of 21 studies. The studies ranged from 5 to 23 years in length and encompassed 347,747 subjects. In the authors’ own words: “Intake of saturated fat was not associated with an increased risk of CHD, stroke, or CVD.”
I could go on… and on… and on… but I’ll conclude with this.
In 1988, U.S. Surgeon General’s office decided to end the confusion. They set out to finally prove the causal link between saturated fat and heart disease. After 11 years, the project was abandoned. The Surgeon General’s office stated that they, “did not anticipate fully the magnitude of the additional external expertise and staff resources that would be needed.” Sure! After more than a decade of trying, the government just “just didn’t have the resources.”
Scientists and researchers are supposed to have an open mind. They are not supposed to be dogmatic and swayed by politics and peer pressure. But that is exactly what the majority of scientists and doctors have proven of themselves. It is not terribly surprising. Massive industries and shining scientific careers have been built on this faulty theory.
If it were not so tragic, it would be funny to listen to them explain away contradictory findings and make excuses for why their studies don’t match their hoped-for conclusions. The most common excuses are that the “trial didn’t last long enough” or they “didn’t lower the saturated-fat intake enough.” It seems that option number three never crosses their mind… perhaps the entire hypothesis is wrong!
Uffe Ravnskov, MD, PhD has called the saturated fat theory of heart disease “one of the greatest and most harmful misconceptions in the history of medicine.” Dr. George Mann called it the “public health diversion of the century.”
And the problem is not just the wasted time and billions of dollars dedicated to an unscientific myth. The bigger problem is that undue focus on the saturated fat bugaboo has stolen attention from the REAL causes of heart disease. And perhaps even worse, is that many of the dietary recommendations to reduce heart disease have actually been shown to CAUSE heart disease (not to mention cancer, diabetes and obesity).
If you truly want to protect yourself from the nation’s number one killer, don’t smoke and reduce your stress levels. At least the medical authorities have gotten those two right. And when it comes to your diet, forget about saturated fat and cholesterol. Here is what you should do instead:
• Consume more monounsaturated fats from sources like olive oil, nuts, avocados and avocado oil
• Cut out the sugar and refined carbohydrates
• Consume more omega-3 fatty acids, from wild game, grass-fed beef and bison, sardines and wild (not farm-raised) salmon. And take an omega-3 fish oil supplement.
• And reduce as much as possible omega-6 fatty acids in your diet. These come primarily from conventionally raised meats, processed foods, fried foods and vegetable and seed oils (corn, soybean, sunflower, cottonseed, etc.)
To your health,
Contributing Editor, Total Health Breakthroughs
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