On June 24, 1956, the American Heart Association broadcasted a show on the three major television networks. It presented a new theory on heart disease: that is was caused by cholesterol.
The major proponent of this theory was not a doctor or even a scientist. He was a little-known economist named Ancel Keys.
Keys called his theory the “lipid hypothesis.” The idea was that meat and eggs and butter were bad for you and should be replaced by corn oil, margarine, chicken and cold cereal.
Two weeks after the TV broadcast, the American Heart Association adopted the cholesterol theory of heart disease and later that year Ancel Keys ended up on the cover of Time Magazine as a health pioneer and hero.
There was one little problem. There was absolutely no science between Key’s idea, but it had plenty of powerful backers. Procter & Gamble for example quickly recognized it could make billions by selling vegetable oils in place of natural fat.
In the next 40 years, vegetable oil consumption more than tripled from just under three pounds per person per year to more than ten.
The same thing happened with margarine, the “cholesterol-free” substitute for butter. The next year, 1957, margarine sales exceeded butter sales for the first time in history.
As I said, there was no science behind Key’s limpid hypothesis but there was some good science that refuted it.
For example, researchers at Yale’s Department of Cardiovascular Medicine proved this in a clinical trial. It showed that people with low cholesterol had nearly twice as many heart attacks as those with high cholesterol levels.2
Another 10-year study reported in the prestigious journal Lancet proved people with higher cholesterol had a lower risk of dying from any cause.3
There were many more studies published between the mid-1970’s and 2014, but the mainstream media never picked up on them and doctors continued to ignore them. As of just a few months ago, prominent doctors are still pushing the cholesterol fraud.
Even after a new study in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine showed that cholesterol didn’t increase heart disease rates, Alice H. Lichtenstein chimed in to defend the lipid lie.
She told the New York Times that “It would be unfortunate if [the study’s] results were interpreted to suggest that people can go back to eating butter and cheese with abandon.” She then cited “evidence” that lowering cholesterol reduces cardiovascular risk.4
Dr. Lichtenstein was the lead author of the American Heart Association’s dietary guidelines, which recommend that people chop out fat and cholesterol from their diets. To this day, the heart association still states that the way to protect against heart disease is to lower cholesterol.
Perpetuating the Myth:
Big Pharma wasn’t going to stand by idly while Big Agriculture was making a financial killing from heart disease. In the mid-1970’s they began testing drugs to lower cholesterol such as compactin and lovastatin.5
They began to spend millions of dollars on ad campaigns that promote the idea that these drugs are not only safe but necessary. Some of the ads go so far as to recommend, “talking to your doctor” about taking such drugs even if you have no symptoms of heart disease.
The ad campaigns were amazingly effective. Sales when the first statin drug became available in 1987 were $200 million. It’s successor and the most commercially successful drug in history, atorvastatin (Lipitor), has sold more than $150 billion between 1996 and today. An article in the Journal of the American Medical Association estimates total sales of statin drugs could reach $1 trillion by 2020.6
Big Pharma convinced millions of educated Americans, including legislators, and they also convinced the medical community. The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) ran with Ancel Keys’ ideas. They launched what began an all-out war against cholesterol. It was the CSPI, not doctors or scientists, that coined the term “artery-clogging” cholesterol. Their campaign was so successful that most doctors still consider cholesterol screening to be one of the best predictors of heart attack.
And yet statins may make heart disease worse. Take the study in the journal Atherosclerosis. People taking statins had increased plaque in their arteries … the very thing statins are supposed to prevent!7
This fraud claims the lives of hundreds of thousands Americans every year. Odds are, you or somebody you know or love is a victim of it too.
To Your Good Health,
Al Sears, MD
1. M Enig, Trans Fatty Acids in the Food Supply: A Comprehensive Report Covering 60 Years of Research, 2nd Edition, 1995, Enig Associates, Inc., Silver Spring, MD, pp 4-8
2. Krumholz. H.M., et al. Lack of association between cholesterol and coronary heart disease mortality and morbidity and all-cause mortality in persons older than 70 years. Journal of the American Medical Association 272, 1335-1340, 1994.
3. Weverling-Rijnsburger AW, Blauw GJ, Lagaay AM, Knook DL, Meinders AE, Westendorp RG. “Total cholesterol and risk of mortality in the oldest old.” Lancet 1997;350(9085):1119-23.
4. O’Connor A. “Study Questions Fat and Heart Disease Link.” New York Times. nytimes.com. Retrieved Jan 15, 2015.
5. Tobert, J. “Lovastatin and beyond: the history of the HMG-CoA reductase inhibitors.” Nature Reviews Drug Discovery 2, 2003;517-526.
6. Ioannidis J. “More than a billion people taking statins?: Potential implications of the new cardiovascular guidelines.” JAMA. 2014;311:463-464.
7. Nakazato R. et. al. “Statins use and coronary artery plaque composition: results from the International Multicenter CONFIRM Registry.” Atherosclerosis. 2012;225(1):148-53.