Ever since Ancel Keys’ famous 7 countries study in the 1950s, cholesterol has been one of the most demonized nutrients in America. Although the 7 countries study was methodologically flawed and it’s findings don’t show that either cholesterol or saturated fat actually cause heart disease, to this day there is still a huge emphasis on reducing cholesterol. Many people still take statins (cholesterol lowering drugs) which have generally been shown to do more harm than good, and there is still a large portion of the health conscious population that avoids high cholesterol foods.
The Truth About Cholesterol
The truth is, cholesterol itself has literally no causal effect on rates of heart disease. The ratio of HDL and LDL cholesterol seems to be a better predictor of heart disease, but still doesn’t cause heart disease. Cholesterol is simply produced by the body in higher amounts when other factors (such as poor diet) predispose a person to heart disease.
For this reason, it’s essential to understand that directly lowering cholesterol or even lowering LDL cholesterol will have virtually no effect on heart health. Trying to lower cholesterol without targeting the mechanisms that lead the body to produce more cholesterol is like trying to reduce smoking by cleaning up cigarette buts. In other words, to improve heart health you’ve got to target the root causes, not the resulting reactions in your body.
Strangely enough, the low fat diet movement does not appear to be the answer, as demonstrated in the multi-million dollar Nurse and Framingham studies. These studies compared thousands of people on low-fat diets with people who maintained their regular eating habits and found virtually no increase in overall health.
Until exact causes of heart disease are conclusively established, the best course of action is to follow in the footsteps of populations with very low rates of heart disease, such as traditional French and Japanese diets as well as the diets of hunter-gatherers.