The myth of saturated fat and heart disease

ImageAn article in the BMJ today by leading cardiologist, Dr Aseem Malhotra of Croydon University Hospital in the British Medical Journal today states that it is time to “bust the myth of the role of saturated fat in heart disease”.

In the article he also blames the food industry for lowering saturated fat levels in food by replacing it with sugar which also contributes to heart disease.

He believes that saturated fat has been “demonised” and the link with heart disease is not fully supported by scientific evidence.

“Adopting a Mediterranean diet – olive oil, nuts, oily fish, plenty of fruit and vegetables and a moderate amount of red wine – after a heart attack is almost three times as powerful in reducing mortality as taking a statin” he writes.

The saturated fat link to heart disease was first put about in 1953 when a respected US physician Dr Ancel Keys published a paper comparing saturated fat intake and heart disease mortality.

Keys looked at six countries in which higher saturated fat intake correlated with high rates of heart disease.

However, what Keys conveniently ignored was that data from 16 other countries did not fit his theory. This tenuous link between saturated fat and heart disease became enshrined in the public consciousness and has remained so ever since.

Dr. Stephen Sinatra, a US cardiologist who’s been practicing for over 30 years and is the author of The Great Cholesterol Myth, does not believe cholesterol is the bad guy in the heart disease mystery. “Cholesterol may be at the scene of the crime for heart disease, but it’s not the perpetrator,” he says.

Sinatra is among a growing number of doctors who believe that inflammation rather than cholesterol is the real villain of the piece.

Inflammation is caused by a number of things but sugar in our diet is a major factor-particularly high fructose corn sugar which is present in so many fizzy drinks. “Sugar damages arteries, increases blood pressure, and ages your organs” he explains.

Yet still doctors are prescribing more statins than ever. Cholesterol-lowering has become a huge global industry, generating at least $29 billion each year.

More and more health professionals are beginning to believe we have been focusing too hard on cholesterol and may be missing the point. If we have spent the last fifty years chasing the wrong demons the greatest sadness is the lost opportunity to tackle heart disease.

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Filed under Current affairs, Medical and health

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