|Jonny Bowden. (Supplied) |
American health and fitness expert Jonny Bowden calls it the Great Cholesterol Myth.
For the last 30 years, we’ve been told that high cholesterol causes heart disease. But that “boneheaded dietary advice,” says Bowden, has contributed to an epidemic of obesity, diabetes and heart disease that’s unprecedented in human history.
“Everything we’ve been taught about diet has been informed by the theory that cholesterol is the spawn of Satan,” he tells Sun Media in a candid phone interview. “The only reason you and I have ever been told to avoid saturated fat in animal products — there’s only one reason — is because we’ve been told it raises your cholesterol.”
“Cholesterol is a terrible predictor of heart disease,” he notes. “More than 50% of cardiovascular admissions to hospitals are made with people who have normal cholesterol. And more than 50% of people with elevated or slightly elevated cholesterol have perfectly normal hearts.
“As I said on the Dr. Oz Show, trying to lower heart disease by lowering cholesterol is like trying to lower your caloric intake by taking the lettuce off your plate. It’s just the wrong target.”
This universal dietary fallacy has given rise to a massive cholesterol-lowering drug industry in which the manufacturers of the top two selling statins — Lipitor and Zocor — rake in $31 billion a year, explains Bowden, aka the Rogue Nutritionist.
“Statin drugs have tremendous side-effects and they are vastly under-reported,” he adds.
And while the focus has remained on cholesterol all these years, the real causes of heart disease — inflammation, oxidation, stress and sugar — have been neglected, according to Bowden, who has a PhD in nutrition and a master’s degree in psychology.
So how have we been so wrong for so long?
Bowden, co-author of The Great Cholesterol Myth, says it all began in the 1970s. Heart disease appeared to be on the rise at the time and there were two competing theories about what was happening.
Theory No. 1 pointed to fat and cholesterol as the culprits. Theory No. 2 singled out sugar.
“There were good researchers on both sides,” says Bowden, a member of the prestigious American Society for Nutrition.
But much like the format war between VHS and the superior Betamax, the wrong side won. “The sugar theory was right all along,” he adds.
And thus began North America’s ill-fated low-fat, high-carb kick, which parallels perfectly the rise of diabetes and obesity.
Bowden, an avid tennis player who lifts weights twice a week, began questioning the cholesterol theory circa 1990, when as a personal trainer he noticed his clients weren’t losing weight on low-fat diets.
In the early ’90s, many of Bowden’s clients went on the Atkins Diet and showed remarkable success.
“They lost weight and came back with blood tests that showed enormous improvement in many metabolic markers, such as triglycerides and HDL cholesterol,” he says. “They were losing weight and getting healthier. ‘How is this possible?’ I thought. ‘They were eating saturated fats, they were eating cholesterol. Isn’t that going to give them a heart attack?’ ”
These days, the 66-year-old New York native now based in Los Angeles is committed to convincing the world to stop perpetuating the cholesterol myth.
“Some very finer minds than mine — biostatisticians, cardiologists, MDs, PhDs and health professionals — have re-examined the literature on which this myth is based and they have found it very wanting,” he explains. “The original studies on which we call the lipid hypothesis — that fat and cholesterol cause heart disease — have been found to be terribly flawed. They probably wouldn’t even get published today. And yet this cultural meme has taken on a life of its own.”
At the very least, it’s time to re-open the case against cholesterol.
“Cholesterol was tried and convicted 30 years ago on very flimsy evidence,” he says. “Let’s look at it again.”
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