Doctors have finally decided that eggs are good for us, and that the old adage, ‘Go to work on an egg’ might actually be good advice. And why was this ever in doubt? The problem is that eggs are rich in cholesterol, along with shellfish and other exciting foods, and cholesterol is bad for us, isn’t it?
Oh dear, oh dear. When HETN’s onetime CEO, Geoff, was a biochemistry student in the 1960s, he had to write a lengthy essay on the difference between a cholesterol lowering diet and a low cholesterol diet, and to discuss the health importance of each. We ‘knew’ then, 50 years ago, that a cholesterol lowering diet was one that was low in saturated fat (animal fat) and contained a higher proportion of polyunsaturated fat (vegetable oil), and that a low cholesterol diet was of no significance to health because our blood cholesterol level is not influenced by the cholesterol in our diet. So, it has taken over 50 years for this to permeate down to the nutritional gurus, and many of us have denied ourselves healthy food because it might contain a smidgeon of cholesterol.
Of course, we now know that saturated fat is not the culprit. It is – and always was – trans fat that was playing havoc with our cholesterol. And where does nearly all that trans fat come from? From the margarine and processed vegetable oils that we were assured were so healthy.
So, should we all be taking statins to reduce our cholesterol levels? It appears to be true that a high bad cholesterol (LDL) and a low good cholesterol (HDL) are associated with an increased risk of CVD. It is also true that statins are among the most effective drugs for lowering cholesterol. They are also among the most widely prescribed drugs of all time.
But high cholesterol has been a scapegoat for too long. Yes, it may be associated with CVD, but there is no evidence of a causal link. High total blood cholesterol or high LDL levels cause no more heart attacks than paramedics cause car crashes, even though they are present at the scene. Lowering cholesterol with drugs, without sorting out the dietary and lifestyle factors that actually cause CVD, makes no sense.
But surely by now, there must be overwhelming evidence that lowering blood cholesterol with statins has reduced CVD risk. If there is any, Geoff has not found it. Strange, that.