The Earth is Flat and Cholesterol Will Kill You

In scientific subjects, the natural remedy for dogmatism has been found in research.
–Ronald Fisher
One of the most pervasive myths out there is that having high cholesterol will give you heart disease, and that eating cholesterol gives you high cholesterol. Like all good myths, there is a kernel–a small kernel–of truth to this. But in the main I’m just going to tell you right up front right now: this is baloney.

Don’t we all feel better when we just say things?
Don’t keep it inside. Don’t learn how to hide your feelings. Go ahead and cry out loud.
Now I realize that what I’m saying is in opposition to conventional wisdom, so I’m going to take a few posts to try and convince you that at best you’re being led along a primrose path, and at worse you’re being prescribed a drug (statins) for no reason. Particularly if you are a woman.
But in order to do this we’re going to have to lay some groundwork. So I want to start with some general things that we ought to keep in mind as we ponder the possibility that even such illustrious names as the American Heart Association and the Mayo Clinic could be completely, devastatingly wrong in telling everyone to eat a low-fat diet to lower cholesterol to prevent heart disease. That they could be even further wrong by telling you to avoid saturated fat in particular and instead eat seed and vegetable oils. That they could be even further wrong than that by telling you to take statins. These are kind of foundational points, if you will. We shall try our best to keep this all interesting, but I make no firm promises.
Foundational Point #1: Cholesterol is absolutely essential.
I think this is important to point out, because many people have the mistaken idea that cholesterol is an entirely evil thing. The lower your cholesterol, the better, right? This couldn’t be further from the truth.
Cholesterol is made by your liver and is essential to life. I’ve listed below just some of the things that cholesterol does for your body. I’ve provided a link to an explanation for each, but I’ll just ask you to trust me that there were many more links I could have added: I’m not making this stuff up. Cholesterol is needed for:
The production of all your major hormones, including estrogen, testosterone, and dopamine. The latter could be part of the explanation for the strong association between low-fat diets and depression and between low cholesterol levels and suicide; but more study is needed.
The creation of correct membranes for all your cells, allowing them to interact properly with each other
So you absolutely must have cholesterol. If you still doubt that, perhaps you could volunteer to trade lives with someone who has Smith-Lemli-Opitz disease. This genetic disorder keeps the body from making enough cholesterol for itself, and the list of consequences for sufferers is grim. There’s also no cure, which leads us to our next point:
Foundational Point #2: You cannot do much to raise or lower your cholesterol through eating or avoiding dietary cholesterol.
 If you could, Smith-Lemli-Opitz wouldn’t be a serious condition. It would be a minor inconvenience. All you’d have to do is stuff yourself with eggs, butter, bacon, fish, cheese, and liver all day.
After all, didn’t your doctor tell you that your cholesterol level of 255 is “too high” and wanted you to bring it down more than 50 points?  Perhaps 100 would even be really ideal! The way he says it ,you’d think that if you just stopped eating butter you’d be able to go from 255 to 175 without too much trouble, and that it was entirely because you insisted on eating cheese and red meat a couple times a week that it ever went up in the first place. So why can’t kids born with SLO just eat all that stuff and get cholesterol levels at least high enough to prevent the worst of the complications? I mean, it’s not like they need cholesterol levels of 250 to avoid all the horrible developmental problems they face–if they could just get to 100 they’d be in pretty good shape.
In fact, why do their issues even start in the womb? Why can’t it be at least staved off during gestation and later during breast feeding? After all, breast milk is full of cholesterol, and the womb diverts as much cholesterol as possible from mom to baby. Eating a very fat-heavy diet, combined with a cholesterol-raising drug, can help some SLO sufferers, but it is not a cure and does not work at all for some of them. Why?

Because intake of dietary cholesterol doesn’t do much increase your cholesterol levels. Only your liver can make or not make cholesterol in any quantity high enough to affect your health in this respect. So go eat a hard boiled egg while you finish reading this post–it’s not going to affect your cholesterol. We’ll talk later in depth about what makes your liver produce lots of cholesterol, and it ain’t beef.

Foundational Point #3: We do not live in Gotham City. We also do not live in Fairytale Princess Pink Wonderland.

Allow me to explain.

In Gotham City, evil corporation-sponsered supervillians want to poison everyone in the city just for the sheer joy of mayhem, evil, and DESTRUCTION!!! HA HA!!! HAAHAHAHAHAHAHHAHAHAHHA!

An evil laugh is difficult to make in print.

In reality, very, very few people deliberately set out to hurt large numbers of random strangers. Your average Farmer Bob is not trying to kill you with genetically altered wheat and hormone injected cows. Ditto the pharmaceutical companies. Most people are just like you–they care most about themselves, their families, their close friends, their neighbors, their neighborhood, their city, their state, their country. In that approximate order.

Now this doesn’t mean that some despicable things haven’t and aren’t being done in order to make money. They are. But we need to bear in mind that for the most part we are not dealing with cartoon supervillian company executives who don’t care if you DIE just so they can pry one more dollar out of your feebly clutching fingers before you go. Your doctor isn’t deliberately trying to stay ignorant of new research because he hates you and wants to see you suffer.

But we also don’t live in Fairytale Princess Pink Wonderland, either. There’s a shorter name for Fairytale Princess Pink Wonderland and that’s “Communism.” You recall this idea, I’m sure: everyone is basically good and altruistic, so we’ll just take everything away from everybody and redistribute it in a manner that the Overlords deem equitable. You won’t be paid according to how hard you work or how much you contribute, but according to how much you (think) you need, which is directly related to how noisily and/or violently you protest to demand it.

According to Fairytale Princess Pink Wonderland proponents, McDonald’s should be spending gazillions to put broccoli florets, asparagus spears, and other similar items on their menu–utterly irregardless of whether you’ll actually buy them–sheerly because such things are healthy and therefore it’s right to put them on there, even if McDonald’s just has to eat the loss. If they don’t do this, they are EVIL, and they just want you to DIE, and we need Batman to swoop in and take out Ronald with a Batarang.

I bring this up because it’s important that we remember that doctors, nutritionists, drug manufacturers, and government officials are not any more altruistic than you are, or than McDonald’s executives or store owners. I have a bombshell for you:

Your best interests are not their top priority.

You teachers out there: are you careful to keep up your journal reading and research so that every day you can be on top of the myriad of new theories, international findings, research into learning styles, and teaching methods? A few do this kind of thing, but most are just trying to get through their day with the students they have. They may keep up with some of the latest findings in their particular area of interest, but even that’s a stretch.

Doctors aren’t different. If an area is of special interest to your doctor, he or she might very well be keeping up on the latest research. But the reality is that your doctor has a life; has a family; has to spend stupid amounts of time filling out paperwork. There’s also an incredible, massive amount of research being done into the most inane areas, as well as the most important, of science and medical research. It’s impossible for anyone to keep up with it all even if she wanted to.

Know what else? Researchers and doctors aren’t the same thing. Just because some science geek finds satisfaction and job fulfillment in taking apart cholesterol in a lab and force feeding things to rats doesn’t mean that it goes any further. By the time a study gets published, peer-reviewed, and gets to your doctor’s desk, years can have gone by.

Foundational Point #4: Worldwide, healthy, average human cholesterol levels are about 220.

So why does the “health care worker” at Sam’s Club giving out the free health check freak out when your cholesterol comes in at 210 and tell you to run to your doctor and ask for a statin?

Give her a break. She doesn’t know any better. She doesn’t know a thing in the world about cholesterol; what it is, what it does, where it comes from, how much is too much, how much is too little.

In 2004, all the optimum levels were rewritten so that nearly every American now falls above “healthy” cholesterol levels. Ideal total cholesterol went from under 220 to under 200. Ideal LDL levels went from under 130 to under 70. The answer? Take a statin! In fact the LDL level was moved down so low that most people have to take multiple cholesterol lowering drugs to achieve it.

Now this in itself doesn’t mean anything until you know that in 2006 a review in the Annals of Internal Medicine found there was no evidence whatsoever to support these new lower numbers–these numbers that were fundamentally changing America. As a 37-year-old, when I tell nearly any health professional that I’m not taking any prescription drugs they either don’t believe me or they ask a few more times to make sure they heard me right. Or to make sure I’m not an idiot who doesn’t realize I’m actually taking pills.

Nearly everyone is taking statins. Just have a look:


Intake doubled the year after they changed the guidelines. And that’s not surprising, since that 2006 review I mentioned discovered that of the nine doctors responsible for resetting the guidelines for cholesterol in 2004, eight of them were getting money from the companies whose statin drugs they were telling us to take.

The drug companies would dearly love us all to be taking their drugs, just as McDonald’s would dearly love us all to be eating their fries. The drug companies want statins to be available over the counter, despite their side effects. Don’t get me started on that. Some in your government would actually like to just throw them into your water supply, like fluoride.

We’ll talk in a future post about why your total cholesterol number is meaningless unless it is insanely high (by which I mean there is no actual, scientifically demonstrable link to heart disease until you are well over 300) or dangerously low (by which I mean anything under 170). In fact, we’ll see that low cholesterol is associated with higher mortality rates from all causes: which, after all, is the great thing. It won’t comfort your widow much to hear: Well, the bad news is your loved one is dead. Sorry about that. The good news is it wasn’t from a heart attack!

If you want more to read, try here.

Until tomorrow…


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2 thoughts on “The Earth is Flat and Cholesterol Will Kill You

  1. There is recent admission in a nationally read newspaper of all places that all is not true with previous health guidelines on this matter.

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