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The Great Cholesterol Myth

Why Lowering Your Cholesterol Won't Prevent Heart Disease – and the Statin-Free Plan That Will

By Jonny Bowden, Stephen T. Sinatra
12-minute read
Audio available
The Great Cholesterol Myth by Jonny Bowden, Stephen T. Sinatra

The Great Cholesterol Myth (2012) takes medical orthodoxy and turns it on its head. Rather than blaming heart disease on cholesterol and dietary fat, this book calls for a more nuanced view of the causes of cardiovascular illnesses. Drawing on cutting-edge research into nutrition and human health, The Great Cholesterol Myth argues that we’ve misunderstood heart disease for decades.

  • Health nuts keen to learn the latest in medical thought
  • Amateur dietitians interested in healthy eating
  • Anyone living with cardiovascular disease

Johnny Bowden holds a PhD in holistic nutrition, and is an expert on weight loss and health. He’s written for the New York Times, Forbes and GQ, and is also the author of Living Low Carb.

Stephen T. Sinatra is a cardiologist and a professor at the University of Connecticut School of Medicine. His works include Optimum Health and Reverse Heart Disease Now.

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The Great Cholesterol Myth

Why Lowering Your Cholesterol Won't Prevent Heart Disease – and the Statin-Free Plan That Will

By Jonny Bowden, Stephen T. Sinatra
  • Read in 12 minutes
  • Audio & text available
  • Contains 7 key ideas
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The Great Cholesterol Myth by Jonny Bowden, Stephen T. Sinatra
Synopsis

The Great Cholesterol Myth (2012) takes medical orthodoxy and turns it on its head. Rather than blaming heart disease on cholesterol and dietary fat, this book calls for a more nuanced view of the causes of cardiovascular illnesses. Drawing on cutting-edge research into nutrition and human health, The Great Cholesterol Myth argues that we’ve misunderstood heart disease for decades.

Key idea 1 of 7

The demonization of cholesterol rests on outdated and bad science.

Human beings need cholesterol. In the body, this waxy substance aids the formation of cell membranes, is used to produce hormones like testosterone and estrogen, and even supports digestion.

So why does cholesterol get such bad press? Why do dietary pundits constantly tell us that it’s bad for our health?

To answer that question we need to revisit a nutritional controversy from the mid-twentieth century. 

The key player was a young biologist named Ancel Keys, who had just formulated a revolutionary new theory; he argued that too much fat in the diet raised cholesterol levels, ultimately leading to heart disease.

Before long, the theory caught on – and health bodies across the US were soon warning citizens to cut down on fat. There was just one problem, though: the theory relied on data that simply didn’t add up.

The key message here is: The demonization of cholesterol rests on outdated and bad science.

There were a number of problems with Keys’s research. First, let’s consider his famous Seven Countries Study, which showed that the nations that ate the most fat also experienced the most heart disease.

Sounds pretty clear-cut, right? Well, let’s look a little closer. Keys actually had access to data on 22 countries, not seven – and those he excluded from the study painted an entirely different picture.

For example, the inhabitants of two Greek islands, Crete and Corfu, consumed fat at almost exactly the same rate. According to Keys’s hypothesis, you might expect them to have similar levels of heart disease.

The thing is, they don’t. In Corfu, death from heart disease was a staggering 17 times higher than it was in Crete.

Clearly, something other than fat consumption was at play. But what?

Enter John Yudkin, a British doctor and nutritionist working at the University of London. Yudkin was skeptical of Keys’s findings, so he decided to carry out a similar study himself – but he made sure to include far more data than Keys had.

When Yudkin analyzed the numbers, he found that there was indeed a single dietary factor strongly associated with heart disease. But it wasn’t fat. It was sugar.

Unfortunately, the work of scientists like Yudkin was disregarded, and Keys’s attack on fat went mainstream. To the public, the defenders of fat seemed all too similar to the crooked scientists who’d spent years defending tobacco.

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