Health

“The Great Cholesterol Myth”: Top Lessons from the Bestseller Book

I recently read the book “The Great Cholesterol Myth” by Dr. Jonny Bowden and Dr. Stephen Sintara [1]. It’s a bestseller book with very positive reviews on Amazon. This book breaks many myths regarding heart conditions and cholesterol. And all statements are made with proper scientific research and studies, hence the information provided is very credible.

I would highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to understand his/her heart condition better. I am going to share my top learnings from the book in this article.

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How Important is Cholesterol in Predicting Heart Disease?

“We can summarize…in one sentence: Cholesterol is harmless!”: De Lorgeril, lead researcher for the Lyon Diet Heart Study[2].

“They were taking the bull by the horn-but it was the wrong bull.”: Dwight Lundell, M.D., author of The Cure for Heart Disease, says about cholesterol’s impact on heart disease [3].

Ask any layman or a doctor, how important is cholesterol to predict heart diseases, the answer would be “very important.” High cholesterol levels create panic among patients and cholesterol-lowering medications are prescribed to them.

Is There a Correlation Between Cholesterol and Heart Disease?

Cholesterols are divided into good cholesterol (HDL) and bad cholesterol (LDL). But there are only 2 types of cholesterol out of at least 13 known types. And not all of them are equally good or bad. Especially with LDL, which is considered to be bad cholesterol. There are sub-variants of LDL which are good and low levels of LDL are actually bad.

You will be surprised to know that total cholesterol number and LDL (bad cholesterol) numbers are not good predictors of heart disease. Higher cholesterol levels do not mean much.

The authors explain this in detail in the book, but for the sake of keeping it simple and short, I will just share the learnings. The authors explain that cholesterol levels are not the problem, but inflammation in the body is. “Without inflammation, it’s pretty irrelevant what your cholesterol levels are.” Hence, the right bull is inflammation and not cholesterol.

The authors explain this point with a very interesting example. Imagine the following 2 scenarios:

Scenario 1: There is a forest with many trees and all trees are in good condition. And there is plenty of rainfall in the forest.
Scenario 2: There is a forest with fewer trees but all trees are dried up and there is no rainfall in this forest.

Which forest is likely to catch fire and spread? It’s the second one as the conditions are ripe for a fire to emerge.

Cholesterol in our bodies is like trees in the forest. And lack of rain is like inflammation in the body. Cholesterol does not matter as much as inflammation in the body. 

In scenario 1, we can reduce the chances of fire by cutting trees. But does it make any sense? Trees serve so many benefits to us. Similarly, our focus should be on inflammation and not cholesterol.

Does Lowering Cholesterol With Medications Increase Lifespan?

You can lower cholesterol with a drug, yet provide no health benefits whatsoever. And dying with corrected cholesterol is not a successful outcome.” John Abramson, M.D., Professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and the author of ‘Overdosed America’.

Back in the 1980s, two renowned people, Russell Smith, Ph.D., and Edward Pinckney, M.D., reviewed all the cholesterol-lowering trials that had ever been done. They published all their findings in a book called the Cholesterol Conspiracy. They found that cholesterol-lowering medicines were good at lowering cholesterol, but they were not good at saving lives. They concluded: “In the vast majority of the studies reviewed, there was no difference in the number of deaths between the group that lowered its cholesterol and the group that didn’t. In fact, in a few cases, more people died in the group that lowered its cholesterol.”

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Should You Be Taking Statin?

“Our analysis suggests that … statins should not be prescribed for true primary prevention in women of any age or for men older than 69 years.” John Abramson, M.D., Professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and the author of ‘Overdosed America’.

The authors of the books highlight many side effects of statin in detail. Some of them are:

  1. The brain depends on cholesterol to function at its best. The brain takes up only 2% of body weight, but it forms 25% of the body’s cholesterol. So statin just doesn’t reduce cholesterol in the blood but also in the brain, thus impairing its function. Memory loss is a common problem associated with statin.
  2. Statin drugs significantly deplete coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) from the body. It’s a strong antioxidant and the authors describe it as “the spark of life.” Without CoQ10, our bodies cannot survive. And it’s especially important for heart health. Ironically, a medicine given to prevent heart disease weakens the very organ it’s meant to protect.
  3. The authors suspect that dysfunctional gut health is yet another casualty of statin drugs [4].
  4. “Statin drugs have an uncanny ability to completely mess up your sex life. No kidding.” A study showed that Crestor, one of the most popular statin drugs, increased the risk of erectile dysfunction at least 2 and up to 7 times [5].
  5. A meta-analysis of five statin studies found that the use of high levels of statin drugs significantly increased the risk of diabetes [6]. Another study showed that the risk was increased by a whopping 46%. The list is quite long.

Are There Any Benefits of Taking a Statin?

The book explains that the main benefit of statin is not its cholesterol-lowering effect. The main benefit of statin is that it’s anti-inflammatory and inflammation is a major cause of heart disease. Secondly, statin drugs decrease blood viscosity. But these two benefits can be easily achieved with the right lifestyle modifications and supplements. And they come without any side effects.

Though most functional medicine practitioners don’t recommend statin at all, the authors of this book recommend it only to middle-aged men who already had a heart attack in the past or have a serious heart condition. Not for women. Not for the older population. Not for kids. Not for mild cases.

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Which Lab Parameters Can Predict Heart Disease More Accurately?

There are 5 parameters you should consider to determine your heart health: HOMA-IR, Homocysteine, HS-CRP, LP (A), and Triglyceride/HDL ratio. You can check for a lab test that covers the following and you should get yourself tested. And not just you, but your entire family. Don’t wait for a heart attack to take action. Remember, prevention is better than cure.

References

  • [1] Bowden, Jonny, and Sinatra. “The Great Cholesterol Myth.” Why Lowering Your Cholesterol Won’t Prevent Heart Disease–And the Statin-Free Plan That Will, 2020.
  • [2] M. de Lorgeril, A Near-Perfect Sexual Crime: Statins Against Cholesterol (France: A4Set, 2011).
  • [3] D. Lundell, The Cure for Heart Disease (Scottsdale: Publishing Intellect, 2012).
  • [5] C. J. Malkin et al., “Low Serum Testosterone and Increased Mortality in Men with Coronary Heart Disease,’ Heart 96, no.22 (2010): 1821-25
  • [6] D. Preiss et al., “Risk of Incident Diabetes with Intensive-Dose Compared with Moderate-Dose Statin Therapy’, Journal of the American Medical Association 305, no.24 (2011): 2556-64.
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Vishnu Saraf

Co-founder & CEO Possible. SRCC, IIM-Ahmedabad, McKinsey, Deutsche Bank, 101 Global Healthcare Leader Award from World Health Congress, a certified NLP practitioner, authored 3 books.

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