On Monday 7th July, I was listening to an interview with a consultant cardiologist who stated that women are 3 times more likely to die from heart disease than breast cancer, and that cholesterol was a contributing factor to this alarming statistic.
However, in almost the next sentence, she assured us that we can have normal or even low cholesterol, and still be at high risk of heart disease, or have high cholesterol, as she herself did, and NOT be at high risk. This raised a concern as to why a cardiologist would have high cholesterol – could this be another issue of “Do as I say, not as I do”?
Regrettably, the whole interview was likely to just cause confusion, since she did absolutely nothing to explain how “risk” is calculated, and what else is involved besides cholesterol. “Know your risk, not your number” she said on more than one occasion. Why not elaborate, starting firstly with the need to differentiate LDL (“bad” cholesterol) from HDL (“good” cholesterol)? She never once mentioned the difference.
Why not say that total cholesterol on its own is very limited in determining cardiovascular risk, despite what the manufacturers of statins and processed “cholesterol lowering” foods would have you believe? Why not talk about homocysteine and C-reactive protein for example, and how research shows that these biomarkers can be altered with a plant-based diet and whole food supplementation*? As far back as 1991, a study published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, by Resnikow et al, indicated that the strict vegans studied had much lower levels of total cholesterol, LDL and triglycerides than the average prevalence data. The study involved only 31 participants, but many much larger studies have come to a similar conclusion. Studies involving raw food vegans have concluded that this dietary regime is an excellent method of slashing the “atherosclerosis factor” (LDL cholesterol), but that HDL, the so-called “good” cholesterol, can also decrease, whilst homocysteine can be elevated in some individuals. However, cardiovascular events were still lower than in those who eat meat. These findings bring me on to mentioning the importance of vitamin B12 supplementation, which slashes homocysteine levels (38% of the raw vegans in one of these studies were B12 deficient).
Our consultant cardiologist’s meal suggestions were equally dubious. A “cholesterol lowering meal”, according to this highly respected expert, would be chicken curry with lentils. I don’t think so; practically every study you care to look at indicates that the populations with the highest cholesterol levels also have the highest meat consumption. A sprouted lentil salad would be an excellent choice, but not the chicken curry part. Also soya came highly recommended, so our cardiologist seemed not to know about the challenges with soya consumption, such as oestrogen dominance and inhibition of thyroid function for example, and the potential dangers associated with eating genetically modified crops (98% of all soya is GM). Eggs, evidently, are not a problem, despite them containing large quantities of cholesterol. And we should be eating “fortified” foods – whatever her definition of those is, but indicating a nod to the processed food industry whose products are quite likely to have contributed to getting us all into this mess in the first place.
Finally, rape seed oil was recommended for cooking, which is unfortunately very bad advice, since heated oils rapidly become oxidised and rancid, generating many free radicals which harm the body. The oils which are healthiest when cold pressed and raw become the most dangerous when heated, a fact that was sadly ignored.
In all, I had a hard time listening to this expert in her field, since her nutritional knowledge fell very short of the research-proven diet that slashes not only the risk of cardiovascular disease, but also the risks of many of the other degenerative conditions so prevalent in our modern society. Is it any wonder that with so many mixed messages being presented to us regarding cholesterol, our default position is often to do nothing, because even the experts can’t agree?
*Please contact me if you would like more information on the whole food supplementation that I use, which has been shown in clinical studies to reduce homocysteine levels.