We have been told to forgo cholesterol-rich foods – eggs, cheese, shellfish – and take statins to reduce cholesterol levels in our blood.
All this was on the basis of virtually no real evidence, as a growing cohort of dissenting experts has pointed out. Until now they have been ignored, but that is changing.
Far from being harmful, cholesterol is essential for life.
‘It is so vital that all cells, apart from neurones, can manufacture cholesterol, and one of the key functions of the liver is to synthesise it,’ says Dr Malcolm Kendrick, author of The Great Cholesterol Con.
Two key things have been established this year: first, eating foods that contain cholesterol is not dangerous and doesn’t raise your blood cholesterol.
The 2015 Scientific Report of the U.S. Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee states that ‘available evidence shows no appreciable relationship between consumption of dietary cholesterol and serum (blood) cholesterol’.
In fact, the liver makes 85 per cent of the cholesterol that the body needs to function.
'You would need to eat six to eight eggs a day to produce enough cholesterol for your body’s needs,’ says Dr Kendrick, ‘which you’re unlikely to do. But if you did eat four eggs a day, the liver would adjust the amount it produced.’
The second more contentious finding is that, in Dr Kendrick’s words, ‘research confirms that if you have a high cholesterol level you will live longer’.
A report in the Annals of Nutrition and Metabolism claims high cholesterol does not lead to heart disease and indeed protects against many illnesses, including cancer.
The exception is in people under 50 with extremely high cholesterol due to the genetic condition familial hypercholesterolaemia.
‘While they are more likely to die from heart disease, they are much less likely to die of cancer, so life expectancy is essentially unaltered,’ says Dr Kendrick.
After scrutinising all the research data, the authors state ‘all-cause mortality is highest in the lowest cholesterol group’.
This was based on large studies in Japan but they also found that ‘elderly people with the highest cholesterol levels have the highest survival rates irrespective of where they live in the world’.
WE NEED CHOLESTEROL FOR…
● Connecting brain cells: the crucial links (synapses) between the nerve cells (neurons) in our brains are made almost entirely of cholesterol.
● Producing vitamin D, which we need for strong bones and protection against diseases, including some cancers. Vitamin D is synthesised from cholesterol by the action of sunlight on our skin.
● Creating cell membranes, the coating that keeps our cells’ structures intact.
● Building sex hormones (oestrogen, progesterone and testosterone).
● Producing bile, which helps with food digestion.
● Fighting infection: lipo-proteins, which carry cholesterol, bind to viruses and bacteria and deactivate them.
DR KENDRICK'S ADVICE FOR PREVENTING HEART DISEASE
♥ If you smoke, stop immediately.
♥ Take exercise. Walk everywhere. Get a dog.
♥ Go out in the sunshine.
♥ Reduce areas of negative stress at work and at home.
♥ Eat more fats (including some saturated fats), fewer highly processed foods and less sugar in all forms (see Website of the week, below).
THE TRUTH ABOUT STATINS
● The lead author of a new study into statins, Dr Tomohito Hamazaki, previously supported the cholesterol hypothesis and promoted the benefits of statins. ‘Terrible, unforgivable mistakes given what we clearly know now,’ the report says.
● These drugs are now recognised as having multiple debilitating side effects, notably muscle weakness, fatigue and memory loss, as well as more serious conditions.
● As well as blocking cholesterol, statins block the production of co-enzyme Q10, an antioxidant that is vital for releasing energy from our cells and powering muscles.
● Dr Kendrick recommends that patients suffering side effects take a holiday from statins for two months. ‘Many feel much better and choose not to go back,’ he says.