Cholesterol & heart disease – there is a relationship, but it’s not what you think
I do a fortnightly newsletter called “Diet & Health Today” in our on line support club. The club is there to help people to lose weight by eating food – real food! Apparently that makes us radical and controversial. The main article in Diet & Health Today is called “The Big Issues” and we have tackled things from “how we have misapplied thermodynamics to weight loss” to “what role does exercise play in losing weight”.
This is a copy of possibly one of the most serious Diet & Health Today articles that I may do. It is dedicated to Anne (Annem in the club) who asked me a great question about cholesterol. It made me do what I had been meaning to do ever since I read Dr Malcolm Kendrick’s The Great Cholesterol Con…
Dr MK ran some analysis on World Health Organisation (WHO) data. The WHO has extensive data from almost 200 countries on more health measures than you could imagine – definitely worth a look one rainy, wintry afternoon. This is where Dr MK presented the world with two different Seven Country Studies – (for those of you who aren’t familiar with the history, it was the Ancel Keys’ Seven Countries Study that started all the fat heart hypothesis stuff). Dr MK took the seven countries with the lowest saturated fat intake and then the seven countries with the highest saturated fat intake. You may need to read this twice – but he found: “Every single one of the seven countries with the lowest saturated fat consumption has significantly higher rates of heart disease than every single one of the countries with the highest saturated fat consumption.”
The next chapter in The Great Cholesterol Con goes on to look at cholesterol and heart disease (and overall death rates) and quotes many great studies where it is shown that lower cholesterol is associated with higher mortality. However, it did leave me thinking – having run the data on saturated fat and heart disease, let’s just run all the data on the cholesterol and heart disease and get to the bottom of this hypothesis from all parts of the allegations.
It actually didn’t take that long – less than a couple of hours one Saturday afternoon. You go to the WHO statistics area of their web site and then pick data for cholesterol from risk factors (how judgemental to start with!) and then look under: Global burden of disease (mortality); All causes; Non communicable diseases and then G Cardiovascular disease (shortened to CVD). CVD deaths include ischemic heart disease and cerebrovascular disease – that means fatal heart attacks and fatal strokes to us. You find the most recent year where you can get both sets of data to compare like with like. This turns out to be 2002. You download their very user friendly spreadsheet data (CSV) – cut and paste it into an excel file and then try to remember how the heck to do scatter diagrams in excel!
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