Butter nonsense: the rise of the cholesterol deniers

A group of scientists has been challenging everything we know about cholesterol, saying we should eat fat and stop taking statins. This is not just bad science – it will cost lives, say experts.

Butter is back. Saturated fat is good for you. Cholesterol is not the cause of heart disease. Claims along these lines keep finding their way into newspapers and mainstream websites – even though they contradict decades of medical advice. There is a battle going on for our hearts and minds.

According to a small group of dissident scientists, whose work usually first appears in minor medical journals, by far the greatest threat to our hearts and vascular systems comes from sugar, while saturated fat has been wrongly demonised. And because cholesterol levels don’t matter, they argue, we don’t need the statins that millions have been prescribed to lower them. A high-fat diet is the secret to a healthy life, they say. Enjoy your butter and other animal fats. Cheese is great. Meat is back on the menu.

This is more than bad science, according to leading scientists and medical authorities. It will cost lives. “Encouraging people to eat more saturated fat is dangerous and irresponsible,” is a typical verdict, in this case from Prof Louis Levy, the head of nutrition science at Public Health England (PHE). “There is good evidence that a high intake of saturated fat increases your risk of heart disease. We need to think about where the sources of saturated fat are and how we can reduce them. The largest contributions are dairy products, including butter, and meat and meat products.”

The advice from PHE, the World Health Organization, the British Heart Foundation (BHF), Heart UK and other institutions and top academics is consistent. Butter and cheese may be fine in modest amounts in a balanced diet, but the saturated fat that they contain is potentially risky. Too much of it causes the liver to overproduce “bad” LDL cholesterol, which is implicated in heart disease.

Mainstream scientists usually keep their disquiet to themselves. But last week, some broke cover over what they see as one medical journal’s support for advocates of a high-fat diet. More than 170 academics signed a letter accusing the British Journal of Sports Medicine of bias, triggered by an opinion piece that it ran in April 2017 calling for changes to the public messaging on saturated fat and heart disease. Saturated fat “does not clog the arteries”, said the piece, which was not prompted by original research. “Coronary artery disease is a chronic inflammatory disease and it can be reduced effectively by walking 22 minutes a day and eating real food,” wrote the cardiologist Aseem Malhotra and colleagues. The BHF criticised the claims as “misleading and wrong”.

For more, read the full article at The Guardian .

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