Thursday, 12 February 2009

Why should we reduce cholesterol?

That's an excellent question, and I suppose you expect me to say it's because high cholesterol causes cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, and makes us healthier in general?

Wrong! That's what the government's propoganda - ahem, I mean advice - would have us believe. The message is being drip-fed to us every time there's an ad break on the television. But is it true? Let's examin the evidence.

Cardiovascular disease
This is a cover-all term for over fifty different conditions, including high blood pressure, coronary artery disease, strokes, angina, atherosclerosis, etc.

So high cholesterol levels cause cardiovascular disease?
Erm ... no. Let Dr Malcolm Kendrick demonstrate, using World Health Organisation statistics from the MONICA trials.

The data shoes that the lowest cholesterol levels give the highest rate of CVD, and the highest cholesterol levels give the lowest rate of CVD. Hmmm...


OK, so high cholesterol causes cancer, then?
Well, there may be some research evidence out there that indicates that, but as yet I've not found it. However, as far as foods are concerned, it has been known for many years that polyunsaturated oils and fats - yes, those oh-so-healthy-sounding products such as sunflower, safflower and rapeseed oils - increase the risk of cancer.

But it would do no harm to get my cholesterol as low as possible, would it?
Erm ... yes! There are now many studies that show pretty conclusively that a low LDL level increases the risk of cancer.

"We found that there is indeed an association, that the lower the LDL
cholesterol, the higher the risk of cancer" - Dr Richard Karas, of Tufts
University School of Medicine, Boston, Massachusetts


Riiiight ... but high cholesterol does cause diabetes ... doesn't it?
Erm ... no! Type 2 diabetes is caused by insulin resistance. Usually, enough insulin is made in the pancreas, but when there is a shortage, blood sugar levels rise.

So why exactly are we being told to reduce cholesterol then?
I have no idea, and if you discover the reason, please tell me!

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