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The Great Cholesterol Myth

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This week, FairWinds Press released a new book co-authored by myself and cardiologist Stephen Sinatra, M.D., entitled The Great Cholesterol Myth.

So, you might ask, what is the "Great Cholesterol Myth"? And... Why should I care?

You should care for two reasons.

One, the Great Cholesterol Myth has been the foundation of the boneheaded dietary advice you and I have been saddled with for the past 30 years, "official" dietary advice that has directly contributed to the greatest epidemic of obesity, diabetes and heart disease in history.

And two, belief in the Great Cholesterol Myth has caused us to take our eye off the ball when it comes to preventing heart disease. Belief in the Great Cholesterol Myth has caused us to neglect the real causes of heart disease while obsessively focused on an innocuous molecule that's essential for life and has only a minor role in heart disease.

The Great Cholesterol Myth is actually a series of related myths. Here are eight of my favorites.

MYTH: High cholesterol is the cause of heart disease.
FACT: Cholesterol is a fairly insignificant player in heart disease.

MYTH: High cholesterol is a good predictor of heart attacks.
FACT: High cholesterol is a lousy predictor of heart attacks. Half the people admitted to hospitals with heart disease have normal cholesterol, and plenty of people with elevated cholesterol have perfectly healthy hearts.

MYTH: Lowering cholesterol with statin drugs will prolong your life.
FACT: There is no data showing statins have any impact on longevity.

MYTH: Statin drugs are perfectly safe.
FACT: Statin drugs have significant side effects, including loss of memory and libido, muscle pain and fatigue, and approximately 65 percent of doctors don't report those side effects, according to a 2007 study.

MYTH: Statin drugs are appropriate for men, women, children and the elderly.
FACT: The only group in which statins have been shown to have even a modest effect is in middle-aged men who've already had a heart attack. If you're not in that group, you've got no business on a statin drug.

MYTH: Saturated fat is dangerous.
FACT: Saturated fat is mostly neutral and may even have some health benefits. A recent peer-reviewed study has shown no association between saturated fat and heart disease.

MYTH: The higher your cholesterol, the shorter your lifespan.
FACT: In the Framingham Study, the people who actually lived the longest had the highest cholesterol.

MYTH: A high-carbohydrate diet protects you from heart disease.
FACT: Diets that substitute carbohydrates for saturated fat may actually increase the risk for heart disease.

We need to stop focusing on lowering cholesterol and start focusing on preventing heart disease.

They are not the same thing.

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