Book Review: Low Cholesterol Leads to an Early Death

Back in April I reviewed and recommended Cholesterol and Saturated Fat Prevent Heart Disease – Evidence from 101 Scientific Papers, a book by David Evans, who somehow manages to maintain and constantly update a huge collection of study abstracts and synopses on his Healthy Diets and Science website.

After I posted that review, David asked me if I’d write the foreword for his next book, another collection of 101 studies which suggest that low cholesterol – despite everything we’ve been told – isn’t good for us.  I agreed, wrote the forward, then forgot about it until I received a copy of the new book this week.  I was actually a bit surprised when I saw Foreword by Tom Naughton in the table of contents.  Must be my advancing age.

Anyway, I like Low Cholesterol Leads to an Early Death — Evidence From 101 Scientific Papers for all the same reasons I like the previous one.  It’s not a book you’ll sit down and read for pleasure, but it’s an excellent, easy-to-use reference to keep on your bookshelf.  I frequently receive emails from readers asking me to point them to research they can wave in front of worried family or friends and say, “See?  Saturated fat isn’t going to kill me, and no, I don’t need to take the @#$%ing statin the doctor is pushing on me!”  (Or words that effect. )  If 101 studies won’t do the trick, nothing will.

As in the previous book, for each of the 101 studies there’s a title, a citation so you can look up the study yourself, and a brief summary with occasional commentary by Evans.  Papers published in medical journals tend to have sleep-inducing titles along the lines of Low-density lipoprotein as a predictor of mortality in a cohort of elderly Scandinavian patients, so Evans provides more colorful titles that get to the point.  You’ve got to love opening a book and seeing titles like these:

Heart attack survivors live longer if they have high cholesterol

Low cholesterol levels increase the risk of death from stroke, cancer and all causes

Low cholesterol levels predict death in patients with bacteria in the blood

Colon cancer deaths increase in men with low cholesterol

Many of these studies (and there are many of them) have been around for decades.  I doubt most doctors have ever read the studies or even heard of them.  If they had, I don’t see how they could possibly believe prescribing statins to beat down an elderly patient’s “high” cholesterol is a good idea.  As Evans writes in the book’s introduction:

The “high cholesterol is bad for your health” myth has survived for five or six decades.  The myth is why health-care practitioners, media advertisements and family and friends keep pressing home the message we should lower our cholesterol.  The myth is why, despite mounting scientific evidence showing the opposite, we are still advised to lower our cholesterol. The myth is why we are told we should eat tasteless, manufactured low-fat products to lower our cholesterol. The myth is why millions of healthy people are subjected to statins drugs (and their many side effects) that will lower our cholesterol.

The myth survives largely because the millions of people buying cholesterol-lowering cereals and swallowing cholesterol-lowering drugs represent billions of dollars in revenues.  We can’t change that.  But we can arm ourselves with evidence and hope to convince a few loved ones that lowering our cholesterol isn’t necessary or even a good idea.

If you’re arming yourself, this book is a great addition to your arsenal.

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64 thoughts on “Book Review: Low Cholesterol Leads to an Early Death

  1. Sally N

    “It’s not such a long-shot argument. Our ability to handle certain foods is very likely a function of how far back in time our ancestors adopted them. Grain were grown in the Middle East perhaps 12,000 years ago, but only reached Ireland and Scandinavia 3,000 – 4,000 years ago. So it’s no surprise that the Irish and Scandinavians have higher rates of celiac and other forms of grain intolerance.”

    So, where was the obesity epidemic prior to the 1990’s if wheat has been around for 4,000 years? But no, I doubt it’s related to fast food. Can’t blame those big business as a feet sucking libertarian, now can we Tom?

    P.s. your stand up routine isn’t funny except maybe to a few burned out baby boomers who can’t watch Cosbey anymore because he’s senile.

    I take it you’ve neither seen Fat Head or read much of the blog. If so, your comprehension skills are severely lacking. What’s changed is that 1) We were told to base our diets on grains and starting eating more of them, and 2) the wheat itself was radically altered in the 1970s. It’s now a food that zero humans ate throughout human history.

    If fast food is to blame, where was the obesity epidemic prior to the 1990s, since fast food has been around since long before then? Or do you only apply that logic when it suits you? Once again, if you actually read the blog before chiming in, you’d see that I’ve posted about studies showing there’s no relationship between proximity to fast-food restaurants and obesity rates. Also, if you actually understood anything about libertarian beliefs, you’d know we don’t promote big business, small business, or any particular business. We promote freedom. There are plenty of big businesses that are only too happy to use the power of government to restrict economic freedom and squash their competition.

    Yeah, nobody finds my standup funny. That’s why all those comedy clubs and cruise ships kept booking me over and over.

    Reply
  2. Sally N

    “It’s not such a long-shot argument. Our ability to handle certain foods is very likely a function of how far back in time our ancestors adopted them. Grain were grown in the Middle East perhaps 12,000 years ago, but only reached Ireland and Scandinavia 3,000 – 4,000 years ago. So it’s no surprise that the Irish and Scandinavians have higher rates of celiac and other forms of grain intolerance.”

    So, where was the obesity epidemic prior to the 1990’s if wheat has been around for 4,000 years? But no, I doubt it’s related to fast food. Can’t blame those big business as a feet sucking libertarian, now can we Tom?

    P.s. your stand up routine isn’t funny except maybe to a few burned out baby boomers who can’t watch Cosbey anymore because he’s senile.

    I take it you’ve neither seen Fat Head or read much of the blog. If so, your comprehension skills are severely lacking. What’s changed is that 1) We were told to base our diets on grains and starting eating more of them, and 2) the wheat itself was radically altered in the 1970s. It’s now a food that zero humans ate throughout human history.

    If fast food is to blame, where was the obesity epidemic prior to the 1990s, since fast food has been around since long before then? Or do you only apply that logic when it suits you? Once again, if you actually read the blog before chiming in, you’d see that I’ve posted about studies showing there’s no relationship between proximity to fast-food restaurants and obesity rates. Also, if you actually understood anything about libertarian beliefs, you’d know we don’t promote big business, small business, or any particular business. We promote freedom. There are plenty of big businesses that are only too happy to use the power of government to restrict economic freedom and squash their competition.

    Yeah, nobody finds my standup funny. That’s why all those comedy clubs and cruise ships kept booking me over and over.

    Reply
  3. Judy

    @ LurkerWhore – Celiac disease damages the villi in the small intestine. The tips go first, which is where the lactase enzyme is released to break down lactose. Many people who are celiac are also lactose intolerant, simply because their villi have been damaged so badly. Some have been able to reintroduce dairy products back into their diet after healing their gut by going gluten-free.

    I guess what I’m trying to say is that I think most (not necessarily all) lactose intolerance is caused by grains. Too bad so many people (my family members included) think it’s easier to give up dairy products than to give up their bread.

    Reply
  4. Judy

    @ LurkerWhore – Celiac disease damages the villi in the small intestine. The tips go first, which is where the lactase enzyme is released to break down lactose. Many people who are celiac are also lactose intolerant, simply because their villi have been damaged so badly. Some have been able to reintroduce dairy products back into their diet after healing their gut by going gluten-free.

    I guess what I’m trying to say is that I think most (not necessarily all) lactose intolerance is caused by grains. Too bad so many people (my family members included) think it’s easier to give up dairy products than to give up their bread.

    Reply
  5. BA

    Coincidentally, David Evans also happens to be the real name of the guitarist from U2!

    Talented guy then, playing guitar and writing science books.

    Reply
  6. BA

    Coincidentally, David Evans also happens to be the real name of the guitarist from U2!

    Talented guy then, playing guitar and writing science books.

    Reply
  7. The High Fat Hep C Diet

    The latest study David Evans has posted on his blog is about statins increasing pneumonia in service personel: http://healthydietsandscience.blogspot.co.nz/2012/10/statin-use-is-associated-with-higher.html
    there was a 15% increased risk.
    (these are the same small odds ratios seen in “meat will kill you” studies; the studies Evans uses often reverse the conventional wisdom using the same kind of barely-significant results as the studies that support it. The evidence either way is often weak; but in other cases, the benefit of high cholesterol is indeed clinically significant).
    Back to the study: I had a series of colds and flus (before I started taking ore vitamin D) a few years back and bought some Chinese mushrooms to get my immunity up. I chose Oyster mushrooms because they were cheap and I liked the taste.
    After a few days I came down with pneumonia.
    Oyster mushrooms are the natural source of statins.

    Why are they giving statins to military personell? Don’t they have standards of physical fitness in the military? Is this why they have to fight using robots?

    I’m sure Evans knows some of the increased risks are small in absolute terms, but I suspect he’s adding those studies to his list as ammo against people who cite similarly weak risks or benefits to promote low-fat diets or statins.

    Reply
  8. The High Fat Hep C Diet

    The latest study David Evans has posted on his blog is about statins increasing pneumonia in service personel: http://healthydietsandscience.blogspot.co.nz/2012/10/statin-use-is-associated-with-higher.html
    there was a 15% increased risk.
    (these are the same small odds ratios seen in “meat will kill you” studies; the studies Evans uses often reverse the conventional wisdom using the same kind of barely-significant results as the studies that support it. The evidence either way is often weak; but in other cases, the benefit of high cholesterol is indeed clinically significant).
    Back to the study: I had a series of colds and flus (before I started taking ore vitamin D) a few years back and bought some Chinese mushrooms to get my immunity up. I chose Oyster mushrooms because they were cheap and I liked the taste.
    After a few days I came down with pneumonia.
    Oyster mushrooms are the natural source of statins.

    Why are they giving statins to military personell? Don’t they have standards of physical fitness in the military? Is this why they have to fight using robots?

    I’m sure Evans knows some of the increased risks are small in absolute terms, but I suspect he’s adding those studies to his list as ammo against people who cite similarly weak risks or benefits to promote low-fat diets or statins.

    Reply
  9. Davida

    My husband retired last year after 20 years in the Marine Corps. A few years ago they gave him statins because his cholesterol was over 200 (I don’t remember the number, but I don’t think it was over 230, and may have been more like 205). They gave him Baycor first, then another. He had to stop taking them…. they were causing muscle weakness and interfering with his pt. You CAN’T be a proper Marine if you can’t even complete your normal pt routine.

    Reply
  10. Davida

    My husband retired last year after 20 years in the Marine Corps. A few years ago they gave him statins because his cholesterol was over 200 (I don’t remember the number, but I don’t think it was over 230, and may have been more like 205). They gave him Baycor first, then another. He had to stop taking them…. they were causing muscle weakness and interfering with his pt. You CAN’T be a proper Marine if you can’t even complete your normal pt routine.

    Reply
  11. M. Aziz

    The cholesterol hypothesis is definitely a myth. The data shows no connection whatsoever between cholesterol and heart disease.

    However, a few things blur the matter; though early statins failed to reduce heart disease at all, current generation ones at least are fairly useful (ignoring side effects and death from something other than heart disease), but then they must be doing something else too.
    I think they mop up inflammation and fight against arterial calcification, albeit in an imperfect manner. How do they do this? Hate to be spammy, but visit my site and see if that stirs any interest.

    Yes, reducing inflammation is probably the key, since statins have the same (small) effect even on people who don’t have high cholesterol.

    Reply
  12. M. Aziz

    The cholesterol hypothesis is definitely a myth. The data shows no connection whatsoever between cholesterol and heart disease.

    However, a few things blur the matter; though early statins failed to reduce heart disease at all, current generation ones at least are fairly useful (ignoring side effects and death from something other than heart disease), but then they must be doing something else too.
    I think they mop up inflammation and fight against arterial calcification, albeit in an imperfect manner. How do they do this? Hate to be spammy, but visit my site and see if that stirs any interest.

    Yes, reducing inflammation is probably the key, since statins have the same (small) effect even on people who don’t have high cholesterol.

    Reply

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