Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Nutrition Debate #12: Turning the Titanic: Who’s in Charge of Your Health?

Turning a gigantic ship like the Titanic, under way with a full head of steam, is said to take a lot of time and miles of open sea. Turning the ship of state-guided nutrition guidelines is proving to be equally difficult and time consuming. However, I think that it has begun. The signs of it are subtle but unmistakable. The message is simple but vague: “diet and exercise.”

That is hopeful, to my way of thinking, because we are a nation of individuals with free will. We are not confined together on the deck of a ship. We are free to choose our own course. But, in the absence of the certain knowledge of our impending doom (metabolically speaking), combined with the lack of an assurance of the safety and efficacy in choosing an alternative course, we are reluctant to change. Most of us “go along for the ride,” blindly content to follow the course determined by our captains of public health and guided by the pursers of the processed food industry. We are marshaled by the stewards (the media) who serve us our daily reminders -- avoid saturated fats, now called solid fats, and dietary cholesterol -- and the clinicians who bus up after them all with myriad medications for our mounting medical maladies.

Never mind that this course was based on a hypothesis that was based on a flawed epidemiological study (of 6, later 7 nations out of 22) and that “Epidemiological studies can only go to prove that an agent could have caused, but not that it did cause, an effect in any particular case.” From the beginning, the dissenters never had a chance once the AHA got behind the hypothesis with public advertising (and a fundraising effort) promoting their “risk factors” for heart disease.

Never mind that the body synthesizes its own cholesterol just to compensate for the amount that we don’t eat. Cholesterol is essential for all animal life. It is the essential structural component of all cell membranes and it repairs damage from inflammation in our blood vessels. Did you know that the brain is the most cholesterol-rich organ in the body, most of which comes from in situ synthesis. And, that human breast milk contains significant amounts of cholesterol? And that it is an important component in the manufacture of bile acids, steroid hormones, and fat soluble vitamins including Vitamins A, D, E and K. And that in 1997, Ancel Keys, the father (way back in 1953) of the Lipid Hypothesis, said: “There’s no connection whatsoever between cholesterol in food [that would be dietary cholesterol!] and cholesterol in blood.” Note: the parenthetical remark was added by me. For the source of this citation, as well as to view all the past installments in this series, visit the archives of this series at

Never mind that the evidence supporting saturated fat in the diet has been convincingly documented; never mind that those pursuing low fat diets in The Framingham Study had a higher incidence of all cause mortality. And, never mind that after 40 years the director had to admit (July 1992, Archives of Internal Medicine): "In Framingham, Mass, the more saturated fat one ate, the more cholesterol one ate, the more calories one ate, the lower the person's serum cholesterol.” This startling message has been drowned out by the drum-beat to lower cholesterol, especially LDL, from public health officials, the AHA, Big Pharma, industrial food processors and by the clinical practitioners who peddle their statins.

Never mind that… Well, you get the idea. If you are interested in reading the evidence-based science out there, there are plenty of books and blogs by qualified writers (not hacks on a rant like me) who look closely at the science. One of the best of course – is Gary Taubes’s “Good Calories – Bad Calories” (Knopf, 2007). His new, more “accessible” “Why We Get Fat: And What to Do About It” (Knopf, 2010) is an easy read. Another author whose writing I admire is Mary Enig, PhD. Her article, with Sally Fallon, “The Truth About Saturated Fats” is a must read for starters. Her book, “Know Your Fats,” is highly technical but definitive. Malcolm Kendrick’s “The Great Cholesterol Myth” and Uffe Rafnskov’s “Kolesterolmyten” (“The Cholesterol Myths”) deal very effectively with the dietary cholesterol issue.

Among my favorite blogs is PāNū, by Kurt G. Harris, M. D. His sub-title is “Paleolithic Nutrition – emulating the evolutionary metabolic milieu.” On the lighter side, Tom Naughton’s Big Fat Fiasco series on is a scream.

These writers would create a food pyramid very different from the recently released HHS/USDA Guidelines. But the latest guidelines do show signs of change: the ship has begun to turn. You’ll see how in the next installment.

© Dan Brown 2/20/11

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