Cholesterol: What’s the Verdict?

“High Cholesterol”

The phrase conjures scary images of a doctor shaking his/her head gravely, looking up from test reports at the distraught patient who is getting mental images of fried goodies and buttery delicacies walking out of the plate, leaving behind colorful but dreary salads and a handful of “heart pills”. This perception is understandable given that high LDL (the “bad” cholesterol) is the most culpable suspect for heart trouble- the leading cause of death worldwide.

While this is pretty much how the cholesterol game has been played so far, the recent health bulletin by prestigious scientists from all over the world (US, UK, Europe, and Japan) has made us question our fundamental understanding of how high cholesterol affects our health. These researchers pored over data from 30 past cholesterol studies that included about 70,000 people over 60 years to write this review. The review contradicts the prevalent belief that high levels of LDL heighten the risk of heart blockages and death. About half of these studies that were reviewed showed that low LDL is linked to death.

This is exactly the opposite of what we know about cholesterol. This changes things. A lot! But, hang on! Before you crack open that jar of peanut butter in celebration, before we completely surrender to this new concept, let’s dig a little deeper.

Like all scientific research, this one has limitations.

The scientists picked 30 studies from hundreds for various valid reasons; however, this leaves out many studies, the inclusion of which could have altered the conclusion. Only people over 60 were included; this means the effects on younger populations were not studied.

Also, the review did not consider all other lifestyle factors, apart from cholesterol, that could have caused deaths in the study population. Moreover, the lipid profile (all components of cholesterol) was not explored; only LDL was considered. Additionally, the use of cholesterol-lowering drugs (statins) was not factored in; if the people with high LDL did start statins after high LDL was detected, the statins could have been the ones preventing mortality by lowering LDL. Add to this the fact that many of these researchers belong to the lobby that doesn’t believe that high cholesterol is harmful.

The whole thing starts to fall apart here. All these details paint a skewed picture.

Further, scientists were unable to disprove LDL’s involvement in arterial blockage. So, it’s definitely a health hazard. The only thing this review proved was that it doesn’t seem to be that dangerous for some people.

The researchers responsibly acknowledge these limitations, but misleading headlines like “Fat is good for you”, “Using statins is a waste of time”, and “We were wrong all along” and distorted presentation of these findings on social media and other platforms have successfully created a mass misconception.

Now that you know better, talk to your doctor and nutritionist to help you understand this well.

Don’t open the peanut butter jar yet!