Back in 1913 a Russian scientist, Dr Anitschkov, thought he had found the answer to heart disease: he found that it was induced by feeding cholesterol to rabbits. What he failed to realise was that rabbits, being vegetarians, have no means for dealing with this animal fat. Since the fatty deposits in the arteries of people with heart disease have also been found to be high in cholesterol, it was soon thought that these deposits were the result of an excess of cholesterol.
Such a simple theory had its attractions and many doctors still advocate a low fat, low cholesterol diet as the answer to heart disease – despite a consistent lack of positive results. In truth, this prevailing myth has been fuelled by the existence of highly profitable statin drugs, sold for their cholesterol lowering ability, which are more easily marketed by making cholesterol the villain.
Putting cholesterol to the test
An average egg contains about 275mg of cholesterol and two thirds of its calories come from fat. So, eggs are the perfect candidate for testing the theory that eating cholesterol, or high fat, raises blood cholesterol. I've kept an eye on studies on eggs (and other high cholesterol foods such as shellfish) since the 70's and they all show the same thing. Eating cholesterol doesn't raise blood cholesterol.
Does eating high cholesterol foods increase heart disease risk?
Inuit people of North America (Eskimos) were always an enigma with regard to the cholesterol theory. Their traditional diet, high in seal meat, has among the highest cholesterol levels of any cultural diet, yet their rate of cardiovascular disease is among the lowest. However, we now know their diet of seal meat is exceptionally high in omega 3 fats, which confer protection. But what about people eating high cholesterol foods that aren't high in omega 3 fats?
It is now evident that there is no clear relationship between intake of dietary cholesterol and cardiovascular disease. This said, however, a lot of high cholesterol foods also happen to be high in saturated fat and often fried. While this might not significantly raise cholesterol you might get more oxidized cholesterol, which is bad news. It is therefore prudent not to go overboard on high cholesterol foods, while at the same time, there is no need for cholesterol phobia.
Cholesterol more a marker, than a cause
Foods that tend to reduce cardiovascular risk tend to lower cholesterol levels as well. So, your blood cholesterol statistics are not irrelevant, they are just not quite as important as we've been led to believe. If you or your doctor rely only on cholesterol to predict risk without assessing other critical risk factors such as triglycerides, homocysteine, glycosylated haemoglobin and lipoprotein(a), you may still be at high risk despite a normal cholesterol. You certainly don't want to put all your eggs in the cholesterol basket because you might miss other important indicators. If you do, however, have a high cholesterol level, avoiding cholesterol foods isn't going to make much difference. But there are other diet and lifestyle changes that will.
The reason for this is that the body needs cholesterol, it makes what it needs. It is only when you are eating, or living, in such a way that stops the normal cycle of cholesterol production and clearance by HDL that you start to get a change in cholesterol statis
About Dr Kevin Lau
Dr Kevin Lau DC is the founder of Health In Your Hands, a series of tools for Scoliosis prevention and treatment. The set includes his book Your Plan for Natural Scoliosis Prevention and Treatment, a companion Scoliosis Exercises for Prevention and Correction DVD and the innovative new iPhone application ScolioTrack. Dr Kevin Lau D.C. is a graduate in Doctor of Chiropractic from RMIT University in Melbourne Australia and Masters in Holistic Nutrition from Clayton College of Natural Health in USA. In 2006 I was awarded the "Best Health-care Provider Awards" by the largest Newspaper publication in Singapore on October 18 2006 as well as being interviewed on Primetime Channel News Asia as well as other TV and Radio. For more information on Dr Kevin Lau, watch his interviews or get a free sneak peek of his book, go to: http://www.hiyh.info.