By Dr. Mercola
The idea that saturated fat is bad for your heart and should be avoided to prevent heart disease is misguided to say the least.
There’s no telling how many people have been harmed by this dangerous advice, as scientific evidence shows that a lack of healthy fat actually increases your cardiovascular health risks, but the number is likely significant.
Adding insult to injury, cholesterol-lowering drugs (statins) have become the go-to “preventive medicine,” despite ever-mounting evidence showing that these drugs can do far more harm than good as well.
Taken together, a low-fat diet and statins is a recipe for chronic health problems, and I cannot advise against falling into this trap strongly enough.
One in four Americans over the age of 45 currently take a statin drug, despite the fact that there are over 900 studies proving their adverse effects, which run the gamut from muscle problems to increased cancer risk—not to mention an increased risk for heart failure!
Questions have also been raised about statins’ potential to cause amnesia and/or dementia-like symptoms in some patients. According to Scientific American,1 hundreds of such cases have been registered with MedWatch, the US Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) adverse drug reaction database.
Statin Guidelines May Hurt Millions of Healthy People
In November 2013, the US updated its guidelines on cholesterol,2 focusing more on risk factors rather than cholesterol levels—a move estimated to double the number of Americans being prescribed these dangerous drugs.
According to the highly criticized new guideline, if you answer “yes” to ANY of the following four questions, your treatment protocol will call for a statin drug:
- Do you have heart disease?
- Do you have diabetes? (either type 1 or type 2)
- Is your LDL cholesterol above 190?
- Is your 10-year risk of a heart attack greater than 7.5 percent?
Your 10-year heart attack risk involves the use of a cardiovascular risk calculator, which researchers have warned may overestimate your risk by anywhere from 75 to 150 percent—effectively turning even very healthy people at low risk for heart problems into candidates for statins.
The guideline also does away with the previous recommendation to use the lowest drug dose possible.3 The new guideline basically focuses ALL the attention on statin-only treatment, and at higher dosages.
The UK followed suit in July 2014, recommending statins for otherwise healthy people with a 10 percent or greater 10-year risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD). As in the US, this was a dramatic change in recommendation, raising the number of Britons eligible for statins by about 4.5 million.
Pediatric Statin Guidelines Dramatically Increase Number of Teens on These Dangerous Drugs
Even teens and young adults are now being placed on statins. In 2011, the US National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) issued new guidelines4,5 for reducing heart disease in children and adolescents, recommending statin treatment if cholesterol levels are at a certain level.
Meanwhile, the American College of Cardiology (ACC) and American Heart Association (AHA) have far tighter restrictions on the use of statins in those under the age of 40.
“Gooding's team found that 2.5 percent of those with elevated levels of ‘bad’ low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol would qualify for statin treatment under the NHLBI cholesterol guidelines for children, compared with only 0.4 percent under the ACC/AHA adult guidelines.
That means that 483,500 people in that age group would qualify for statin treatment under the NHLBI guidelines, compared with 78,200 under adult guidelines...
It's common for abnormal cholesterol levels and other heart disease risk factors to start appearing when people are teens, but the two sets of recommendations offer doctors conflicting advice, the researchers said.
For now, they recommend that physicians and patients ‘engage in shared decision making around the potential benefits, harms, and patient preferences for treatment...’”
Statin Drugs Can Wreck Your Health in Multiple Ways
Ironically, while statins are touted as “preventive medicine” to protect your heart health, these drugs can actually have detrimental effects on your heart, especially if you fail to supplement with CoQ10 (or better yet, ubiquinol, which is the reduced and more effective form of CoQ10).
For example, a study published in the journal Atherosclerosis8 showed that statin use is associated with a 52 percent increased prevalence and extent of calcified coronary plaque compared to non-users. And coronary artery calcification is the hallmark of potentially lethal heart disease.
Statins have also been shown to increase your risk of diabetes via a number of different mechanisms, so if you weren’t put on a statin because you have diabetes, you may end up with a diabetes diagnosis courtesy of the drug. Two of these mechanisms include:
- Increasing insulin resistance, which contributes to chronic inflammation in your body, and inflammation is the hallmark of most diseases. In fact, increased insulin resistance can lead to heart disease, which, again, is the primary reason for taking a statin in the first place.
It can also promote belly fat, high blood pressure, heart attacks, chronic fatigue, thyroid disruption, and diseases like Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, and cancer.
- Raising your blood sugar. When you eat a meal that contains starches and sugar, some of the excess sugar goes to your liver, which then stores it away as cholesterol and triglycerides. Statins work by preventing your liver from making cholesterol. As a result, your liver returns the sugar to your bloodstream, which raises your blood sugar levels.
Drug-induced diabetes and conventional lifestyle induced type 2 diabetes are not necessarily identical. If you're on a statin drug and find that your blood glucose is elevated, it's possible that what you have is just hyperglycemia—a side effect, and the result of your medication.Unfortunately, many doctors will at that point mistakenly diagnose you with "type 2 diabetes," and possibly prescribe yet another drug, when all you may need to do is simply discontinue the statin.
Statins also interfere with other biological functions. Of utmost importance, statins deplete your body of CoQ10, which accounts for many of its devastating results Therefore, if you take a statin, you must take supplemental CoQ10 or ubiquinol. Statins also interfere with the mevalonate pathway, which is the central pathway for the steroid management. Products of this pathway that are negatively affected by statins include:
- All your sex hormones
- The dolichols, which are involved in keeping the membranes inside your cells healthy
- All sterols, including cholesterol and vitamin D (which is similar to cholesterol and is produced from cholesterol in your skin)
Refined Carbs—Not Fat—Are Responsible for Heart Disease
As noted by the Institute for Science in Society,9 Ancel Keys’ 1963 "Seven Countries Study" was instrumental in creating the saturated fat myth. He claimed to have found a correlation between total cholesterol concentration and heart disease, but in reality this was the result of cherry picking data.
When data from 16 excluded countries are added back in, the association between saturated fat consumption and mortality vanishes. In fact, the full data set suggests that those who eat the most saturated animal fat tend to have a lower incidence of heart disease:
“Nevertheless, people were advised to cut fat intake to 30 percent of total energy and saturated fat to 10 percent. Dietary fat is believed to have the greatest influence on cardiovascular risk through elevated concentrations of low density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol. But the reduction in LDL cholesterol from reducing saturated fat intake appears to be specific to large, buoyant type A LDL particles, when it is the small dense type B particles – responsive to carbohydrate intake – that are implicated in cardiovascular disease.” [Emphasis mine]
We've long acknowledged that the Western diet is associated with increased rates of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. Yet the conventional paradigm is extremely reluctant to accept that it is the sugar content of this diet that is the primary culprit. When you eat more non-vegetable carbohydrates than your body can use, the excess is converted to fat by your liver. This process occurs to help your body maintain blood sugar control in the short-term, however it will likely increase triglyceride concentrations, which will increase your risk of cardiovascular disease.
Excessive consumption of refined grains and added sugars will also elevate your insulin and leptin levels and raise your risk of insulin/leptin resistance, which is at the heart of many chronic health problems. High insulin levels also suppresses two other important hormones -- glucagons and growth hormones -- that are responsible for burning fat and sugar and promoting muscle development, respectively.
So elevated insulin from excess carbohydrates promotes fat accumulation, and then dampens your body's ability to lose that fat. Excess weight and obesity not only lead to heart disease but also a wide variety of other diseases.So, while whole grains are allowed to make health claims saying they’re heart healthy, and low-fat foods are conventionally recognized as healthy for your heart, please remember that replacing saturated fats in your diet (like those from grass-fed beef, raw organic butter, and other high-quality animal foods) with carbohydrates (like breakfast cereal, bread, bagels, and pasta) will actually increase your risk of heart disease, not lower it.
Studies Show Saturated Fat Is Not Associated with Increased Heart Disease Risk, But Sugar Is
In one 2010 study,10 women who ate the most high glycemic foods had more than double the risk of developing heart disease as women who ate the fewest. Previous studies, including an excellent one published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition,11 have also linked high-carb diets to heart disease. Contrary to popular belief, the scientific evidence also shows that saturated fat is in fact a necessary part of a heart healthy diet, and firmly debunks the myth that saturated fat promotes heart disease.
- In a 1992 editorial published in the Archives of Internal Medicine,12 Dr. William Castelli, a former director of the Framingham Heart study, stated:
"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. The opposite of what… Keys et al would predict… We found that the people who ate the most cholesterol, ate the most saturated fat, ate the most calories, weighed the least and were the most physically active."
- A 2010 meta-analysis,13 which pooled data from 21 studies and included nearly 348,000 adults, found no difference in the risks of heart disease and stroke between people with the lowest and highest intakes of saturated fat.
- Another 2010 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition14 found that a reduction in saturated fat intake must be evaluated in the context of replacement by other macronutrients, such as carbohydrates. When you replace saturated fat with a higher carbohydrate intake, particularly refined carbohydrate, you exacerbate insulin resistance and obesity, increase triglycerides and small LDL particles, and reduce beneficial HDL cholesterol.The authors state that dietary efforts to improve your cardiovascular disease risk should primarily emphasize the limitation of refined carbohydrate intake, and weight reduction.
- A 2014 meta-analysis15 of 76 studies by researchers at Cambridge University found no basis for guidelines that advise low saturated fat consumption to lower your cardiac risk, calling into question all of the standard nutritional guidelines related to heart health. According to the authors: "Current evidence does not clearly support cardiovascular guidelines that encourage high consumption of polyunsaturated fatty acids and low consumption of total saturated fats."
Simple Lifestyle Changes Can Effectively Protect Your Heart Health
Contrary to what pharmaceutical PR firms will tell you, statins have nothing to do with reducing your heart disease risk. In fact, this class of drugs can actually increase your heart disease risk—especially if you do not take ubiquinol (CoQ10) along with it to mitigate the depletion of CoQ10 caused by the drug.Poor lifestyle choices are primarily to blame for increased heart disease risk, such as eating too much refined sugar and processed foods, getting too little exercise and movement, lack of sun exposure and rarely, or never grounding to the earth. These are all things that are within your control, and don’t cost much (if any) money to address.
It’s also worth noting that statins can effectively nullify the benefits of exercise, which in and of itself is important to bolster heart health and maintain healthy cholesterol levels. In fact, one of the best ways to condition your heart is to engage in high-intensity interval exercise.16,17 Taking a drug that counteracts your personal efforts to improve your health seems like a really questionable tactic. If you’re currently taking a statin drug and are worried about the excessive side effects they cause, please consult with a knowledgeable health care practitioner who can help you to optimize your heart health naturally, without the use of these dangerous drugs.