The Cholesterol Myths by Uffe Ravnskov, M.D., Ph.D.

2. Blood cholesterol has nothing to do with atherosclerosis

An excerpt from my previous book The Cholesterol Myths (out of print). 
A link to the next section is available at the end

One of the most surprising facts about cholesterol is that there is no relationship between the blood cholesterol level and the degree of atherosclerosis in the vessels. If a high cholesterol really did promote atherosclerosis, then people with a high cholesterol should evidently be more atherosclerotic than people with a low. But it isn´t so.

The pathologist Dr. Kurt Landé and the biochemist Dr. Warren Sperry at the Department of Forensic Medicine of New York University were the first to study that question (25). The year was 1936. To their surprise, they found absolutely no correlation between the amount of cholesterol in the blood and the degree of atherosclerosis in the arteries of a large number of individuals who had died violently. In age group after age group their diagrams looked like the starry sky.

Drs. Landé and Sperry are never mentioned by the proponents of the diet-heart idea, or they misquote them and claim that they found a connection (26), or they ignore their results by arguing that cholesterol values in the dead are not identical with those in living people.

That problem was solved by Dr. J. C. Paterson from London, Canada and his team (27). For many years they followed about 800 war veterans. Over the years, Dr. Paterson and his coworkers regularly analyzed blood samples from these veterans. Because they restricted their study to veterans who had died between the ages of sixty and seventy, the scientists were informed about the cholesterol level over a large part of the time when atherosclerosis normally develops.

Dr. Paterson and his colleagues did not find any connection either between the degree of atherosclerosis and the blood cholesterol level; those who had had a low cholesterol were just as atherosclerotic when they died as those who had had a high cholesterol.

Similar studies have been performed in India (28), Poland (29), Guatemala (30), and in the USA (31), all with the same result: no correlation between the level of cholesterol in the blood stream and the amount of atherosclerosis in the vessels.

The question about blood cholesterol and atherosclerosis has been studied by coronary angiography also. It seems as if every specialist in coronary angiography in America has performed his own study, funded with federal tax money awarded by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. In paper after paper published in various medical journals, using almost identical words, these medical specialists emphasize the importance of the blood cholesterol level for the development of atherosclerosis (33).

But the reports offer no individual figures, only correlation coefficients, and these are never above a minimal 0.36, usually even smaller. And they never mention any of the previous studies that found no association between degree of atherosclerosis and level of blood cholesterol.

Studies based on coronary angiography are fundamentally flawed if their findings are meant to be applied to the general population. Coronary angiographies are performed, mainly, on young and middle-aged patients with symptoms of heart disease, which means that a relatively large number of patients with familial hypercholesterolemia must have been included. Again, there is an obvious risk for the kind of bias that I described above. The fact that this objection is justified was demonstrated in a Swedish study performed by Dr. Kim Cramér and his group in Gothenburg, Sweden (34). As in most other angiographic studies the patients with the highest cholesterol values had on average the most arteriosclerotic coronary vessels.

But if those who were treated with cholesterol-lowering drugs were excluded, and almost certainly this group must have included all patients with familial hypercholesterolemia, the correlation between blood cholesterol and degree of atherosclerosis disappeared.

Some of my scientific papers about this and similar issues:

The questionable role of saturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids in cardiovascular disease. J Clin Epidemiol 1998;51:443-460.   Read also a dissent to the paper: Golomb BA. Dietary fats and heart disease-dogma challenged? and my answer; same journal and same issue. This paper won the Skrabanek award 1999
A hypothesis out-of-date: The diet-heart idea. Published in Journal of Clinical Epidemiology (2002 Nov;55:1057-63. Same issue: Dissent by W.S.Weintraub, and Reply by U. Ravnskov An evaluation of our discussion is available 
Is atherosclerosis caused by high cholesterol?
published in Quarterly Journal of Medicine (2002; 95:397–403)
High cholesterol may protect against infections and atherosclerosis published in Quarterly Journal of Medicine (2003;96:927-34). 
Should medical science ignore the past? BMJ 2008;337:a1681

My popular-scientific books, where you can read much more:

A shortened, simplified
 and updated version of 
my first book 
The Cholesterol Myths
Here you can read about 
how scientists and editors 
of scientific journals have 
deceived a whole world,
unintentionally or on purpose.
Also available as a 
Kindle version

 

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© Uffe Ravnskov