< Healthy Ways Newsletter 12-2

E-Mail Edition  Volume 12   Number 2

Published Spring, 2015

Published by Piccadilly Books, Ltd., www.piccadillybooks.com.

Bruce Fife, N.D., Publisher, www.coconutresearchcenter.org


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  • The U.S. Government to Withdraw Longstanding Warnings About Cholesterol

  • Drink for Your Health? Don't Bet Your Life on It


hard boiled eggs and tomatos




The U.S. Government to Withdraw Longstanding Warnings About Cholesterol


"Cholesterol is no longer considered a nutrient of concern for overconsumption," reports the US Department of Health...


Have you restricted your consumption of eggs, meats, and dairy in fear that they might raise your blood cholesterol levels? If so, you no longer need to worry. After years of debate about the perceived dangers of consuming cholesterol, the nation's top nutrition advisory panel has decided to drop its caution about eating cholesterol-laden food, a move that could undo almost 40 years of government warnings about its consumption.

Every five years, the United States Department of Health and Human Services updates a set of Dietary Guidelines intended to help Americans make healthier food choices. These guidelines also help establish regulations and standards food companies follow in labeling their products. The 2015 edition will mark perhaps the biggest change since the original 1977 Guidelines by dropping the warning about cholesterol consumption. One of the six core goals since the 1970s has been to limit the intake of cholesterol to less than 300mg per day, however the present Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC) believes that cholesterol consumption is no longer something we need to worry about.

The group's decision follows an evolution of thinking among many nutritionists who now believe that eating foods high in cholesterol may not significantly affect the level of cholesterol in the blood or increase the risk of heart disease. Blood cholesterol level is carefully regulated and is not haphazardly influenced by diet. This is why dietary approaches can alter blood cholesterol by less than 10 percent. The amount of cholesterol produced within our bodies every day is much larger than what we get from our diet. Therefore, the amount we consume has no significant bearing on blood cholesterol levels.

Foods high in cholesterol — such as eggs, red meat, and seafood — have long been considered contributors to the risk of heart disease. Years of research seeking to establish a possible causative link between them and undesirable health outcomes has been a failure. In the absence of a proper scientific consensus and given that the human body produces a lot more cholesterol than it takes in via the diet, the DGAC has decided that "cholesterol is not considered a nutrient of concern for overconsumption." Therefore, the amount of it that you consume is no longer thought to be important enough to restrict.

While Americans may be accustomed to conflicting dietary advice, the change on cholesterol comes from the influential Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, the group that provides the scientific basis for the "Dietary Guidelines." That federal publication has broad effects on the American diet, helping to determine the content of school lunches, affecting how food manufacturers advertise their wares, and serving as the foundation for dietary advice given by doctors and government agencies.

Many nutritionists said lifting the cholesterol warning is long overdue, noting that the United States is out-of-step with many other countries, where diet guidelines do not single out cholesterol.

"There's been a shift of thinking," said Walter Willett, MD, chair of the nutrition department at the Harvard School of Public Health. He called the turnaround on cholesterol a "reasonable move."

But the change on dietary cholesterol also shows how the complexity of nutrition science and the lack of definitive research can contribute to confusion for Americans who, while seeking guidance on what to eat, often find themselves afloat in conflicting advice.

Cholesterol has been a fixture in dietary warnings in the United States at least since 1961, when it appeared in guidelines developed by the American Heart Association. Later adopted by the federal government, such warnings helped shift eating habits and dropped egg consumption by 30 percent.


Americans turn away from eggs



Even as contrary evidence has emerged over the years, the campaign against dietary cholesterol has continued. In 1994, food-makers were required to report cholesterol values on nutrition labels. In 2010, with the publication of the previous "Dietary Guidelines," the experts again focused on the problem of "excess dietary cholesterol."

Yet many have viewed the evidence against cholesterol as weak, at best. As late as 2013, a task force arranged by the American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association looked at the dietary cholesterol studies. The group found that there was "insufficient evidence" to make a recommendation. Many of the studies that had been done, the task force said, were too broad to single out cholesterol.

"Looking back at the literature, we just couldn't see the kind of science that would support dietary restrictions," said Robert Eckel, the co-chair of the task force and a medical professor at the University of Colorado.

The previous guidelines called for restricting cholesterol intake to 300 milligrams daily. (For comparison, the yolk of a single egg has about 200 milligrams.) American adult men on average ingest about 340 milligrams of cholesterol a day, according to federal figures. That recommended figure of 300 milligrams, Eckel said, is "just one of those things that gets carried forward and carried forward even though the evidence is minimal."

Other major studies have indicated that eating one or two eggs a day does not raise a person's risk of heart disease.

While reversals in dietary recommendations might seem aggravating, it is a sign of progress. "These reversals in the field do make us wonder and scratch our heads," said David Allison, a public health professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. "But in science, change is normal and expected."

When our view of the cosmos shifted from Ptolemy to Copernicus to Newton and Einstein, Allison said, "the reaction was not to say, 'Oh my gosh, something is wrong with physics!' We say, 'Oh my gosh, isn't this cool?' "

Allison said the problem in nutrition stems from the arrogance that sometimes accompanies dietary advice. Because a scientific body comes to a consensus about a particular issue, some people take this as the absolute final word on the subject and ignore contradictory evidence and ridicule those who question the status quo. Now all those who have shouted the warning about eating cholesterol and criticized those who questioned this advice have egg on their face. A little humility could go a long way.

Despite the change in position about dietary cholesterol, many people are holding on to cherished opinions that fat and cholesterol are bad and continue to shout warnings about eating saturated fat and the dangers of high blood cholesterol. These people are soon to find egg on their face as well.

In recent years two major meta-analysis studies which combined all previous studies on saturated fat and diet showed that those people who eat the most saturated fat have no more incidence of heart disease than those who eat the least, proving that saturated fat does not cause or promote heart disease.

A new meta-analysis study published February 2015 reexamined all of the data available in 1977, when the Dietary Guidelines were first issued, concluded that the original recommendations were based on inadequate evidence and should never have been issued. The report, authored by an international team of researchers, was critical of the advice against the restriction of dietary saturated fat, which could, with time, be another area where the DGAC seeks to modify its recommendations.

The researchers concluded that a correlation between saturated fat consumption and coronary heart disease was just a hypothesis without good supporting evidence when the US government issued its Guidelines in 1977 and echoed by the UK and other countries soon thereafter. The dietary recommendations focused on reducing dietary fat intake; specifically to (1) reduce overall fat consumption to 30 percent of total energy intake and (2) reduce saturated fat consumption to 10 percent of total energy intake. Later the recommendation for saturated fat was reduced further to 7 percent.

Dr. Zoe Harcombe of the University of the West of Scotland and lead author of the study, stated that these recommendations "were untested in any trial prior to being introduced," As there is today, when these guidelines were issued there was no evidence that eating less fat or saturated fat would improve a person's heart health..

Among the data on dietary fat consumption and heart disease that was available at the time, there were no differences in the number of deaths from all causes, and no statistically significant changes in death from cardiovascular disease. Eating less saturated fat was not shown to improve a person's heart health, even where changes in diet led to a reduction in blood cholesterol levels. "It seems incomprehensible that dietary advice was introduced for 220 million Americans and 56 million UK citizens, given the contrary results from a small number of unhealthy men," says Harcombe.

At the time of issuing the original 1977 Dietary Guidelines for the United States, the committee's lead nutritionist, Dr. Hegsted of Harvard University, admitted that the evidence base for the restriction on saturated fat was lacking. "There will undoubtedly be many people who will say we have not...demonstrated that the dietary modifications we recommend will yield the dividend expected," remarked Hegsted. But his counterargument was that there was more to gain from switching to the recommended diet than there was to lose. Such a statement was based more on wishful thinking than good science.

The longstanding advice to increase the consumption of carbohydrates as a way to offset the reduction in total fat and saturated fat may now be proving Dr. Hegsted's assertion wrong as subsequent research has now shown that low-carbohydrate diets are more effective at promoting better health than low-fat ones.

The conclusion of the Harcombe study is clear and to the point: "The present review concludes that dietary advice not merely needs review; it should not have been introduced." It's remarkable that national and international dietary guidelines, that affect the health of millions of people, have and are being issued and vigorously supported and defended without proper scientific evidence. In fact, a great deal of weight in the argument against the consumption of saturated fat has been based on the Dietary Guidelines. Anti-saturated fat proponents have used the Dietary Guidelines as proof that saturated fat is unhealthy and trumps all the studies that claim differently. After all, a scientific committee representing a government body must be correct—right?

Several years ago I wrote a detailed overview on coconut oil and submitted it to Wikipedia. I included an extensive section on the health aspects of coconut oil and meticulously backed every statement with references to published medical studies. They posted the article but within days most of the article was replaced, including all of the health section. In its place was a brief statement that coconut oil is just another saturated fat and should not be consumed, as proof the article referenced the Dietary Guidelines of the United States and several other countries and organizations who have copied these same guidelines. While other parts of the coconut oil article on Wikipedia have changed over the years, this health section has remained the same. 





Whoriskey, Peter. The U.S. government is poised to withdraw longstanding warnings about cholesterol. The Washington Post February 10, 2015.


Harcombe, Z, et al. Evidence from randomized controlled trials did not support the introduction of dietary fat guidelines in 1977 and 1983: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Open Heart 2015; doi:10.1136/openhrt-2014-000196.


Chowdhury, R., et al. Association of dietary, circulating, and supplement fatty acids with coronary risk: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Ann Intern Med 2014;160:398-406.


Siri-Tarino, PW, et al. Meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies evaluating the association of saturated fat with cardiovascular disease. Am J Clin Nutr 2010;91:535-546.





glass of red wine

Drink for Your Health?

Don't Bet Your Life on It

Alcohol may not be so healthy after all. New study exposes flaw in previous studies. Benefits of alcohol consumption questioned.


A number of studies in recent years have suggested that moderate alcohol consumption may help reduce the risk of heart disease and death. The idea that alcohol consumption might be good for our health has inspired hope among drinkers. But a new study by a group of British and Australian researchers largely squashes that hope.1 According to this new study, unless you're a woman over the age of 65, alcohol consumption is unlikely to forestall your death. And for these older women, the health benefits of alcohol are small.

Like several previous studies, this new study initially returned findings indicating that men between the ages of 50 and 65 might reap a small benefit from drinking 1 to 2 glasses of alcohol a day. But those apparent benefits completely evaporated when the researchers removed from their nondrinking "reference group" all those people who used to drink but had stopped. 


This strange twist does more than disappoint middle-aged men eager to believe that alcohol makes them more robust. It also casts doubt on all the previous studies that have concluded that modest drinkers are healthier than nondrinkers (or never drinkers).

It turns out that former drinkers exhibit poorer health and have a higher risk of death, many of whom quit drinking due to ill health or are recovering alcoholics. Former drinkers are a much less-healthy group than people who simply never drink at all. But researchers often lump these former drinkers together with people who have always been teetotalers (never drinkers). The authors of the current study estimate that more than half of those who call themselves nondrinkers are misclassified as never drinkers.

Lemon twist in a drink

The inclusion of these less-healthy former drinkers makes the average health of "nondrinkers" look poorer. In comparison, those who consume alcohol tend to look healthier.

In the current study, when these former drinkers were expunged from the comparison-group of teetotalers, the nondrinking group suddenly looked healthier. And the bar for showing alcohol's health benefits rose. The apparent benefits of alcohol vanished.

This study suggests that the many previous studies finding health benefits associated with alcohol consumption suffer from the same fatal flaw. The benefits of alcohol consumption, therefore, have generally been overstated in recent research.

This is not the first study to identify this fatal flaw in alcohol studies. An earlier meta-analysis study that reexamined 54 previous studies found that the removal of former drinkers from the nondrinkers categories resulted in an attenuation or complete nullification of the reported protective effects.2 This study pretty much nullified the conclusions all of the previous studies showing benefits to alcohol consumption.

Another possible problem with previous studies is "selective bias" of the participants. The small benefit seen in women over 65 in this current study, even after removing former drinkers, may have been due to this. Only apparently healthy participants free of prevalent disease at the time of enrolment were included in these studies. The protective effects commonly identified among the studies may occur partly as a function of selection biases—tthe selection of healthy participants. If so, rather than moderate alcohol consumption being directly involved in the attenuation of mortality risk, it may simply represent an unidentified lifestyle trait specific to healthier people.



1. Knott, CS, et al. All cause mortality and the case for age specific alcohol consumption guidelines: pooled analyses of up to 10 population based cohorts. BMJ 2015;350:h384.


2. Fillmore, KM, et al. Moderate alcohol use and reduced mortality risk: systematic error in prospective studies and hypotheses. Ann Epidemiol 2007;17(5 Suppl):S16-23.





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Copyright © 2015,  Bruce Fife. All rights reserved.