I've worked in hospitals or have been in a teaching position in health care since 1972. That entire time I marched to the unceasing drum of dietary-fat-and-cholesterol-lead-directly-to-heart-disease, now called the lipid theory of heart disease. It never occurred to me to ask "Where is the hard evidence?" I assumed it had been irrefutably proven. Then factors in my own life led me to eventually question that ever present mantra.
My own mother had her first heart attack when she was just 48 years old. In her seventies she was put on a statin for elevated cholesterol and became someone I barely recognized; argumentative, irritable, forgetful, poor coordination and very depressed. Nothing in my own medical care education lead me to blame any of that on statin drugs. What was even more puzzling was that she had never been one to eat fatty foods or things laden with cholesterol. But I never stopped to think about that. I did know she struggled with weight her entire life and hence was vigilant in eating things low-fat, as well as only using polyunsaturated oils for cooking. But it is also true she had a problem with carbohydrates - they always were the majority of her diet. I lost her to a heart attack in 1995.
Three years ago, as my own cholesterol nudged up a bit, but still within traditional normal range, I did not hesitate to comply with my doctor's suggestion to begin a statin (Lipitor). If anything, I felt I was getting ahead of the danger of losing my life as my mother had. But also like her, I struggle with my weight and like her I gravitate to carbohydrates. I was strictly avoiding all saturated fats and dietary cholesterol, cooking with the supposedly "healthy" polyunsaturated oils and always choosing fat-free or low-fat dairy products. In all that time in hospitals and health education we had a two other mantras - "a calorie is a calorie" and its corollary "calories in calories out" as the only approach to weight management. But every calorie restrictive program I tried just left me hungry and with only short term weight loss.
I developed, in those three years, various aches and pains, initially too varied to form a pattern. I was aware that I was having a marked increase in short term memory problems, and my joints were getting so troublesome I was unwilling to do the exercise my doctor kept harping about to keep my weight under control. I found myself getting irritable, less interested in life and feeling O.L.D. @ 60. Out of frustration with both weight and how crummy I was feeling, I read a couple of food advice books, and one, "In Defense of Food" started making sense to me. Two other books were mentioned within that one, so I moved on to one of them - "Good Calories, Bad Calories." The author already had an excellent track record of science journalism.
Just imagine how startled I was while reading Gary Taubes book to find out there never has been definitive reproducible studies to prove the connection between consuming dietary saturated fat and cholesterol to the development of high blood cholesterol, nor to cholesterol numbers being a directly predictive factor in heart disease mortality. This was a jaw dropping revelation to me. Then I went on to read about the abundance of information revealing "healthy" seed oils, such as corn, safflower, sunflower, soy and canola, showed no evidence of lowering either heart disease itself or the mortality rate from heart disease. Then the came the real shocker.......the most consistent risk factor for developing heart disease, as far as diet is concerned, is the intake of carbohydrates. I was dumb struck. He also challenges, then destroys, the assumption that all calories are created equal and that saturated fat is harmful. One whole chapter is devoted just to how our bodies manufacture and use insulin and the stress that excess carbohydrate puts on our system, leading eventually to insulin resistance and finally type 2 diabetes.
Information I uncovered left me shocked about how manipulative Big Pharma is as far as pressuring doctors to use their drugs, (complete with "incentive" packages that can only be compared to flat out bribery) about how they fund their own studies and then get to interpret their own results to be sure they are favorable, and/or they can choose to fail to publish anything negative. Agribusiness is also enormously influential in getting studies done, with their own highly lucrative contracts with research groups, to "prove" that oils made from their excess harvest, that are cheap and highly profitable, must be part of our daily diet at the expense of traditional fats. The power the pharmaceutical industry and the agribusiness has on such supposedly trustworthy institutions such as the American Heart Association, the FDA and the NIH is not to be believed. So sad for all of us.The food pyramid is absolutely wrong for heart health, weight management and avoiding type 2 diabetes.
As I read these books, I began to have hope about finally managing my own weight. Taubes book is all about arming you with proper facts, about making intelligent choices for your own dietary direction. It is not focused on the use of statins (I found that informations in other related books listed above) - rather, he is making the point that while we have been concentrating on fats as the cause of obesity, diabetes and heart disease, it has really been the shift toward more carbohydrate and seed oil consumption for the last 60 years.
But Taubes is NOT offering "program" as such. Rather, for someone like me, who really wants to understand WHY things are the way they are, this is a wealth of information about how we went down the wrong path as far as national nutritional health advice and who was behind it all. He lets you connect the dots for yourself. If instead you would rather have help with a program for redesigning your nutrition, two of the books I listed are better for that, specifically "Deep Nutrition" by Dr. Shanahan, or Mark Sisson's "Primal Blueprint". Both books have at their core a target of total carbohydrate in a day of about 70 mg if you need to lose weight. Using these guidelines, I dropped 25 pounds in 11 weeks, without feeling hungry, and I feel excellent. I have also slowly tapered off, then stopped my Lipitor. I will not know my lab numbers for several months until my next check up, but I can report that my body aches have lessened, I have more energy, my short-term memory is better and my depressed mood has vanished.
I bought two extra copies of Taubes book and will be giving them to both my Family Practice doctor and my Endocrinologist. This information is vital. I believe my mother would have remained her normal self until her passing if she had not been given a statin and I also believe we may have had the joy of having her longer if any of us (including her doctors) had fully understood the implications of the carbohydrate laden low-fat diet she consumed for years.
Good luck to you. Be well.
P.S. - An eye-opening DVD is "Food Inc." that lays out the case for how we as citizens are at the mercy of only a handful of agribusiness companies. Profit, not our well being or the the survival of family farms matters to them. Their influence on our government's policies at all levels is truly shocking.