Following the broadcast of Catalyst’s two-part special on cholesterol and statins there has been a flurry of irate Australian doctors and other professionals discrediting the program and its presenter Maryanne Demasi.
In this special edition of Catalyst aired over two consecutive weeks, Dr Maryanne Demasi investigated the science behind the claims that saturated fat causes heart disease by raising cholesterol and whether cholesterol – lowering drugs reduced the risk of heart disease. This was courageous reporting for over the last few decades we’ve been told that saturated is bad for our arteries and that cholesterol causes heart disease resulting in a multi-billion dollar drug and food industry.
In the first episode Heart of the Matter, Demasi explored the origins of the belief that saturated fat and cholesterol cause heart disease and why this is now being called the biggest myth in medical history. Most of the experts interviewed were US-based and all but Dr Robert Grenfell from the National Heart Foundation of Australia and Associate Prof David Sullivan a Lipid expert, at RPAH Sydney, reiterated the fact that Cholesterol is really not the villain. According to US physician Dr Michael Eades:
We’ve absolutely been given the wrong advice. People became afraid of saturated fat, so they said, ‘OK, we’ve got to do something to replace the saturated fats, and so let’s do it with vegetable oils.’ Well, vegetable oils don’t have the same cooking qualities that saturated fats do. Polyunsaturated fats have a lot of double bonds in them, and double bonds are prone to free radical attack. It becomes a rancid fat, and it becomes really bad for you. Saturated fats, on the other hand, have no double bonds. That’s why they’re incredibly stable. That’s why they’re great for cooking. That’s why they’re great for frying. And that’s why they don’t really perpetuate free radical cascades in the body, because they’re inert fats.
After Catalyst aired Part 1, The Heart of the Matter, Australia’s top medicine safety expert, Emily Banks, urged the ABC not to air the follow-up, because it might encourage people to go off their statin drugs. But fortunately Catalyst went ahead with its second part although it did carry a warning that:
The views expressed in this episode of Catalyst are not intended as medical advice. Please consult with your doctor regarding your medications.
It’s assumed that the cholesterol is a toxic substance in your body and getting it as low as you can is a good thing. Well, cholesterol is the organic molecule that’s most common in your brain, by weight. It’s in every cell wall. It’s the precursor of many of the hormones in our body. It’s an enormously complex molecule. And to think that you can radically pull this out of the body and not have consequences is just… it’s ridiculous, it’s such bad science.
Professor Rita Redberg, a world-renowned cardiologist told Maryanne Demasi that other than those with a genetic condition, the only people who live longer by taking a statin are those that have already had a heart attack or stroke.
Well it was no surprise to hear the radio interviews and newspaper reports that followed this great example of investigative journalism. The National Heart Foundation told the ABC’s PM program that they were “shocked” that Catalyst had disregarded evidence about the effectiveness of cholesterol drugs. “I disagree with the evidence that most people taking statins don’t get benefit from that,” said the Heart Foundation’s chief executive Dr Lyn Roberts.
If that wasn’t enough criticism, yesterday, the ABC’s Health Report presenter Dr Norman Swan was even more strident. “People will die as a result of the Catalyst program unless people understand at heart what the issues are,” Dr Norman Swan told an ABC radio audience.
And for more on cholesterol: According to US researchers Sally Fallon and Mary Enig, many people who feel perfectly healthy suffer from high cholesterol– in fact feeling good is actually a symptom of high cholesterol. Living longer is an effect of high cholesterol withDr. Harlan Krumholz of the Department of Cardiovascular Medicine at Yale University, reporting in 1994 that twice as many old people with low cholesterol died from a heart attack than did old people with high cholesterol. This is especially true for women, for whom moderately elevated cholesterol may prove to be not only harmless but even beneficial. ‘High Cholesterol is not a risk factor for women’, says Dr Uffe Ravnskov but inspite of this women as well as men are being treated for high cholesterol.
Congratulations to Maryanne Demasi and the Catalyst team and I look forward to more of this investigative journalism into health policies and practice. Maybe Catalyst could do a program on Gardasil, the HPV vaccine now responsible for 144 deaths and over 31,000 adverse events ranging from headaches and nausea to paralysis and death. But I won’t hold my breath!