Saturated fat, heart disease link a ‘myth’

Published: 4:03 AM, October 24, 2013
Updated: 4:00 AM, October 25, 2013

LONDON — Butter and cheese are not as bad for the heart as previously thought, a cardiologist has written in a leading medical journal.

Dr Aseem Malhotra, an interventional cardiology specialist registrar at Croydon University Hospital in London, said it is time to “bust the myth of the role of saturated fat in heart disease”.

Recent studies suggest that saturated fat — long assumed to be the biggest contributor to heart disease — actually has little impact on the risk of heart disease or stroke and may even protect against the conditions.

Saturated fat, which is found in dairy products and is not to be confused with the “trans fats” contained in fast food, is rich in vitamins A and D, as well as calcium and phosphorous, which could lower blood pressure, Dr Malhotra explained in his opinion piece in the British Medical Journal,

Attempts to cut saturated fat from our diets could in fact be increasing our health risk because it is often replaced by refined carbohydrates or sugars, which contain a different type of cholesterol with a much stronger link to heart disease, he added.

And millions of patients have been given statins unnecessarily because doctors are not assessing their risk of heart disease correctly, he said. Statins are a set of medicines that can help lower rates of cholesterol in the blood.

Decades of warnings that high cholesterol causes heart disease have led to the “over-medication” of healthy patients, he claimed. Instead of focusing on overall cholesterol, or blood fat, doctors should examine whether patients have a healthy balance of cholesterol from different food types, he explained.

The government’s “obsession” with levels of total cholesterol has led to the “overmedication of millions of people with statins” and distracted us from the main risk factor, an unhealthy balance of cholesterol types, he added.

“The fact that no other cholesterol-lowering drug has shown a benefit in terms of mortality supports the hypothesis that the benefits of statins are independent of their effects on cholesterol,” he wrote.

“Adopting a Mediterranean diet after a heart attack is almost three times as powerful in reducing mortality as taking a statin.” AGENCIES