We have all seen how health claims can change with the wind! While it is our duty to accept and integrate new scientific findings into our treatment suggestions, it is also our responsibility to deliver well-rounded education to our patients.
The news media’s hunger for material is a constant, and reporters often latch onto ideas from the scientific laboratories before they have been fully tested or proven. In addition, reporters who lack strong biomedical understanding may misunderstand or misreport complex scientific principles.
To tell the truth, sometimes scientists get excited about their findings, too! This well-intentioned excitement may result in leaking preliminary findings to the press before rigorous review by a group of discerning peers.
As result, the public is frequently exposed to late-breaking nutrition news stories before the findings are fully confirmed. Then, when the hypothesis being tested fails to hold up to a later challenge, consumers feel betrayed by what is simply the normal course of science at work.
The real scientists are trend watchers who:
- evaluate the methods used in each study
- assess each study in the light of the evidence gleaned from other studies
- modify, little by little, their picture of what may be true
As evidence accumulates, the scientists become more and more confident about their ability to make recommendations that apply to people’s health and lives.
Media sensationalism even overrates the importance of true, replicated findings. For example, the media eagerly reported that oat products lower blood cholesterol, a lipid indicative of heart disease risk. Although the reports were true, the media failed to mention that eating a nutritious diet low in certain fats is still the major step towards lowering blood cholesterol.
The media may also skip over important questions: How much oatmeal must a person eat to produce the desired effect? Do little oat bran pills or powders meet the need? Do oat bran cookies help, too? If so, how many cookies? For oatmeal, it takes a bowl and a half daily to affect blood lipids. A few pills will not provide robust heart-protective benefits and certainly cannot undo all the damage from a lifestyle that includes many high-saturated-fat-containing meals.
I bring this up because of the comments that patients are making in my office. I am often hearing, “They now say cholesterol isn’t bad—it’s the sugar!”
The Cholesterol Report and Media Misinterpretation
All though true that processed sugar, too many fruits, sugar additives and sweeteners are not healthy, this does not negate the fact that TOO MUCH saturated fats and trans-fats—not the cholesterol—are still a significant problem if consumed in high quantities typical of the American Diet.
In addition, The Cholesterol Report stated that diet only influences 20% of a person’s cholesterol. However, the report failed to explain that we can now test a patient to see if they are one of the people genetically predisposed to be a hyper-absorber of cholesterol.
For those patients, the dietary influences of cholesterol are more significant.
I have said that cholesterol isn’t bad for many years. Cholesterol is an essential fat which the body must have in order to survive. Cholesterol is a big player in the brain, the nervous system, the immune system and the endocrine system, and makes up 1/3 of the cell membrane of every cell in the body.
Having too much cholesterol, especially LDL, is still a health risk. Studies conclusively prove that too much LDL, especially in the form of high particle counts (LDL-P), which are oxidized, driven by apoB, and densely packed, do indeed increase the risk of cardiovascular disease.
It’s all about balance! Having the right level of LDL cholesterol, packaged in the safest form, un-oxidized and balanced with a strong reverse cholesterol transport system (HDL) imparts the greatest protection to health.
I have long recommended to my clients that the type of fat they eat is a much bigger issue than the amount of cholesterol they consume. While a person might be able to eat more eggs, shrimp and lobster under the new guidelines, they would still need to limit foods heavy in saturated fat like prime rib, bacon, cheese and butter.
By Paul Savage, MD, FAARM, ABAARM
Founder and Chief Medical Officer
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