Tag Archives: Cholesterol

Cholesterol: zero shades of grey or, Oceania has always been at war with Eastasia

The thing about quacks and quackery shills is that they don’t do nuance. Medicine = bad, natural = good because duh obvious. This simplistic thinking is absent in science, of course, but it makes for some pretty comical content in WDDTY. Consider LDL. The starting premise here is that statins – sorry, statin drugs, mustn’t forget to label them as products of big pharma – are evil. But they provably lower levels of LDL cholesterol. Therefore LDL cholesterol must be good, right? So WDDTY expends significant effort persuading its readers that LDL cholesterol is beneficial.

LDL cholesterol isn’t the ‘bad guy’ after all As we’ve been saying for years now, LDL isn’t the ‘bad’ cholesterol responsible for heart disease and blocked arteries-and now  scientists are proving it. Although it’s the target of statin drugs, LDL doesn’t cause fatty deposits in the arteries, but prevents them.

Saying for years. Hmmm.

  • April 2008 p10: “The diet can also reduce LDL, or ‘bad’, cholesterol levels“.
  • Oct 2011 p18: “After 40 days, all doses of cinnamon significantly reduced blood glucose, triglycerides, and LDL (‘bad’) and total cholesterol levels“.
  • Aug 2012 p4: “The antioxidant is found in almost all fruits, including peaches and oranges, lots of vegetables and Brazil nuts, and appears to have the same protective effect as a statin drug, which promotes the ‘good’ HDL (high-density lipoprotein) cholesterol while lowering levels of ‘bad’ LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol” .

Those are just a sample of the many hits for “LDL cholesterol” in WDDTY back issues, the vast majority of which talk about “natural” ways to reduce LDL without taking those statins. Sorry, statin DRUGS!!!! Oceania has always been at war with Eastasia.

The ‘good/bad’ cholesterol theory, which launched the multibillion-pound statin drugs industry, has claimed that oxidized LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol infiltrates the arterial walls and engorges them with cholesterol. ln time, cholesterol turns into plaque, blocking the artery or sending clots into the bloodstream, causing heart attacks and strokes.

This is “claimed” on the basis of good biomedical evidence. But, you know, science self-corrects. In matters of complex biochemistry new findings can overturn old ones. That’s one of the ways science is different from quackery – no homeopathic remedy has ever been discarded on the basis that it’s subsequently found not to work, no cancer quack has ever shut down after trials show their treatment to be bogus.

Statin drugs target LDL cholesterol while allowing the ‘good’ HDL cholesterol to flourish. But scientists for a while now have been finding that the theory just isn’t true. Results from human and animal studies show LDL cholesterol isn’t the ‘bad guy’ after all.

Current consensus seems to be that LDL may have beneficial effects as well as harmful ones. Which is hardly a surprise. Observational data shows that raised levels of LDL are a risk for heart attack and stroke, but what constitutes raised may vary according to the patient and their other risk factors. Or as Dr. Goldacre might say: I think you’ll find it’s a bit more complicated than that. Here’s a handy table that explains what that means:

Markers indicating a need for LDL-C Reduction (Per 2004 United States Government Minimum Guidelines)
 If the patient’s cardiac risk is…  then the patient should consider LDL-C reduction if the count in mg/dL is over… and LDL-C reduction is indicated if the count in mg/dL is over…
 High, meaning a 20% or greater risk of heart attack within 10 years, or an extreme risk factor  70 100
 moderately high, meaning a 10-20% risk of heart attack within 10 years and more than 2 heart attack risk factors  100 130
 moderate, meaning a 10% risk of heart attack within 10 years and more than 2 heart attack risk factors  130 160
 low, meaning less than 10% risk of heart attack within 10 years and 1 or 0 heart attack risk factors  160 190

Of course there’s no way WDDTY could know this, as it’s drawn from secret sources: the US National Institutes for Health and the American Board of Clinical Lipidology.

Researchers at the University of Kentucky are becoming increasingly convinced by the evidence. “Our research … seems to indicate that oxidized LDL might, in fact, be a ‘good guy’ in the process,” said lead researcher Jason Meyer.

You can read the reality-based take on this at Science Daily. The full quote (not from an interview with WDDTY, by the way, as their story rather implies):

“Oxidized LDL moves rapidly into arterial walls and engorges them with cholesterol,” Meyer said. “Cholesterol ultimately converts into plaque, blocking the arteries or, in a worst case scenario, rupturing and sending clots into the bloodstream, causing heart attacks and/or strokes.” However, more recent studies in animals and humans have brought that assumption into question, and the oxidized LDL theory is currently the subject of lively debate. “Though in its very early stages, our research will add considerably to that controversy,” Meyer said, “because it seems to indicate that oxidized LDL might, in fact, be a ‘good guy’ in the process.”

So: partially oxidised LDL may have a role in reducing the effects of cholesterol, which is still the bad guy. See how that’s different from WDDTY’s spin?

Their research has shown that LDL cholesterol actually prevents the increase of cholesterol-laden foam cells in artery walls, making it a protective mechanism against the development of heart disease and atherosclerosis (hardened and obstructed arteries).

Or, as Science Daily puts it, “If it is demonstrated that oxidized LDL actually has a preventive effect on the accumulation of cholesterol in arterial walls, it may be possible to create a medicine from oxidized LDL to help prevent or treat this killer disease” “There is still much work to do because this project is very early in development and has not been tested in animals, but the results we have so far are very promising.” So, this is a preliminary finding in an area subject to active dispute, but the consensus view has not yet changed – and might never change, there would first need to be some accounting for the observational data that shows elevated risk in patients with elevated LDL cholesterol. So unlike WDDTY to rewrite history, spin scientific findings and present tentative early findings as the slam dunk evidence that their nonsensical anti-medicine agenda is somehow evidence based. I say unlike, I mean, of course, entirely characteristic. Oh, do read the Wikipedia article on LDL. It makes a lot more sense of the apparently conflicting information than anything published by the Ministry of Truth WDDTY.

Kefir

The February 2014 issue is really one long advertorial for kefir. It’s dairy, Jim, bit not as we know it: while dairy is denounced as “cancer food“, this is, apparently, completely different. Because probiotic.

This is how to make kefir:

Basic kefir
You can use the method below to make any amount of kefir you desire; just keep in mind that a good rule of thumb is to use 1 Tbsp of kefir grains per cup of milk. So if you want to make 1 cup of kefir, use 1 Tbsp of kefir grains and 1 cup of milk. For 2 cups of kefir, use 2 Tbsp of kefir grains and 2 cups of milk, and so on.
Step 1: Place the kefir grains in a glass jar that can be securely sealed. I like canning jars with plastic lids, but you can use any jar that closes securely.
Step 2: Using the 1 Tbsp to 1 cup ratio of kefir grains to milk, add the appropriate amount of milk to the jar.
Step 3: Securely seal the jar, and leave it on your kitchen counter away from direct sunlight or in a cabinet at room temperature for 24 hours.
Step 4: After 24 hours, remove the kefir grains using a slotted spoon or mesh strainer. (The strainer can be stainless steel or plastic.) Add the kefir grains to fresh milk to begin another fermentation or for storage.
Step 5: Transfer the strained kefir to your refrigerator. At this point, it is ready to use. You can keep kefir in your fridge in a sealed container for up to one year. But remember, the longer it’s in the fridge, the more sour it will become because the bacteria eat the lactose in milk.

Eurgh. On to the claims.

Let’s look at one small section:

1 Stimulates the immune system. Peptides formed during fermentation or digestion appear to do the job, at least in animal studies.

Reference 1: J Dairy Sci, 2002; 85: 2733–42; Matar C et al. ‘Biologically active peptides released in fermented milk: role and functions’, in Farnworth ER, ed. Handbook of Fermented Functional Foods. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press, 2003: 177–201

Interestingly, WDDTY appear to be starting to give some full citations, making it much easier to verify whether they have correctly represented the sources. In this case we have a legitimate source, an early study (therefore likely false), but fact-washed via a book by a nutritionist. The claims of nutritionists are, of course, always questionable, and the original source is available; it’s not clear why this indirect sourcing has been done, unless Lynne McTaggart has been reading a book proselytising kefir and is simply regurgitating the nonsense in WDDTY (which on the evidence does seem very likely).

In the last dozen years, why has this finding not been confirmed?

2 Stops tumour growth. Although most dairy products have been implicated in the promotion of prostate and other cancers, a polysaccharide isolated from kefir grains, whether in cow or soy milk, appears to inhibit a variety of tumours, including lung cancer cells and melanoma—again in animal studies.

Reference 2a: Jpn J Med Sci Biol, 1983; 36: 49–53; 

The original paper is hard to trace, no doubt because it is not in translation. It is a 30-year-old animal study. Your starter for ten and no conferring: what is the term for thirty-year-old findings of anti-cancer activity not confirmed in later work in mainstream journals specialising in cancer research? Yes: Likely false.

Reference 2b: Immunopharmacology, 1986; 12: 29–35; Immunopotentiative effect of polysaccharide from Kefir grain, KGF-C, administered orally in mice Mitsugu Murofushi, Junichiro Mizuguchi, Kageaki Aibara, Tyoku Matuhasi.

Reference 2c: J Agric Sci Tokyo Nogyo Daigaku, 2000; 45: 62–70

This source is not PubMed indexed, nor would I expect it to be – medical articles are not commonly published in journals of agricultural science.

All three of these seem to be drawn second hand from Farnworth, as with the first reference. There is a dearth of confirming evidence.

3 Allows better digestion and tolerance of lactose in the lactose-intolerant. Gassiness and digestion has been improved in both animals and humans given kefir.

Reference 3: J Am Diet Assoc, 2003; 103: 582–7  Kefir improves lactose digestion and tolerance in adults with lactose maldigestion. Hertzler SR, Clancy SM.

Why would this matter? According to WDDTY, dairy (other than kefir) is “cancer food”.

4 Improves digestion generally. Studies in animals show that regularly consuming kefir helps bacteria in the bowel grow significantly.

Reference 4: Lett Appl Microbiol, 2002; 35: 136–40 Dietary influence of kefir on microbial activities in the mouse bowel. Marquina D, Santos A, Corpas I, Muñoz J, Zazo J, Peinado JM

This would not be a surprise (it applies to all probiotics, after all), but why another ancient animal study from a dozen years back?

5 Provides a natural antibiotic. Kefir has been shown to inhibit E. coli and Streptoccocus bacteria.

Reference 5a: J Food Prot, 2000; 63: 364–9; Inhibitory power of kefir: the role of organic acids. Garrote GL, Abraham AG, De Antoni GL.

Reference 5b: Lebensm Wiss Technol, 2004; 37: 663–7; Determination of some characteristics coccoid forms of lactic acid bacteria isolated from Turkish kefirs with natural probiotic. Yüksekdag Z.N., Beyatli Y., Aslim B.

Reference 5c: Indian Vet J, 01/2004; 81: 687–90; 

Again we have studies in vitro and in animals – and from some time back. Why? There is credible evidence that kefir grown on milk infected with e.coli may induce resistance to e.coli, and there are credible reasons why this might be, but there’s no indication that this is inherent to all kefir, only to that grown in an infected medium.

6 May help reduce cholesterol. Small studies show that blood triglycerides are lower and good high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol slightly increased in those consuming kefir compared with milk
for four weeks.

Reference 6: BMC Complement Altern Med, 2002; 2: 1 Kefir consumption does not alter plasma lipid levels or cholesterol fractional synthesis rates relative to milk in hyperlipidemic men: a randomized controlled trial [ISRCTN10820810]. St-Onge MP, Farnworth ER, Savard T, Chabot D, Mafu A, Jones PJ.

This has Farnworth as co-author, and it’s in a quackademic journal, so might be expected, from context, to be positive.

Nope.

RESULTS:

Kefir had no effect on total cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein cholesterol, high-density lipoprotein cholesterol or triglyceride concentrations nor on cholesterol fractional synthesis rates after 4 wk of supplementation. No significant change on plasma fatty acid levels was observed with diet. However, both kefir and milk increased (p < 0.05) fecal isobutyric, isovaleric and propionic acids as well as the total amount of fecal short chain fatty acids. Kefir supplementation resulted in increased fecal bacterial content in the majority of the subjects.

CONCLUSIONS:

Since kefir consumption did not result in lowered plasma lipid concentrations, the results of this study do not support consumption of kefir as a cholesterol-lowering agent. [emphasis added]

Cherry picking secondary outcome measures and ignoring the disconfirmation of primary measures is scientific misconduct. Just as well McTaggart is not a scientist and WDDTY is not a science journal. You have to hand it to WDDTY, though – to cite a source in order to support a statement that is flatly contradicted by the results and conclusions of that source, takes balls.

But then, WDDTY is nothing if not a load of balls.