Cholesterol Revisited

In response to my column on “The Cholesterol Sting”, a reader was kind enough to recommend that I update my references with two important books. Both books were the result of over 40 years of research, neither of which was funded by food and drug companies. They were funded by US taxpayers and results are openly available to us.

 The first is The China Study by T. Colin Campbell, Cornell University nutritionist, and co-authored by his physician son, Thomas M. Campbell II. Campbell includes 750 peer reviewed studies to back up his finding that cholesterol levels in fact do cause heart disease and other illnesses. This was true even if the cholesterol levels were high in HDL (High Density Lipoproteins), the so- called  “good cholesterol.”

 The reason China was an important country to study is that their plant-based, dairy-free diet kept the incidence of heart disease and breast cancer at bay in China. Also, when Chinese people emigrated to the US and adopted our diet, they also developed heart disease, breast cancer, and auto-immune diseases. Campbell established that diet, not genes, is the most significant stimulant of conditions.

 The second book is by Caldwell B. Esselstyn Jr., MD, Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease. Esselstyn is a surgeon who wanted to find a way to prevent women from needing disfiguring breast surgery, and heart disease patients from undergoing such invasive and life threatening procedures. He found that when he was able to convince patients to adopt a plant-based, dairy-free, fat and oil free diet, they usually did not need surgery: hence, the title of his book.

 He asked doctors to refer to him their heart patients who had exhausted their by-pass and stint procedures and had been essentially told, “we can do no more for you.” When they came into his program, all who accepted the diet plan improved and/or reversed the damage to their coronary arteries.

 Here’s what they had to say about cholesterol that jolted my education. First, total body cholesterol IS an important marker, even if HDL, the good cholesterol, is high. For optimum health the total level needs to be 150mg/dL  or less (not 300, which the USDA recommends or 200, which the American Heart Association recommends.)

 We do need cholesterol but excessive amounts of it end up blocking our arteries. The amounts the USDA recommends appear to be causing more harm and expensive treatments.

 There is so much money to be made by radical surgery and treatment for breast and other cancers and heart disease that there is little incentive for doctors to focus on preventing the diseases. Esselstyn had a long uphill struggle to get referrals from cardiologists but once the word got out that people who went through his program regained their health, people began looking him up.

 Significantly, both Campbell and Esselstyn walk their talk. Esselstyn’s family made the transition when their children were young. They all enjoy robust health. Campbell grew up on a dairy farm. Esselstyn grew up on a cattle farm, but their search for what makes people well superseded  preconceived notions about diet.

 President Clinton attributes both his weight loss and improved health to this diet which he continues to maintain.

 The good news is that there is a growing number of physicians who are committed to keeping people well. That goal supersedes making a lot of money with preventable surgeries. Both books are available at your local library or through Inter-Library-Loan.

 Campbell’s book covers research on a broad spectrum of diet-caused conditions. Esselstyn’s deals mainly with heart and breast cancer and has a long section on the diet itself and recipes to transition for those interested. YouTube has an informative talk by T. Colin Campbell, “Lessons from the China Project.”

 Bottom line is, we can’t lower cholesterol with the American diet, which relies heavily on meat and fat. And, equally important, changes need to be made gradually to be sustainable.



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