Amid our mania for all but cutting out fat from the diet, medical experts now confess that lowering cholesterol isn't such a good idea in preventing a heart attack.
This conclusion has arisen with the publication of several studies showing that a low cholesterol diet and cholesterol lowering drugs can cause more harm than good.A recent issue of the British Medical Journal ( 15 February 1992) reported that patients taking cholesterol lowering drugs are at increased risk of dying from accidents and violent deaths.
Initial reports of this bizarre relationship, reported in WDDTY (Vol 1 No 9), were dismissed as a quirk until five subsequent international studies confirmed the results.
The BMJ called for a moratorium on prescribing such drugs except among very high risk patients within a study group of 58,000 patients in the UK until it is determined whether they actually have any long term benefits.
Writing in the Journal, Dr George Davey Smith, lecturer in epidemiology at the the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, says that the current mania for lowering cholesterol could "turn a large percentage of the healthy population (perhaps a third) into patients".
Other cholesterol drugs have been targeted as unsafe for other reasons. In one study, gemfibrozil was shown to increase cancer rates by one quarter.
In another trial, three times as many patients taking lovastatin died compared to controls.
These results come at a time when a 15 year study in Finland showed that patients on cholesterol lowering diets were twice as likely to die than those eating what they wanted.
What has definitely been discredited is the old low cholesterol, no more than 30 per cent fat diet recommended by WHO and the American Heart Association. Other diets with larger percentages of polyunsaturated fat do lower cholesterol, but with no reduction in heart disease or mortality possibly because many of these polyunsaturates are carcinogenic, particularly when used in cooking.