This week I was asked to comment on an article from the National Post with the headline “A vascular surgeon explains why he ditched statins for more meat and less sugar, lowering his cholesterol in the process.”
Upon reading the article it became clear that the headline should have read “Vascular surgeon maintains high cholesterol on a meat diet even after cutting out sugar.”
Let’s look at the numbers:
According to the article, the surgeon’s total cholesterol decreased from 5.7 mmol/L to 5.4 mmol/L after 3 months of cutting out sugar and eating more animal fat. Such a small change in cholesterol is certainly nothing to write home about, much less make the national health headlines. In fact, it is normal for your cholesterol to vary slightly depending on when and where you take the test. Secondly, 5.4mmol/L is still very high. Coronary artery disease is unknown in populations where normal cholesterol levels are under 3.9 mmol/L. Nonetheless, we can certainly draw from the fact that the surgeon’s total cholesterol did not change significantly even after he cut sugar from his diet. Had he reduced his meat and dairy consumption his drop in cholesterol would have been worthy of the headlines. The closer you look at the numbers presented in this article the more you realize how confusing the message can be for the general public. Let’s dive into the facts to help clear some of the misinformation:
As reported, the surgeon cut sugar from his diet. Cutting sugar is one of the fastest ways to lower your triglycerides. Triglycerides are factored into your total cholesterol score, along with your HDL and LDL. However, even though the surgeon was able to dramatically lower his triglycerides by cutting out sugar, his total cholesterol barely budged. In fact, after 3 months on a no sugar, high meat and dairy diet, his cholesterol remained at a dangerously elevated level of 5.4 mmol/L. Hence my suggestion to change the headline to “Vascular surgeon maintains high cholesterol on a meat diet even after cutting out sugar.“
The good news:
The result that the surgeon experienced after 3 months on a high meat and dairy diet fails drastically in comparison to the reduction in cholesterol that is commonly seen with people that transition to a proper plant-based diet. For example, my client Dimitrios Cossifas recently reduced his cholesterol from over 5 to 3.6 in just a few weeks. Other clients have achieved very similar results even after stopping their cholesterol medication. This is consistent with the preponderance of the scientific evidence showing us how easy it is to lower cholesterol through a healthy plant-based diet. A 30% reduction in cholesterol in under a month is the norm. How a mere 5% reduction in cholesterol after 3 months is sufficient for a headline to endorse a meat diet is inexplicable, especially since such a small change is easily attributed to a decrease in sugar consumption, or even to a normal variation between lab tests.
Sugar is bad, misinformation is worse.
The article in the National Post does contain some excellent points, namely about the importance of cutting out sugar, the dangers of statin drugs, and the understanding that high cholesterol is simply a bioindicator of a deeper issue, and not necessarily the problem itself. However, the underlying message of the article promotes heavy meat and dairy consumption even though the numbers presented only point to the failures of such a diet. Sadly enough, most people are not trained to interpret these numbers and relying on headlines for health information can seem like navigating through a mine field. This is especially true due to the conflicts of interest that have become a great challenge within the scientific community, and to the popular media’s endorsement of industry bias.
Today we are blessed with clear scientific evidence on how a plant-based diet can prevent and even reverse cardiovascular disease, yet the majority of the general public remains largely misinformed. An unprecedented amount of money and resources are spent to confuse rather than to educate. Therefore, in order to tackle the healthcare crisis, we must first learn to focus on legitimate scientific information, and to ignore dangerously misleading headlines and severely flawed interpretations presented by the media.
Naturopath, Health Educator
Nutrition & Exercise Specialist