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Posts tagged ‘cardiovascular disease’

Is Saturated Fat and Cholesterol really that bad?

We have always heard and even been taught that saturated fat leads to cholesterol, and that cholesterol leads to heart disease but is this really true?

This all started in the 1950´s when a doctor by the name of Ancel Keys did a study in which he compared the rate of Heart Disease and Fat consumption in 6 countries: USA, Canada, Australia, England-Wales, Italy and Japan, and found a perfect correlation, meaning the more fat the countries ate, the higher the risk of heart disease. Except, there was one problem, he withheld data from other 16 countries. Later, when scientists plotted all 22 countries, the correlation wasn´t so perfect. In other words, he used only the data that would demonstrate his hypothesis, but you could show just the opposite with all the data, that the more saturated fat people ate, the less heart disease they had.

In between 1960-1975, there were probably a half a dozen of studies that failed to confirm that saturated fat was the cause of heart problems(1), but Ancel Key was in the American Heart Association and his idea prevailed. So, from then on, the number one enemy was saturated fat and cholesterol. The funny thing with this is that most people don´t even know what cholesterol is, they just think it is a bad thing but is it really?

Cholesterol is actually essential for life. It is a mayor component of brain and nerve tissue, and central for the production of hormones. In fact, it is so important that almost every single cell in the body makes it!!! 80 % to 90 % of your cholesterol is made by your body, and it is basically genetic, meaning most people are always going to stay in a range. So even if you cut all the cholesterol out of your diet, your body will simply start making a bit more to bring it backup into ¨its range¨ (2). But we have always heard that cholesterol is produced by saturated fats, although the literature regarding this is highly inconsistent and there are even many long-term studies that disagree with this idea (3,4,5). One study in particular is the one going on in Framingham Massachusetts, where they are studying the potential causes of heart disease(6). This study started in 1948 and is still going on!! And so far, they have seen that certain habits like cigarette smoking or emotional stress do lead in the direction of heart disease. Also, cholesterol correlates with heart disease but only until the late 40´s. In fact, after the age of 47 high cholesterol seems to be protective, meaning that the people who had the highest cholesterol lived the longest……. so could cholesterol actually be a good thing? And, if saturated fats and cholesterol aren´t a ¨bad thing¨ then what´s behind the epidemic of cardio-vascular diseases?? That and more in my next ¨blog¨ ;).


  1. Mann G. DIet-Heart end of an era. NEJM 1977 297;644-50.
  2. Curtis N E. The Cholesterol Delusion
  3. Siri-Tarino PW, Sun Q, Hu FB, Krauss RM. Meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies evaluating the association of saturated fat with cardiovascular disease. Am J Clin Nutr, 2010 Mar;91(3):535-46.
  4. Stamler J, Neaton D J. The Multiple Risk Factor Intervention Trial (MRFIT)- Importance Then and Now. JAMA.2008:300(11);1343-45.
  5.  Mann V G. Coronary Heart Disease Doing the Wrong Thing. Nutrition today 1984
  6. Kannel WB. RIsk stratification in hypertension: new insights from the Framingham Study. Am J Ypertens, 2000 Jan;13(1 Pt2):3S-10S.

International Chair on Cardiometabolic Risk

This will be a special blog, since it was not programmed. Yesterday, I went to a conference (A Lifestyle Disease) where they talked about the cardiometabolic risk we as a society are facing right now. It was very interesting, thanks in part to all the scientists at the conference, who talked about the latest scientifically research data available related to these diseases. First, let’s clear up what cardiometabolic risks are.

  • Cardiometabolic risks: Primary deal with obesity and type 2 diabetes. So all the problems that are associated with these diseases are related to having a cardiometabolic risk.

Before I start talking about what was said at the conference, I want to show some stats. Numbers are always easier for people to understand and to memorize. So I think this will have a bigger impact than anything else I say.

  1. Europe as of 2009 has 55.4 million people with diabetes.
  2. Half the people who have diabetes don´t even know it.
  3. In 2030 it is predicted that worldwide 430 million will have diabetes!!
  4. In Europe alone we spend 110 billion dollars annually.
  5. 400,000 kids in Europe are obese.
  6. 34.6% of adults are overweight.
  7. There are 5.1 million deaths from smoking, there are 5.3 million deaths related to inactivity!!
  8. Sugar Sweetened Beverages stand for SSB. People who consume 2 servings of SSB increase the risk of getting type 2 diabetes by 25%.
  9. 2 servings of SSB a day and your chances of having a heart attack increase by 40%!!!

I could go on forever but I think these stats have made their point. Obesity is a worldwide epidemic and the consequences of it are horrible. Most people know that the more fat we accumulate the greater the chance of suffering some kind of cardiovascular disease. But what most people don´t know is that where we accumulate that fat is much more important than anything else. Recent studies have shown the importance of body fat distribution as a key determinant of the health risk. Imaging studies have revealed that excess visceral adipose (fat) tissue at undesired sites (such as the liver, the heart, the kidney, the pancreas) may have detrimental effects on the risk of type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. In other words, the fat that is in your organs (visceral obesity), is much more important than the overall body fat.

Now, this is where it gets interesting. They have done studies that have shown that obese or overweight people who engage in physical activity on a regular basis, lose visceral fat and decrease their chance of getting a cardio vascular disease, although their overall weight has NOT gone down. Even more interesting and amazing, people who are overweight or obese and do 30 minutes of physical activity per day have a less chance of getting a cardiovascular disease or cancer, than a ¨normal¨ person who does nothing!!!  These recent studies are amazing and I want everyone really to understand the importance of this, so I will try to clarify it even a little bit more.

  • Your overall weight is not that important!! We have always been obsessed with our scale, but in terms of health, weight is not that important. What is important is the fat you accumulate under and around your organs. And by doing physical activity of at least 30 minutes a day, it has been shown that the fat under and around your organs goes away, although you may still weigh the same!!
  • So for all those people who have ever started in a physical activity and gave up because they never lost weight, these recent studies say DON´T STOP!!! Even if you are not losing weight on the scale, it doesn´t matter. You are doing more good to your body than you can imagine!
  • So if you do exercise and produce weight loss that is GREAT. If you exercise and you don´t lose weight that is also GREAT!!! ¨ We must look beyond weight loss as the only indicator of health.¨- attributed to Dr. Ross.

In conclusion. 5.3 million people will die because of inactivity. Meaning that instead of walking to their job, they will take their car. Instead of going up the stairs, they will take the elevator. Instead of going for a walk, they will sit home and watch a movie.

Throughout this blog I have said physical activity, not sports. They are completely different. You can be poor and do physical activity, you may have the busiest life on the planet and still engage in a physical activity. Physical activity is moving and no one in this world can have an excuse for not doing that.

So until next time, eat healthy, drink healthy and MOVE.

The academic evidence at the conference was giving by:

  1. Jean-Claude Coubard- He is the Directo of Research in Cardiology at Centre de recherche de L´institut universitaire de cardiologie et de pneumologie de Québec.
  2. Ulf Smith- Directo of the Lundberg Laboratory, Vice Chairman of the Departement of Molecular and Clinical Medicien, The Sahlgrenska Academy, Göteborg University, Sweden and Vice President of the European Association for the Study of Diabetes
  3. Luc Van Gaal- A member of the Editorial Board of a series of scientific journals. He is borad member of the Belgian Association for the Study of Obesity (BASO) and Past-President of the Belgian Diabetic Society. He is the running secretary of the Belgian Endocrine Society
  4. Marja-Ritta Taskinen- Professor of Medicine, Department of Medicine, Cardiology Division, University of Helsinki, Finald.
  5. Jean-Pierre Després- Director of Research in Cardiology at Centre de recherche de l´institut universitaire de cardiologie et de pneumologie de Québec. He is also the Scientific Director of the International Chair on Cardiometabolic Risk, Faculty of Medicine, Université Laval, Quebec, Canada.
  6. Frank B. Hu- He is Director of the Harvard Transdisciplinary Research in Energetics and Cancer (TREC) Center, Harvard School of Public Health as well as CO-Director, Program in Obesity Epidemiology and Prevention, Harvard School of Publich Health, Boston, MA, United States.
  7. Robert Ross- Director of the Centre for Obesity Research and Education, Queen´s University, Kingston, Ontario, Canada; Queen´s University Research Chair, and President of the Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology.
  8. Franco Sassi- Senior Health Economist at the Health Division of the OECD and a former lecture at the London School of Economics and Political Science.

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