A few days ago while debating someone on Instagram about the role saturated fat and dietary cholesterol play in raising blood serum cholesterol, the reasons for why you should ignore industry funded studies became even more clear.
The Instagram post from NutritionFacts.org stated that Alzheimers has been linked to high cholesterol. This comes as no surprise to most of us in the Whole-Food Plant-Based (WFPB) community. Autopsies showed us years ago that the brains of deceased Alzheimer’s patients were freckled with amyloid plaques and cholesterol deposits that were blocking blood flow. Now PET scans of living patients are showing us the same thing.
However, that’s not the point of this blog post. Rather, I’d like to address one of the comments on the NutritionFacts.org post that (incorrectly) stated that dietary cholesterol and saturated fat don’t affect blood serum cholesterol. This myth was created by several very crafty studies that were setup to fail so the sheep (that’s us) keep buying the products sold by the study’s funding sources.
Corporations and industry associations fund thousands of studies a year and every study they fund either paints their products in a positive light or their competition’s products in a negative light. Or it doesn’t get published. You can read more about this marketing strategy in my blog post, “Doubt Is Our Product 2.0: What Big Food Learned From Big Tobacco“.
While there are tens of thousands of these studies that make ridiculous claims about the nutrition of food (it’s the best marketing money can buy), I’d like to address only 3 of them, two of which were quoted in the erroneous NutritionFacts.org comment mentioned above.
For a FAR more complete analysis of this topic, check out Dr. Marion Nestle’s book, Unsavory Truth: How Food Companies Skew the Science of What We Eat.
The PREDIMED Study
This study was designed to prove that the Mediterranean Diet is the healthiest diet for human consumption. Notice I didn’t say it was designed to test the Mediterranean diet to see how healthy it is. That’s how the scientific method is supposed to work. Rather, the researchers designed the study from the ground up to PROVE the Mediterranean Diet is the healthiest diet.
Why would they do that? Because the study was in-part funded by the olive oil and nut industries. Both olive oil and nuts are consumed in large quantities in the Mediterranean Diet, especially olive oil. That means if more people eat the Mediterranean Diet, or at least think olive oil and nuts are healthy and consequently eat more of them, then profits go up for both of those industries.
(There is ample legitimate, unbiased, non-industry funded evidence to suggest nuts are in fact healthy and do help prevent heart disease, so I’m not going to discuss nuts in this blog post.)
The PREDIMED Study was recently retracted due to errors in how the study subjects were randomized, but the numbers have been recrunched to eliminate the questionable data and the results didn’t change so it’s going to be republished.
However, the study should have never been published in the first place because the control group didn’t follow the prescribed control diet. That means the test group has no basis for comparison. The control “low-fat” group ate a diet consisting of 37% fat. 37% FAT!!! In what fantasy world is 37% fat considered a “low-fat” diet? It’s absurd!
To put that into perspective, Dr. Ornish, Dr. Esselstyn, Dr. McDougall and Dr. Barnard (among others) recommend a diet with less than 10% of calories from fat. Now THAT is a low-fat diet that has been shown to reverse heart disease, diabetes, obesity and a host of other chronic illnesses.
But the only way to eat a diet that has less than 10% of calories from fat is to eat a WFPB No-Oil diet. If you include any animal products or oil in your diet, you will immediately be over the 10% mark because they’re so high in fat.
Even Dr. Joel Fuhrman, who is more liberal with his stance on dietary fat, recommends only 15-25% of calories from fat, with nearly all of those fats coming from plant sources like nuts, seeds and avocados. He discourages any oil consumption.
The study’s olive oil and nut groups consumed a diet that was 39% fat so comparing them to a 37% fat control group would be like comparing a group of people who smoke 39 cigarettes a day to a group who only smokes 37 cigarettes a day and saying that cigarettes don’t cause cancer because no significant difference was detected, or the 39 cigarette a day smokers somehow showed LESS cancer risk. The comparison is meaningless. Unlike cigarettes, we do need some fat in our diet to be healthy, but that number appears to around 10% of calories, not 37%.
The PREDIMED Study has been quoted in thousands of other studies as proof that olive oil is a health food, despite the meaningless, insignificant results of the study and the uncomparable control group.
This study alone has likely caused millions of preventable deaths from heart disease, as well as deaths from Alzheimer’s, which has been correlated with unsaturated fat consumption, found abundantly in olive oil.
This is just one example of why you should ignore industry funded studies. Here’s another.
The Cambridge Saturated Fat Study
The full name of this meta-analysis is, “Association of Dietary, Circulating, and Supplement Fatty Acids With Coronary Risk: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis.” Like the PREDIMED Study, this study was setup to prove that saturated fat doesn’t cause heart disease.
To understand why the highly esteemed Cambridge University would stoop so low as to construct a study to prove a result, rather than construct a study to discover the truth, you only need to look at the lengthy from the published article:
Potential Conflicts of Interest: Dr. Franco: Grants: Nestlé and Metagenics. Dr. Butterworth: Grants: Pfizer, Merck Sharp & Dohme, and Novartis; Personal fees: Roche Pharmaceuticals. Dr. Thompson: Grants: Medical Research Council and British Heart Foundation. Dr. Khaw: Grants: Medical Research Council and Cancer Research UK. Dr. Mozaffarian: Personal fees: Bunge, Pollock Institute, Quaker Oats, Life Sciences Research Organization, Foodminds, Nutrition Impact, Amarin, AstraZeneca, Winston & Strawn, Unilever North American Scientific Advisory Board, and UpToDate online chapter. Dr. Danesh: Personal fees: Merck Sharp & Dohme UK Atherosclerosis Advisory Board, Novartis Cardiovascular & Metabolic Advisory Board, Pfizer Population Research Advisory Panel, and Sanofi Advisory Board; Grants: British Heart Foundation; British United Provident Association Foundation; diaDexus; European Research Council; European Union; Evelyn Trust; Fogarty International Centre; GlaxoSmithKline; Merck; National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute; National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke; National Health Service Blood and Transplant; Novartis; Pfizer; Medical Research Council; University of British Columbia; University of Sheffield; Wellcome Trust; and UK Biobank; Nonfinancial support: Merck Sharp & Dohme UK Atherosclerosis Advisory Board, Novartis Cardiovascular & Metabolic Advisory Board, Pfizer Population Research Advisory Panel, Sanofi Advisory Board, diaDexus, and Roche Pharmaceuticals. Dr. Di Angelantonio: Grant: British Heart Foundation, European Union, National Health Service Blood and Transplant, and Medical Research Council; Royalties: Elsevier (France).
Nestlé? Pfizer? Roche Pharmaceuticals? GlaxoSmithKline? Why do we allow these corrupt organizations to fund studies? And why would anyone in their right mind believe a single word of any of their studies’ findings?
Nearly every one of these “conflicts of interest” stand to benefit financially from the sheep believing that cholesterol and saturated fat don’t cause heart disease. Some sell high-fat foods (Nestlé). Most sell cholesterol lowering, cancer and diabetic medications.
So how did the researchers accomplish their goal of manufacturing doubt about the REAL cause of the world’s number one killer, heart disease?
First, you need to understand what a meta-analysis is. That’s a type of study that aggregates the findings of several different studies to try to get a broader understanding of a specific topic. In the case of this Cambridge study, the specific topic was saturated fat and heart disease.
A meta-analysis can be a powerful tool when used correctly. However, all of the studies need to be unbiased, they need to employ similar methodologies, and they need to have similar test subjects. If the studies don’t share these commonalities, they can’t be compared, at least not scientifically.
In the case of the Cambridge study, the researchers did what people often accuse us WFPB eaters of doing: they cherry picked their studies. Now that the meat, dairy, egg, cooking oil and junk food industries have funded millions of studies and articles over the past 30+ years, it’s easy to look only at industry-funded research while ignoring anything funded by independent, unbiased sources.
And that’s exactly what they did. They chose several uncomparable studies previously funded by their benefactors that questioned the link between heart disease and saturated fat consumption, while totally ignoring the plethora of unbiased studies that showed the strong correlation between heart disease and saturated fat consumption.
This study led to the book “The Big Fat Surprise” and the Time article stating “Eat Butter,” as well as countless other headlines with similar disastrous messages. After this study was released and subsequently picked up by profit motivated news outlets around the world looking to boost ratings and magazine sales to people who love to hear good news about their bad habits, a Gallup Poll showed that people stopped paying attention to their saturated fat and cholesterol intake. This has likely led to millions of preventable deaths worldwide in just the past 4 years.
The corporations won. They paid researchers to create confusion and contradictory information so we would buy more of their high-fat products and the medications needed to treat the chronic illnesses caused by a high-fat diet, and they succeeded. Well done corporations. Well done.
Here in reality, we don’t need more studies on the dangers of saturated fat and cholesterol. Science soundly established their disastrous health consequences decades ago. Any industry-funded study done today is merely intended to cast doubt where none exists.
We know how penicillin works and we know that it works very well for certain types of illnesses. There is no need to fund more studies to show that penicillin works. The studies done 70 to 80 years ago are all we need.
The same is true for saturated fat and cholesterol. We know they raise blood serum cholesterol and we know high cholesterol is the primary cause of heart disease. There is absolutely no legitimate need to conduct more studies on this topic so any study done today should be taken with a grain of salt and recognized for what it is: a marketing strategy to cast doubt where none exists so people continue buying deadly products.
The UCLA Cholesterol Study
The findings of this study were actually legitimate (despite being influenced by pharmaceutical companies), and the recommendations from the study findings are mostly accurate, although they only tell half of the story.
Before I dive into the study findings, it’s important to note the lead researcher’s conflicts of interest:
Fonarow has conducted research for GlaxoSmithKline and Pfizer and serves a consultant and has received honorarium from Abbott, AstraZeneca, GlaxoSmithKline, Merck, Pfizer and Schering Plough companies.
These companies will all benefit from the study’s recommendations, as you’ll see below.
The study found that nearly 75% of patients hospitalized for a heart attack had cholesterol levels that were within the national guidelines for normal cholesterol levels. Think about that for a minute. 75% of heart attack patients had what is considered by the government to be safe cholesterol levels.
Now, if I’m a fat pusher like the beef, dairy, egg and cooking oil industries, I would latch onto these findings and spin them to benefit my profit margins, which is exactly what they did. Their message was, “See! Cholesterol doesn’t cause heart disease! Buy more of our high cholesterol, high fat products!”
However, that wasn’t the recommendation from the study. Rather, the researchers suggested the national guidelines for safe levels of cholesterol should be LOWERED. They didn’t say high cholesterol doesn’t cause heart disease. They said it takes even LESS cholesterol than we thought to cause heart disease.
The researchers could have put this matter to rest had they stated that reducing or eliminating dietary cholesterol and saturated fat from animal products and cooking oil will lead to lower cholesterol levels. However, Big Broccoli didn’t fund this study; Big Pharma did.
The safe cholesterol levels discussed by Dr. Esselstyn, Dr. Ornish, Dr. Greger and others are Total Cholesterol below 150 mg/dL and LDL (bad) cholesterol below 70 mg/dL. In populations around the world with levels lower than these, heart disease is nonexistent.
Big Pharma would like nothing more than to have the government lower the safe cholesterol levels because that would mean a huge financial windfall for them. As it stands, only a very small percentage of the American and European population would meet the truly safe cholesterol levels, which is why heart disease is the leading cause of death worldwide and kills more than 500,000 Americans each year. That means nearly everyone would need to go on cholesterol lowering medications (which don’t actually work).
They could eat a WFPB No-Oil diet. But most of the world governments are owned by the corporations so if the national cholesterol guidelines are lowered, it will likely be to increase sales of cholesterol medications rather than to encourage people to cut out the foods that cause high cholesterol in the first place.
I’m not going to blame this study for killing people because the researchers told us we need to lower our cholesterol levels. They essentially acknowledged the truth that dietary cholesterol and saturated fat cause heart disease and they recommended we strive for lower blood serum cholesterol numbers.
More meds isn’t the answer, though. Dietary changes will reverse this condition without the need for more cholesterol lowering drugs. And the researchers could have stopped animal ag and cooking oil pushers in their tracks by clearly stating that cholesterol causes heart disease and lowering our dietary intake of both cholesterol and saturated fat would erase most cases of heart disease.
Even though this study validated the conclusions of earlier studies, the funders influenced the final recommendations and tilted them to sell more drugs that treat the symptoms of heart disease rather than eliminate animal products and cooking oil, which would treat the root cause of heart disease.
So even when the study conclusions are accurate and meaningful, there is still ample reason for why you should ignore industry funded studies.
As the original commenter on the NutritionFacts.org Instagram post demonstrated, people see these industry funded studies on the Internet and in the media, and believe them without question. People from my Generation X and older were raised to trust what we hear on the news and from people selling themselves as experts, but times have changed. We can’t trust ANYTHING anymore.
And when it comes to industry-funded studies, they should be considered guilty until proven innocent. Industry is driven by profit. They only fund studies if the results will increase their profits. They have no interest in truth or discovery or the advancement of humanity. They only care about selling more products for more money. Period.
These 3 studies, and countless others like them, create confusion where none exists so you keep buying profitable, deadly products. Meanwhile, your health, your length of life, and your quality of life continue to suffer.
But this doesn’t have to be your reality. You can easily take back control of your health, your life and your happiness by refusing to be manipulated for profit. As Dr. McDougall demonstrated, in as little as one week, you can lose weight and significantly lower your cholesterol levels. And with continued adherence to a truly low-fat diet (roughly 10% of calories from fat), you can completely decimate your heart disease risk and even start to reverse it, as well as reduce risk factors for most other chronic illnesses like stroke, cancer and diabetes.Please share your thoughts in the comments below. And please share with your friends to help spread the word about healthy plant-based eating.