Lie — A high blood level of LDL cholesterol is bad for you

The Story

Cholesterol is the fatty stuff that clogs up your arteries and gives you strokes and heart attacks.

More specifically, there are two types of cholesterol. HDL (high-density lipoprotein) and LDL (low-density lipoprotein). LDL is what creates the fatty deposits that clog arteries, and HDL is something that helps to clear the arteries.

Obviously LDL is bad cholesterol, while HDL is good cholesterol. The two are continually battling for control of our arteries, so whatever we can do to shift the balance in favour of good cholesterol is good for our health.


Most of the cholesterol in our blood is produced by our livers. Our bodies need cholesterol to operate. In particular, our brains would not work properly without it.

The initial studies linking blood cholesterol levels with heart attacks was poor science. Researcher Ancel Keys chose results from seven countries (Japan, Italy, England, Australia, Canada, and U.S.A.) that showed a very high correlation between heart disease and fat consumption, while ignoring results from other countries (e.g. France and Finland) that showed the exact opposite. After that, he did research specific to blood cholesterol rather than general fat consumption and got even more spectacular results, again selecting only a few countries from among the 22 that he had surveyed. (This method of deception is known as the Texas sharpshooter fallacy.)

Other researches were unable to reproduce the results of these initial studies, and their studies tended to point in other directions. Kilmer McCully discovered that high levels of homocysteine cause arterial plaque to form almost immediately (unlike cholesterol, which, assuming it actually did so, took years). Others showed that good cholesterol increases with physical exercise, while bad cholesterol increases with sedentary lifestyles. There really isn't anything good or bad about the two types of cholesterol, they are simply a symptom of the real problem.

Saying that high levels of cholesterol cause heart disease is like saying that ambulances, fire trucks, and police cars cause the problems they are intended to fight. Taking cholesterol reducing drugs to prevent heart disease is as effective as reducing the use of emergency vehicles in order to prevent death, fire, and crime.

But these studies, and others like them, were quickly dismissed as heresy since they contradicted what everyone already knew was true.


The food industry poured money into marketing their products as being healthy because they were low in cholesterol, and then poured more money into funding scientific research that supported this idea.

Later, the pharmaceutical industry discovered drugs that could lower the level of LDL cholesterol in the blood, and jumped on the band wagon. If LDL cholesterol kills and they have a product that can counteract this, then they have a new gold mine. These drugs, known as statins, became very popular, especially after massive public advertising and professional promotion (aka bribes) to physicians.

Like the food industry, the drug industry funds many scientific research projects, at both private and educational institutions. You can guess which researchers got extra funding and which were told to look for work elsewhere.

Meanwhile, millions of people continue taking expensive statin drugs to lower their LDL levels and, as a result of cholesterol depletion in their brains, many experience memory loss and other symptoms typically associated with old age and Alzheimer's disease. Other victims develop diabetes or have other health issues.

But no one wants to kill the goose that lays the golden eggs. Certainly not big agriculture, big pharma, nor Madison Avenue.

A good TV documentary on this topic is: Cholesterol: The Great Bluff.

Its transcript is also available: Transcript: Cholesterol: The Great Bluff.