This Site Has Moved

I moved the blog some time ago to Please join in the discussion over there!

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Book Review: The Great Cholesterol Con

Originally posted 7-28-2006

“About almost any subject, there are the facts ‘everyone knows’ and then there are the real ones.” – Ernest G. Ross

This quote pretty much sums up everything about The Great Cholesterol Con by Anthony Colpo. After finishing this book, readers will realize that the vendetta against cholesterol and saturated fat is misguided and has diverted important resources away from finding the real causes of heart disease. Granted, I was skeptical about the cholesterol hypothesis before reading this book, but Colpo’s book could turn a believer of the “lower is better” cholesterol theory into a disbeliever, assuming that individual is capable of thinking past everything that they already “know” and examining with an open mind.

In The Great Cholesterol Con, Mr. Colpo pores through every study examining the cholesterol-heart disease links to show that very few of them have shown even a weak association. In fact, some have shown higher cholesterol levels to be beneficial when it comes to overall mortality. Naturally, our media never tells us about these studies and the pharmaceutical companies, with billions at stake on cholesterol-lowering statins, are very adept at keeping these studies from seeing the light of day. Researchers that have tried to bring forth non-cholesterol hypotheses as the causes of heart disease are ridiculed and shut down. Rest assured, the pharmaceutical companies are doing everything they can to protect their “magic bullets” (statins), which, according to Colpo, have failed to lower the incidence of coronary heart disease one iota.

So who is this Colpo guy? He’s a personal trainer that lives in Australia. WHAT?!?!!!? You mean he’s not a doctor?!? How can I believe a word he says?” Contrary to popular belief, doctors are not the most well-versed in all aspects of health. Further, doctors have an interest in staying with the status quo. To paraphrase Colpo, any doctor straying from the flock is risking his livelihood. Along with that, very few doctors are out there performing research. Most are too busy performing surgeries and routine checkups to even read all of the available research. In fact, I’d view his lack of medical schooling as a benefit rather than a hindrance. He hasn’t been indoctrinated into the “medical world” where 99% of doctors think alike and exhibit a “follow the herd” mentality. Colpo questions everything he reads and implores you to do the same (he even tells you to go to a library and read the same studies he has rather than just taking his word for it).

Colpo reads all of the available research with an incredible eye for detail (I wonder if he does anything other than read medical journals…just kidding Anthony). I’m sure you’re thinking about how boring it must be to read about cholesterol, but Colpo somehow keeps that from becoming mundane. It doesn’t read like a medical journal, a testament to his excellent, accessible writing style, with a bit of humor to boot. Once I was able to sit down and read the book, it took me about 4 days to pore through it. It is really an enjoyable read and one that doesn’t feel like a workout. Now, I haven’t read any other books about cholesterol, so I can’t compare it in terms of readability, but I do know that the average reader won’t have trouble with this book.

The Great Cholesterol Con explores the real reasons for coronary heart disease: stress, inflammation, high blood sugar (high-carb, low-fat anyone?), lack of dietary fruits and vegetables (and consequently lack of antioxidants), high polyunsaturated fat intake, and a handful of others. He even breaks down the proper nutrients needed for heart health and gives a “good-better-best” of which foods to find them in…now that’s service with a smile! Colpo analyses and critiques every study to date that has tried to link saturated fat to coronary heart disease. However, only 4 of 26 studies have shown any link, and those links are weak at best (and a few are illogical). Why haven’t we heard about the 22 studies that don’t show a link? I’m sure it’s not because they’ve been overlooked.

So is it a conspiracy? That’s hard to say. It is clear that the food and drug companies make billions of dollars selling low-fat, fat-free, and “heart-healthy” foods, along with drugs that fix the ailments high fat intake is purported to cause. It is also clear that the influence and money from these companies go all the way to the top of the National Institute of Health and the FDA. However, I am loathe to say that most of our doctors are in on it. I think most doctors truly care about our health, but unfortunately, the people passing on the information are giving them the wrong stuff (purposely or not). And doctors are only human; every person on this planet finds it hard to unlearn something and learn something new, especially something so important to one’s livelihood. Since most doctors aren’t performing the research, they are relying on the findings of those that are, who the drug and food companies make sure to pass a few (hundred thousand) bucks to.

What The Great Cholesterol Con boils down to is that the cholesterol hypothesis is too simple a solution for a very complicated disease. Every substance in the body has an optimal range; low blood sugar is harmful as is high blood sugar, too much iron is damaging as is too little iron. Cholesterol is no different, but the companies hawking statins are pushing for lower and lower recommendations for cholesterol, even when these lower levels of cholesterol are associated with higher rates of mortality. That’s right – in certain populations (such as the elderly), cholesterol seems to be protective against diseases such as cancer. Who wants to be protected from heart disease, only to die of something else? Colpo will show you how, once again, it boils down to lifestyle factors – diet, exercise, and stress – which can cause arterial inflammation and damage. He even shows you how to put together a healthy diet and exercise plan to decrease the likelihood of heart disease without resorting to statins and all of their accompanying side effects (such as joint and muscle pain, temporary memory loss, and rhabdomyolysis).

The Great Cholesterol Con contains a ton of other useful information, such as detailed discussion of why saturated fat is not only not bad for you, but actually a nutrient essential to proper health. And of course, Colpo examines the much-maligned low-carb diet to show that, even though the media won’t showcase these studies, it is continually proven to be a healthy and safe way to manage both weight and health – much healthier than a low-fat diet will ever be. There’s a reason for that; certain amino acids (protein) and fatty acids are essential. They are even called essential amino acids and essential fatty acids. There’s no such thing as an essential carbohydrate (nice to have, yes; essential, no).

I hope that one day, The Great Cholesterol Con is required reading for medical school students. I hope that Anthony Colpo keeps researching and keeps writing; we need more books that explore all sides of a story rather than just the side the moneymaking stakeholders want you to get. It is going to take a long time, but hopefully with people like Anthony Colpo leading the charge (with backup from the great thinkers at The International Network of Cholesterol Skeptics), we can get some attention focused on real health issues. In the meantime, Colpo is going to face the ire of the companies that stake their profits on the falsity of cholesterol and low-fat. Unfortunately, Mr. Colpo’s website, The Omnivore, has been taken down due to personal reasons. This website was one of the best free resources on the net for finding information on cholesterol, saturated fat, low carb diets, soy, and any number of other health topics. We can only hope that the articles Colpo has already written return.

So read the book. You can pick it up at Amazon or Lulu for an excellent price, especially considering the time and effort that had to go into reading all of those medical journals and putting this work together. Whether you decide to believe what Colpo has written or not is up to you, but at least you’ll have considered both sides of the story and be armed
with all of the available research.