Friday, 25 October 2013

What's the beef on cholesterol?

Oh the difficulties of getting a straight story. Particularly on cholesterol
Last week the news splash was on statins. The Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph authoriatively told us that new research had revealed that “Strokes fall by 40% due to statin use”. Great news for manufacturers of cholesterol-lowering statins and the government that has been encouraging their prescription. Apart from the fact that the research being reported said nothing of the kind. 
Yes, the research in the journal Stroke found that stroke incidence fell by 39.5% between 1995 and 2010. But exactly why it happened is still a matter of conjecture: the paper pointed to improvements in prevention and healthier lifestyle as possibilities, as well as the introduction of statins.
So strokes don’t fall by 40% due to statin use: no evidence there at all I’m afraid.
This week came a bold but sensible paper in the British Medical Journal, designed to open a debate. A young heart specialist, Aseem Malthotra, tried to take a fresh look at the research on cholesterol, and concluded we were wrong to demonise foods high in saturated fat to the exclusion of processed foods packed with sugar and trans fats. At least as far as heart disease is concerned.
The result? Today I get a press release from the Meat Advisory Panel claiming “Red meat may be beneficial after all”. The headlines ring “Butter is better”. No message about a balanced diet, which is what all the experts agree on. 
Sadly, the appearance of new evidence often turns out not to be a step towards knowledge, but an opportunity for a group or industry to promote their agenda.