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A few days ago, I watched a fascinating lecture from May 2011, ‘How Bad Science and Big Business Created the Obesity Epidemic’:

Dr David Diamond, a neuroscientist at the University of South Florida, spoke for an hour, exposing the myth that red meat and high fat causes heart disease. He presents his evidence in an engaging yet credible manner. This was a dinner lecture, so be prepared to hear cutlery in the background.

Dr Diamond is over 50 and weighs the same as he did at university. After an earlier battle with high triglycerides and excess weight — despite a low-fat diet and exercise — he decided to ignore his doctor’s advice to go onto statins and instead researched how he could regain his health.

His investigation, which he did in his spare time, led him to consider — and try — a diet consistently recommended in various guises since the 19th century. It is high in meat protein, animal fat and cheese and low in fruit, sugar and carbohydrates — especially carbohydrates.

He currently eats the following:

Eggs

Butter

Beef

Chicken with the skin on

Full-fat cheese

Coconut

Dark chocolate

Nuts

Broccoli

Small quantities of fruit, bread, potatoes and sugar

He maintains his weight and his blood lipids remain normal. He said that his doctor called him an ‘anomaly’.

Observations on eating patterns

So, why are Westerners becoming fatter?

First, my observations, mostly about the United States. Even when Americans are in close enough proximity to walk to shops, there are no sidewalks in their newer subdivisions (housing estates, for my UK readers). When we go to the US, we stay in one of these subdivisions, where a parade of shops is only 200 yards away. Yet, because of the lack of sidewalks, we have to drive to get there. It doesn’t make sense.

Second, we are conditioned to crave certain foods. Most of this is because of advertising and presentation by food corporations and restaurant chains. I’ve been able to tune this out, but many people cannot. Dr David A Kessler, former head of America’s Food and Drug Administration, studied this persuasion and wrote a book called The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite (Rodale), published in 2009. From the New York Times:

The result is that chain restaurants like Chili’s cook up “hyper-palatable food that requires little chewing and goes down easily,” he notes. And Dr. Kessler reports that the Snickers bar, for instance, is “extraordinarily well engineered.” As we chew it, the sugar dissolves, the fat melts and the caramel traps the peanuts so the entire combination of flavors is blissfully experienced in the mouth at the same time.

Foods rich in sugar and fat are relatively recent arrivals on the food landscape, Dr. Kessler noted. But today, foods are more than just a combination of ingredients. They are highly complex creations, loaded up with layer upon layer of stimulating tastes that result in a multisensory experience for the brain. Food companies “design food for irresistibility,” Dr. Kessler noted. “It’s been part of their business plans.”

So, it would appear that if we eat more food which we need to spend time chewing instead of allowing to melt in our mouths or swallow quickly, we will feel more satisfied.

Third, we are also beginning to eat more frequently during the day: grazing. This is a Generation X development which has taken root with subsequent generations. Prior to that, people ate three times a day, if that. My generation was probably the last to be brought up with ‘no snacking between meals’, although occasional exceptions were made.  Grazing is responsible for some of the worst nutritional choices ever: muffins, biscuits or crisps: ‘I really need this!’

Bad science and the low-fat diet

What did Dr Diamond find as the cause for Western obesity and propensity to heart disease? This is where bad science comes in. In the 1950s, half of all deaths in the United States were attributed to  heart disease. This was something new and shocking. President Eisenhower would die of a fatal heart attack some years later.

A well-known physician, Dr Ancel Keys, studied 23 countries’ diets and published his results in 1953. Although no one knew it at the time, he only focussed on the results of six [Wikipedia says seven] of those 23 countries!

Keys managed to appear on all three television networks and hammer home the link between animal fat and heart attacks.

In reality, Diamond stated that when Keys’ critics, also doctors, plotted results of all 23 countries’ mortality rates and heart disease, they showed a scatter effect. There was — and is — no correlation between animal fat and heart attacks.

Nonetheless, Keys went on to greater national prominence, and his false teaching became the health gospel. Other prominent doctors refuted what he said but were ignored.

The actual link, Diamond says, to heart disease is refined sugar and carbohydrates. (Diamond said that a small amount of sugar and carbohydrates is fine; an excess is not.) After the Second World War, more food high in carbohydrates and refined sugar became available and featured more frequently in American homes.  Also on the increase, he said, was the consumption of margarine instead of butter. Margarine, low in saturated fat, first appeared during the Depression and was considered a health food.

Bad science and politicians

Diamond explained that in the early 1970s, Democratic senator, George McGovern, had been quite taken with the Pritikin Diet, based on a low-fat diet.

McGovern — true to his Minnesota pietism and left-wing politics — lobbied for dietary goals for the United States.

That is how America — and later other countries — got the food pyramid and constant Government interference into what and how much we should eat!

The European Five-a-day campaign is but one example, and if Diamond’s talk is any indication, this recommendation might not be a good one to follow.  It could well be making us fatter and unhealthier — even if it concerns fruit and vegetables.

Diamond’s successful dietary proportions are, by contrast, 70% fat, 20% protein and 10% carbs.

Note that he eats very little fruit and not that much in the way of vegetables.

Bad science and later statistics

Americans over 50 will be familiar with the Framingham Study which made headlines in the 1980s and has been widely referenced thereafter.

Diamond said that the Framingham Study was the beginning of bad statistics. He begins his discussion of the study at 41 minutes into the video. In short, they took a ratio of a ratio to arrive at a 24% increase in heart disease mortality over a seven year period. In reality, this mortality rate between the groups they studied was an 0.4% increase: from 1.6% to 2.0%.

After seven years, 96.3% of the cohort involved in the Framingham Study were still alive — with no treatment for their heart disease.

Yet, the Framingham Study never explained this and instead focused on a misleading 24% increase in heart disease, to which the answer would be a low-fat diet and, nowadays, lower cholesterol norms and increased statin use.

Bad science, statins and cholesterol levels

The preoccupation with cholesterol levels that the Framingham Study produced brought about a lower ‘normal’ level several years ago. By then, pharmaceutical companies had released statins on the market and doctors have been prescribing them increasingly ever since. Today, advisers to the British government would like to see every adult over 50 on statins as a preventive measure.

The normal cholesterol level maximum went down from 300 to 240. Diamond says that bad science and pharmaceutical interests have caused this decrease. The same is true, by the way, of blood pressure norms.

In order to meet the new cholesterol level norms, pharmaceutical companies have persuaded the medical profession to consider statins as a silver bullet. Unfortunately, a number of statin patients have reported severe, sometimes long-lasting, side effects, such as muscle pain, failing memory, kidney problems and liver dysfunction.

Diamond noted that only 1 out of 250 statin patients with diabetes is saved from heart attacks.

He cited a 2004 petition to the National Institutes of Health containing signatures from a number of physicians from prominent American medical schools. They question the new cholesterol norms, widespread statin use and ask that conflicts of interest of physicians and pharmaceutical companies be declared openly. Excerpts follow (highlights mine):

The new NCEP report lowers the threshold for considering statin therapy. According to this report, people at moderately high risk of developing, but no previous history of heart disease (“primary prevention”) and LDL-cholesterol levels between 100 and 129 mg/dL should now be offered the “therapeutic option” of cholesterol-lowering therapy with a statin. Similarly, statin therapy should now be offered to very high risk patients, those who already have heart disease (“secondary prevention”), when their LDL levels are between 70 and 100 mg/dL. The new recommendations apply to both men and women regardless of age. Based on these new thresholds, millions more Americans now fall within the eligibility criteria for statin therapy.

These recommendations have been criticized by some observers because the initial report published in Circulation failed to disclose that eight of its nine authors have financial relationships with drug companies.2 These conflicts of interest were, therefore, not included in most of the initial widespread media reports about the report and became the primary focus of concern. Such conflicts certainly could affect authors’ judgment and undermine public confidence in the report. We urge NHLBI to avoid such conflicts in the future. But like surrogate endpoints in clinical studies, the conflicts are a diversion from the most important question: Are these lower LDL targets justified by the scientific evidence?

Therefore, we, the undersigned, are petitioning the NHLBI’s NCEP to create an independent review panel free of conflicts of interest to review all the data in the five studies that led to this recent update. It should also review the studies that led to the original guidelines. If warranted, it should issue revised conclusions.

Emphases in the original follow:

We believe the evidence does not support extending these guidelines to women who are at moderately high risk of CVD (so-called “primary prevention”).

The 2001 guidelines cited six references3 as evidence that statins reduce the risk of heart disease in moderately high risk women under the age of 65.4 Not one of the six studies, however, provides significant evidence to support this claim …

We believe the evidence does not support extending these guidelines to older persons who are at risk of CVD (primary prevention).

For people above the age of 65 without heart disease, the 2001 guidelines cited nine references to support the claim that stain therapy effectively reduces their risk of developing heart disease.7 Again, not one of the nine studies provided significant evidence that statins protect senior citizens without heart disease …

We believe the evidence in the five latest clinical trials for extending these guidelines to primary prevention of coronary heart disease in patients with diabetes is mixed.

For diabetic patients, the new recommendations cite the Heart Protection Study’s finding that statins significantly reduce the risk of heart disease, even among those without heart disease.10 However, this ignores the three other studies under review that found that statins did not provide significant benefit to people with diabetes.11 12 13 …

Furthermore, taking the HPS findings at face value, one death was prevented each year that 250 diabetic patients were treated with a statin. For comparison, an observational study reported that if 250 sedentary diabetic patients become physically active, four times as many lives will be saved14—though the relative importance of statin therapy and routine exercise was not mentioned in the NCEP recommendations.

We believe that the results of the ALLHAT study did not show a benefit from more than tripling the number of people taking statins (as recommended by the 2001 and 2004 NCEP updates) …

In petitioning for an independent review, we are not arguing that statins are not helpful for many people with elevated risk of heart disease. However, there is strong evidence to suggest that an objective, independent re-evaluation of the scientific evidence from the five new studies of statin therapy would lead to different conclusions than those presented by the current NCEP …

Diamond told his audience that the NIH turned down this appeal for an independent review.

How cholesterol works — in layman’s terms

Diamond said that people are at consistent risk of a heart attack only when they exceed a cholesterol level of 300.  Below that, he noted that studies have showed that low cholesterol has little effect on whether one gets heart disease.

In other words, low cholesterol levels are no guarantee against heart disease.  In fact, Diamond posited that most people shouldn’t be lowering their cholesterol levels.

He explained that heart disease occurs when the body can no longer self-repair. Sugar attaches to proteins, which in turn stick to our artery walls. These anomalies cause micro-tears in our arteries. Bacteria then infect these microscopic holes. Think of bacteria causing gum disease and ulcers. It is the same principle.

In order for the body to repair these holes, cholesterol combines with white blood cells to repel the infection and mend the micro-tears.  Healthy immune systems are designed to do this.

For further reading

Diamond said that lower carbs and less sugar would promote better health. He also advocated a return to butter and animal protein.

Diamond listed his medical advisers at the end of his talk. A few corresponded with him regularly, answering his questions.

You can see his slide presentation in Mrs Hartke’s link below. It has many charts and background information to flesh out what I’ve written above. Kimberly Hartke details her own family’s experience with Diamond’s recommendations. Her husband’s health has greatly improved as a result.

Disclaimer: This is not intended to influence anyone’s health decisions, which should be taken only with advice from their physicians. It is for information only.

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