Interviewer: Well, Doctor, you have a book out that you coauthored titled
"The Cholesterol Myth."
Jonny Bowden, PhD, CNS: "The Great Cholesterol Myth."
Interviewer: Yes. Start with cholesterol. What is it?
Dr. Bowden: Well, cholesterol is a fatty, waxy substance that's vital for
life. It is the substance from which you make your sex hormones, including
estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone. It's the substance from which you
make Vitamin D. It's needed for the immune system. It's needed for memory,
for thinking, for the brain. So it's vitally important. I used to do
lecture demonstrations. You know those old this-is-your-brain-on-drugs ads?
Interviewer: Mm-hmm. Yeah.
Dr. Bowden: We do this-is-your-cell-with-cholesterol, and then you pin the
balloon. Pssh. That's your life without cholesterol. We absolutely, vitally
need cholesterol for the sustaining of life.
Interviewer: Okay. Can you talk a little bit more in depth about what it
does in our system? What is its role?
Dr. Bowden: Well, let's talk about the misconception of what it does.
Dr. Jonny Bowden: It does not cause heart disease. Get that one out of the
box right away.
Dr. Bowden: Cholesterol's isn't even really a very good predictor of heart
disease. 50% of the people who enter hospitals for cardiovascular disease
have normal cholesterol, and more than 50% of people with what we would
consider elevated cholesterol have very normal, healthy hearts. You talk to
cardiologists like Steve Sinatra, my coauthor, who's done I don't know how
many angiograms and, you know, he sees heart disease in people with
perfectly clean arteries in terms of cholesterol, and people with
supposedly elevated cholesterol who are as healthy as a horse.
Dr. Bowden: It's a lousy predictor, and the way we began focusing on this
in the '70s is a long story filled with political intrigue. It sounds like
the Housewives of Beverly Hills, how one theory sort of got predominant and
became accepted. But what we talk about in the book is the tragedy of
focusing on this inferiorly innocuous molecule that plays a very minor part
in heart disease. The focus on that has caused us to take our focus off the
real causes of heart disease, and that's where the real tragedy is.
Not only that, but we're treating this made-up condition, high cholesterol,
as if it were a stand-in for heart disease. We need to be treating heart
disease and preventing heart disease, not treating high cholesterol.
Not only that but the mechanism by which we treat it, which are statin
drugs, are very far from innocuous. They have a lot of side effects that
are very under-reported, and there is this huge campaign that we should be
treating our children earlier to prevent this heart disease and diabetes
and obesity that is the epidemic. Those things are epidemic and we should
be nipping them in the bud or doing something to prevent them, certainly;
however, trying to lower heart disease by lowering cholesterol is like
trying to lower your calories by taking the lettuce off your plate. Yes,
there's two or three calories in the lettuce, but that's not the target.
Dr. Bowden: The target should be your double French fries and double shake,
not the lettuce. That's how we feel about cholesterol. The target for
lowering heart disease should be inflammation, oxidation, stress, and sugar
in the diet, not cholesterol.