Doctors are like car mechanics - their advice or opinion can be a matter of life or death, and we generally have no way of being certain if it's the truth, but we always err on the side of caution. Then there's the friend of your mother's who fancies herself as a bit of a medical expert and who regularly dishes out nuggets like "coconut oil will give you a heart attack." Your mother immediately screen shoots their text exchange and sends it to you as a warning.
I'm not a doctor, that's a fact. But in the age of Google, when it comes to previously esoteric knowledge related to medicine or car repairs or aliens, I believe the truth is out there. We've just got to know where to look and to keep an open mind.
A friend of mine, Bob, recently got the results from a routine health check. Everything was tip top, except for a slightly elevated LDL (bad cholesterol) of 131 and off the chart Lipoprotein A levels. The former is routinely included in health checks, but the latter was part of a more comprehensive package. The doctor sent Bob to a cardiac specialist, who promptly prescribed statins, the holy grail of cholesterol. Having heard about the side effects of statins, Bob enquired about whether this was the only solution. The doctor assured him that all the doctors were taking it, as if that settled everything.
Yes. But these same doctors were also middle-aged, slightly overweight, and didn't look like they followed any exercise or healthy diet regime, Bob retorted. Prescribing statins is what doctors do and have done since these appeared as the miracle drug for lowering cholesterol and therefore heart disease. Unconvinced by this recommendation, my erstwhile healthy friend enlisted my help, and we researched the hell out of his prognosis. Our findings?
1) His LDL was slightly above the acceptable level of 130, but if you divided total cholesterol (HDL or good cholesterol,and LDL) as they do in Australia, the ratio of 3.5 was extremely healthy.
2) Unlike what was previously believed, there's no direct or simple correlation between cholesterol and heart disease. The relationship is far more complicated, so yes, statins lower your bad cholesterol, but it doesn't guarantee a lowered risk of heart disease.
3) Cholesterol comes from animal fat, but plant based foods like coconut which contain high levels of saturated fat CAN contribute to clogged arteries when taken in large quantities. However, coconut oil's saturated fat is mainly lauric acid which has been shown to contribute to GOOD cholesterol.
4) There is evidence that very high Lipoprotein A levels correlate to higher risks of heart disease, but this is a genetic issue and cannot be managed by statins.
So what were our conclusions? Bob should continue his very balanced and healthy diet consisting of less red meat, more fish and white meat, vegetables, good oils and very little sugar, and his weekly exercise routine (1 hour, 3 times a week), and see a doctor whose default is to prescribe drugs with potentially life-altering side effects.