Flaws, Fallacies and Facts: Reviewing the Early History of the Lipid and Diet/Heart Hypotheses

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ABSTRACT

The lipid hypothesis of coronary heart disease proposes that a high total cholesterol level has a causative role in coronary heart disease (CHD), specifically in the development of atherosclerosis. It forms the basis for formulating target levels of serum cholesterol and hence the widespread use of statins for lowering cholesterol. An extension of the lipid hypothesis is the diet/heart hypothesis of coronary heart disease. This theory combines two ideas—that saturated fat raises cholesterol levels, and that a reduced saturated fat intake will lower cholesterol levels, thereby inhibiting the development of atherosclerosis and manifestations of CHD. Those who make diet recommendations or prescribe medication to reduce cholesterol may be unaware of the underpinning science. The original research behind these recommendations has given us “healthy heart” guidelines and preventive measures we assume to be true. While the lipid and diet/heart hypotheses are often presented as fact, they remain inadequately proven theories that have little agreement from experts. Historical perspectives can help us understand the basis of current-day beliefs. In the lipid hypothesis case, research from the 1950s and 60s was instrumental in its formation. This early work should not be considered irrelevant, outdated or obsolete because current recommendations from national heart associations in many countries continue to be shaped by these studies. This paper examines evidence used to formulate the lipid hypothesis and, subsequently, the diet/ heart hypothesis. By critically evaluating steps in the formation of the theory, inconsistencies, mistakes and alternate explanations become apparent and cast doubt on its validity.

Cite this paper

Elliott, J. (2014) Flaws, Fallacies and Facts: Reviewing the Early History of the Lipid and Diet/Heart Hypotheses. Food and Nutrition Sciences, 5, 1886-1903. doi: 10.4236/fns.2014.519201.

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