Who Cares About Cholesterol Anymore?

It’s hard to find anyone who cares about cholesterol anymore — at least the cholesterol in your diet. Word came late yesterday that the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee is removing excess dietary cholesterol from its list of dietary concerns for public health. The committee’s report — due within a few weeks — will be the basis for the 2015 edition of Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Such guidance is reviewed and revised every five years.

Cholesterol in the food you eat should not be confused with levels of cholesterol circulating in your blood. Cholesterol levels remain a concern because they relate directly to heart health. But the risk for unhealthy cholesterol blood levels appears to be driven more by eating trans fats or too much saturated fat. Trans fats are on their way to being removed as an ingredient in the U.S. food supply, while foods with lots of saturated fats are on everyone’s list of foods to eat sparingly.

The reversal of 40 years of dietary advice about dietary cholesterol came with more of a sigh of relief than a fuss. Robert Eckel, who chaired a joint task force on the subject for the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology, said:

Looking back at the literature, we just couldn’t see the kind of science that would support dietary restrictions.

Commenting on the turnaround of cholesterol advice, Professor David Allison of the University of Alabama at Birmingham said:

These reversals in the field do make us wonder and scratch our heads. But in science, change is normal and expected. Where nutrition has some trouble is all the confidence and vitriol and moralism that sometimes goes along with our recommendations.

Perhaps a little grace in the realm of diet and nutrition would be good for all of us.

Click here to read more from the Washington Post and here to read more from WebMD.

Eggs, photograph © Pietro Izzo / flickr

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2 Responses to “Who Cares About Cholesterol Anymore?”

  1. February 11, 2015 at 9:16 pm, Todd I. Stark said:

    I’m surprised that the putative link between dietary cholesterol and blood cholesterol was still being assumed by a professional advisory committee as recently as 5 years ago. The link was being seriously questioned at least 25 years ago and I can’t recall a single followup analysis that every really returned focus on that link. It seems to have survived on its own momentum because rather than any ongoing evidence base. The research since then seems to have focused mostly on saturated vs monounsaturated fats, and animal vs. plant sources. I’m seeing some studies that mention dietary cholesterol but none so far that found a link with hyperlipidemia when controlled for dietary fat.

    This does not seem to me so much as an example of science progressing, it seems to me a better example of advisory boards not representing scientific evidence as seen by the relevant research communities very well at all.

    • February 12, 2015 at 5:04 am, Ted said:

      Good point, Todd. But I can recall heated scientific debates with folks who called themselves nutrition scientists, epidemiologists, and public health advocates — all convinced of the merits of their concerns about cholesterol.