E-Mail Edition Volume 3 Number 4
Originally published Fall, 2006
Published by Piccadilly Books, Ltd., www.piccadillybooks.com.
Bruce Fife, N.D., Publisher, www.coconutresearchcenter.org
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Dr. Bruce Fife a.k.a. "Dr. Coconut" answers two of the most often asked questions about coconut oil.
In my newspaper there was an article recently that reported on a new study which showed that coconut oil had a harmful effect on the arteries. Can you explain this?
I've received many inquiries about this new study. This is just another example of saturated fat bashing that is common in the media. If you missed seeing the story, a copy of one of the articles is reproduced below.
A small but apparently significant study, published in the August 15th, 2006 Journal of the American College of Cardiology, shows that eating just one high-saturated fat meal can hinder the ability of HDL or "good" cholesterol from protecting against clogged arteries.
Fourteen healthy Australian volunteers between the ages of 18 and 40 were fed two special meals one month apart. One of the meals was high in saturated fat while the other was high in polyunsaturated fat.
Three hours after eating the saturated fat meal, the artery linings were unable to expand sufficiently to increase blood flow to the body's tissues and organs. The arteries showed some reduced ability after the polyunsaturated meal, but these results were deemed not statistically significant.
After six hours, researcher noted that the anti-inflammatory qualities of HDL cholesterol were reduced after eating the saturated fat meal, whereas they improved after eating the polyunsaturated meal.
Its long been thought that diets high in saturated fat tend to clog our arteries with plaque, putting us at increased risk of heart attack and stroke. If this is what one meal can do in a few hours, imagine what a lifelong diet of high-saturated fat food will do. This study seems to show not only that the negative effects of eating certain fats is more immediate than we thought, but also that the positive effects of HDL cholesterol in our bodies is dependent on other factors. And for those who promote coconut oil as a healthier kind of saturated fat, since it's a plant-based saturated fat, this study may be a setback.
No wonder people were shaken. After reading this article, if I didn't know any better, I'd be concerned too. According to this article, the new study seems to have produced some pretty convincing evidence against coconut oil. It sounds like just one meal with coconut oil can be serious. It makes you wonder how the Pacific Islanders ever survived so many years eating this deadly food.
In truth, the study did not provide a bit of evidence to suggest that coconut oil was harmful. It was the slanted viewpoint of the authors of the study and the media that created a news story from nothing. In the article below I explain how biased research, big business, and the media work together to mold popular opinion.
Are High Saturated Fat Meals Dangerous?
A Classic Example of Mumbo Jumbo Science
"One High-Saturated Fat Meal Can Be Bad," "Saturated Fat Blocks Beneficial Effect of HDL," "Saturated Fat Bad for Arteries"—these are just a few of the hundreds of headlines that rocked the world after the publication of a new study published in the August 15th, 2006 issue of the Journal of the American College of Cardiology. This study received instant international attention and created quite a stir around the world. The media reported that the study provided positive proof that saturated fat contributed to the development of heart disease, indicating that even a single meal containing saturated fat was harmful. To make matters worse, the saturated fat used in the study was coconut oil.
People were frightened. Many of them had been eating coconut oil by the spoonful faithfully for some time. Now the media was abuzz with the dangers of saturated fat and coconut oil. Anti-saturated fat promoters proudly announced, "See, we told you so."
As soon as the news reports were broadcast I was swarmed with inquiries. People wanted to know if there was any truth to this study. Most felt there was something wrong with it, but many were worried that they were damaging their health by eating coconut oil. I had to get to the bottom of it. And I did. This is the result of my investigation.
The study generated numerous articles blasting saturated fats and coconut oil as harmful and dangerous. If you believed the media, this study provided the "proof" that saturated fat promotes heart disease and that even a single meal containing coconut oil causes great harm. Now, you must keep in mind that reporters like to sensationalize everything. In so doing they jump to conclusions that may not be even remotely accurate. I had to get a copy of the study to see what it was really saying. What I found was that the news stories were blown way out of proportion. The study in no way showed that saturated fat (i.e., coconut oil) caused or contributed or promoted heart disease.
What happened is a classic example of biased research and media hype. I learned long ago to question the results of any study reported in the media. Reporters try to sensationalize everything. They love to take information out of context or even twist it a bit to create a startling headline. After all, shocking stories sell papers. Drug companies don't help the matter any. They feed reporters news releases that are carefully written to bring out everything in these studies that favors or encourages the use of their products. Drug companies work hard at perpetuating the myth that saturated fats cause heart disease so they can sell more cholesterol-lowering drugs.
It is interesting to note that one of the sponsors of this study was the pharmaceutical giant Pfizer, the maker of Lipitor, the most widely used cholesterol-lowering drug. Hmmm...I wonder if this influenced the authors' research?
I don't have to wonder: I know it did. From the very start the authors displayed their anti-saturated fat bias. The study was not set up to fairly evaluate polyunsaturated and saturated fat meals. It was designed to throw more criticism on saturated fat and promote the cholesterol theory of heart disease, and thus encourage sales of cholesterol-lowering drugs.
The purpose of the study, as stated by the authors, was to investigate the influence of saturated fat on the anti-inflammatory status of HDL cholesterol and vascular function. The study involved 14 subjects. The subjects were fed two special meals which were eaten one month apart. Each meal consisted of a slice of carrot cake and a milkshake. The two meals were identical except for the fat content. One meal was high in saturated fat (made with coconut oil) while the other was high in polyunsaturated fat (using safflower oil).
The first measurements recorded involved arterial blood flow. The concept here is that any decrease in blood flow would be detrimental as it reduces the transport of oxygen to vial organs such as the heart. The methods used to take these measurements are complicated to explain and those not familiar with this type of analysis (i.e., reporters) would have no idea what is going on. So they must rely on the authors' summarizing remarks.
The differences in blood flow between the saturated and polyunsaturated fat meals were so small that they were statistically insignificant. In other words, the difference could have been caused entirely by chance.
The authors admit that technically there was no significant difference in blood flow between the two groups. However, in their summary of the study, which is what most people (including reporters) read, they suggested that saturated fat had a less favorable effect on blood flow even though the tiny difference was statically meaningless. They were basically expressing their opinion. If the facts can't back up a cherished belief then a strong opinion is the next best option. Consequently, some news reporters made an issue out of it giving the impression that the subjects' arteries were struggling to maintain blood flow after eating the saturated fat meal. Why ruin a good story with facts? Right?
The second part of the study reported on the anti-inflammatory properties of HDL cholesterol after each meal. Here is where a lot of rather meaningless mumbo jumbo comes in which the authors use as "proof" of the evils of saturated fat.
HDL is often referred to the "good" cholesterol because it has anti-inflammatory properties and carries cholesterol to the liver where it is reprocessed and flushed out of the body. The authors extracted blood from the subjects and isolated and incubated HDL samples. They found a higher level of pro-inflammatory ICAM-1 and VCAM-1 molecules in the cells incubated with the HDL from the saturated fat diet than from the polyunsaturated fat diet. This difference might indicate that there may be a decrease in anti-inflammatory potential in molecules by the HDL from the saturated fat diet. But nobody really knows for sure. And we don't know, outside of a test tube, if it makes any difference. What really goes on inside the body? We don't know. Nobody can really tell from this data what it means, if anything. What we have here is mumbo jumbo science—questionable or meaningless results interpreted to fit the beliefs of the authors.
Based on the blood flow measurements, which were insignificant, and the meaningless difference in anti-inflammatory potential of HDL, the authors more or less flat out state that consumption of saturated fat promotes heart disease. This is clearly evident in the title of their article "Consumption of Saturated Fat Impairs the Anti-Inflammatory Properties of High-Density Lipoproteins and Endothelial Function." That pretty clearly states that saturated fats promote heart disease. Yet, when you examine the data, this study doesn't provide a shred of evidence to support that conclusion.
What's really interesting about this study is that it can be interpreted in two different ways. We've just seen the authors' interpretation, but you can also interpret it as proving that saturated fat (coconut oil) is more protective against heart disease than polyunsaturated fat (safflower oil). Let me show you.
The blood flow measurements showed that the percent of change in the polyunsaturated fat group was slightly better than that of the saturated group. This point was stressed by the authors to suggest the polyunsaturated meal was superior, even though the difference was insignificant. However, blood flow measurements were actually greater in the saturated fat group at every measured point during the study. Using the same biased logic as the authors, we can say that the saturated fat group had better blood flow readings, thus indicating that it is more protective against heart disease.
The measurement of the anti-inflammatory potential of the HDL can also be viewed in a pro-saturated fat context. HDL is the cholesterol that is returning to the liver. Since HDL is bringing cholesterol back to the liver for reprocessing and elimination, wouldn't that mean this cholesterol will be processed out of the body? In other words, the saturated fat diet has caused HDL to clean up or gather up more pro-inflammatory cholesterol and remove it from the body than polyunsaturated fat. To illustrate my point, let's say two garbage trucks, truck A and truck B, go out onto the city streets to pick up trash. At the end of the day truck A has twice as much trash as truck B. Which one did a better job of cleaning up the city? Obviously truck A, because it picked up and removed more trash. Now according to cholesterol theory advocates, HDL is like these dump trucks, picking up cholesterol, pulling it out of the arteries, and dumping it in the liver for removal. The saturated fat meal represents truck A, the one that gathered the most garbage. Therefore, the saturated fat meal reduced the potential for clogged arteries better than the polyunsaturated fat meal.
There is one more item which the authors of the study conveniently forgot to mention. And this is really interesting. According to the data supplied in the article, the subjects who ate the polyunsaturated fat meal had higher total cholesterol and higher LDL (bad) cholesterol than those who ate the saturated fat meal. Now according to low cholesterol advocates, elevated total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol are the most important factors influencing heart disease. Yet the saturated fat meal lowered both in comparison to the polyunsaturated fat meal. What's going on here? It seems the data is showing that saturated fat protects against heart disease. I can see why the authors didn't dare mention this fact. It would have destroyed their entire argument.
So as you see, you can interpret this study to prove or disprove that saturated fat protects against heart disease. Although most of the evidence seems to indicate that saturated fat is more protective than polyunsaturated fat, the authors twisted the data to support their bias. The media, with the help from pharmaceutical industry marketing muscle, picked up on this and blew the study way out of proportion.
It is interesting that most everyone already believes that saturated fat promotes heart disease. The media reports "news," meaning information that is "new." A study suggesting that saturated fat promotes heart disease isn't new and, therefore, isn't newsworthy. So why did this little insignificant study, using only 14 subjects with questionable results, achieve international attention? The reason is simple: because it supports the agenda of the pharmaceutical industry. Big brother gave this meaningless little study significance by broadcasting it loud and clear. Other studies which aren't backed by mega-industries or that show conflicting evidence don't get near the publicity and we rarely hear about them.
Now go back and reread the news story at the beginning of this article and see how distorted it is. Notice how the reporter twisted the research data regarding the blood flow measurements? The article indicated that saturated fat prevented the artery linings from expanding properly. It goes on to say that the polyunsaturated fat meal "showed some reduced ability...but these results were deemed not statistically significant." In other words, the negative effects caused by the polyunsaturated fat were insignificant, but those of the saturated fat were breathtaking news! What the study really said was that there was an insignificant difference between the two types of fat. What a huge difference a little creative reporting can make!
The article also points out that "the anti-inflammatory qualities of HDL cholesterol were reduced after eating the saturated fat meal, whereas they improved after eating the polyunsaturated meal." What? The reporter must have been looking at a different study. Nowhere did the study say that the polyunsaturated fat meal improved the anti-inflammatory qualities of HDL. Talk about journalist license in reporting—this reporter's license should be revoked.
The last paragraph in the story sums up the entire focus of the article as well as the study—saturated fats, including coconut oil, cause heart disease.
With reporting like this it's no wonder why so many people are confused about fats.
This is why you should be very careful about the results of any study reported by the media. Since saturated fat, and particularly coconut oil, is gaining more respectability, I suspect the anti-saturated fat industry will beat their drums even louder in opposition. So don't be surprised to see more meaningless studies trumpeted in the news in the future.■
Statins Kill Your Brain
A Book Review of Statin Drugs Side Effects and the Misguided War on Cholesterol written by Dr. Duane Graveline, M.D.
Review by Chris Masterjohn
"But statin drugs don't do that."
This was the answer Dr. Duane Graveline, MD, former NASA astronaut, heard repeatedly from doctors and pharmacists as he began to question whether Lipitor—a drug he now titles "Thief of Memory"—was the underlying cause of the transient global amnesia he experienced while taking the drug.
Although Dr. Graveline, now the author of Statin Drugs Side Effects and the Misguided War on Cholesterol, had been a flight surgeon for the US Air Force, conducted space medicine research, been a NASA astronaut, practiced as a family physician for 20 years, and had written eight books during his retirement, he remembered none of these experiences during his second bout with Lipitor-induced amnesia.
Dr. Graveline's consciousness regressed to his teens, having precise recall of his high school classmates. Yet he remembered neither his wife nor his four children.
But statin drugs don't do that, he was told.
This was not the first time Dr. Graveline experienced transient global amnesia (TGA), a disease that involves a lapse in the ability to form memory for a period of minutes or hours, sometimes but not always involving the forgetting of past memories, from Lipitor. Nor was Dr. Graveline the only person to experience TGA as a side effect of the newest class of cholesterol-lowering drugs called "statins."
Lipitor—Thief of Memory
Statin Drugs Side Effects and the Misguided War on Cholesterol tells the story about how Dr. Duane Graveline discovered that his experience with TGA was attributable to the statin drug Lipitor—the only drug he was taking at the time—and how he brought this side effect of statin drugs into the public consciousness with the publication of a letter, which generated hundreds more letters from patients who had similar experiences with statin drugs.
In Dr. Graveline's first experience with amnesia, he had been taking Lipitor for six weeks, prescribed by the physician overseeing his astronaut physical at the Johnson Space Center.
He'd gone for his usual morning walk in the woods, but when he returned, he circled about aimlessly through his driveway and yard. Although he failed to recognize his wife, he reluctantly accepted the milk and cookies she offered. Yet he refused to enter their home, and only consented—hesitantly—to be driven to the hospital after much coaxing by an old physician friend that his wife called on the phone.
The neurologist had no explanation for the condition, and Dr. Graveline had returned to normal —though remembering nothing of what happened— before he left the hospital. Dr. Graveline was given the diagnosis of "transient global amnesia, cause unknown." He considered various possible causes, and, after eliminating each of them, considered the possibility that Lipitor, a new drug for him, and the only one he was taking, might be the root cause of his problem.
"But statins don't do that," was the response he heard from each physician and pharmacist to whom he spoke. Nevertheless, Dr. Graveline terminated his Lipitor, and had no subsequent experience with amnesia.
The following year, he was once again prescribed Lipitor at his Johnson Space Center annual physical, at which point he began taking the drug again. Sure enough, six weeks later he experienced another bout of TGA. This time, he experienced a significant retrograde component to his memory loss, his consciousness regressing to that of his teen years.
Again, he was diagnosed with "transient global amnesia, cause unknown." Again, the doctors insisted Lipitor was not involved. Again, Dr. Graveline heard nothing from his colleagues except the refrain, "But statin drugs don't do that." After all, as his wife had hinted, "the aging process alone does terrible things to the body."
Statin Drugs Side Effects—Kiss Your Memory Goodbye
That year, in 2000, Dr. Graveline initiated the first in-pouring of patient testimonies of statin-induced memory loss when the syndicated column "People's Pharmacy" published a letter he had sent to them about his experience. Since then, they have received hundreds of similar testimonies.
Yet there are millions of people taking statins, an industry that brought in $26 billion in 2004. Do "hundreds" of cases of TGA indicate a major side effect?
As Dr. Graveline points out throughout Statin Drugs Side Effects, we should expect TGA and other memory problems to be severely underreported.
Since memory loss is considered a natural part of the aging process, most people will simply chalk up any symptoms to the supposed effects of that process. Many will be embarrassed, and many more involved in operating machinery, aircraft, or other vehicles might fear losing their job for reporting such problems. Even five years after the initial exposure, the average doctor still has no idea that statins have cognitive side effects, and any memory loss that is reported is highly unlikely to be considered as a possible effect of a statin drug by the supervising physician.
Dr. Graveline also points out that for every episode of TGA, there are likely to be thousands of less severe cases of forgetfulness, confusion, difficulty concentrating, or other cognitive symptoms that are simply chalked up to the gradual erosion of the body and mind by the aging process, when they are in fact attributable to cholesterol-lowering statin drugs.
In Statin Drugs Side Effects, Dr. Graveline cites a study by Muldoon, et al., that found "100% of patients placed on statins showed measurable decrease in cognitive function after six months, whereas 100% of placebo treated control patients showed measurable increase in cognitive function during the same time period."
In Issue #003 of our free newsletter, a study was cited finding that the roughly 30% of patients who stop taking statins within 1-3 years of beginning them have an 88% increased risk of all-cause dementia and a 154% increased risk of Alzheimer's disease, compared to those who have never taken statins.
Statin Drugs Side Effects—It Doesn't Stop at Your Brain
Although a large focus of Statin Drugs Side Effects is transient global amnesia, Dr. Graveline discusses a variety of other side effects of statin drugs. Polyneuropathy, rhabdomyolysis—a fatal condition involving the destruction of muscle tissue that was responsible for the recall of the lethal statin Baycol—congestive heart failure, coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) and carnitine deficiency, inflammation and rupture of tendons and ligaments, and interference with the production of endorphins are among the side effects that Dr. Graveline attributes to statins. He also discusses the possibility that CoQ10 depletion-induced mitochondrial mutations will present a cumulative effect over time increasing the risk of various diseases.
Perhaps the most interesting discussion of the effects of statin drugs that tends to be left out elsewhere is their inhibition of nuclear factor kappa B (NF-kB).
NF-kB inhibition is the mechanism by which statins inhibit inflammation, which is probably responsible for the mild decrease in heart disease mortality that relatively short-term studies have found for statins, rather than cholesterol-lowering, which is also achieved by a variety of drugs that fail to reduce mortality, including fibrates, which increase mortality. (Dr. Graveline cites a 10-year follow-up review of statin trials finding an increased risk of death attributable to statins, and other reviews have found that trial length is associated with a diminished finding of mortality protection.)
Yet in most discussions of statins' anti-inflammatory effects, an in-depth discussion of nuclear factor kappa B is usually absent. Even in reviews that are critical of the cholesterol hypothesis and statin treatment usually refer to their anti-inflammatory effects as unequivocally a positive effect.
Yet Dr. Graveline applies a closer critical eye to statin-induced NF-kB inhibition. NF-kB is actually an important mechanism of the human body's immune system, which is regulated delicately in a complex system into which statins enter as a large, blunt, and indiscriminating weapon.
Different infectious organisms modify NF-kB in different ways. E. coli and Salmonella, for example, are both organisms that are able to infect the body by, like statins, inhibiting human NF-kB. Chlamydia, on the other hand, exerts its dominance in the urogenital system by enhancing NF-kB.
The Epstein-Barr virus suppresses T cells in the blood, enhancing its ability to infect the blood tissue causing mononucleosis, by, like statins, inhibiting NF-kB. Yet when the same virus later triggers nasopharyngeal carcinoma and Burkitt's lymphoma, it does so through sustained NF-kB activation.
What is the ultimate long-term result of suppressing NF-kB through statin use? We simply don't know yet. Since NF-kB regulation is a complex system, its elevation being neither strictly "good" nor strictly "bad," it is likely that NF-kB reduction will have varying results, some good, some bad, in different people with different conditions.
As pointed out in Issue #005 of our free newsletter, omega-3 fatty acids are almost twice as effective as statins at reducing mortality through their own anti-inflammatory mechanism. They are also much cheaper to supplement with and even available in the right foods.
Yet omega-3 fatty acids do not inhibit NF-kB or any other important component of the body's immune and inflammatory system. Instead, they simply supply the body with a hormone precursor called "EPA" that is stored inside of cell membranes until the body decides to use it, releasing it enzymatically. Thus, the risk of side effects are much lower with omega-3 fatty acids, because they simply enable the body to utilize its own tightly regulated systems, rather than interfering with the body's tightly regulated systems like statins do.
Dr. Graveline Exonerates Cholesterol
Statin Drugs Side Effects not only details some of the wretched and even humanity-stripping side effects of statin drugs (like the loss of memory of your life experience, wife, and children), but Dr. Graveline is also one of a growing number of physicians and researchers who lead the way in overturning the decades-long triumph of junk science over reason that has led us to blame cholesterol as the cause of heart disease.
Dr. Graveline discusses the work of Dr. Uffe Ravnskov, author of The Cholesterol Myths, Dr. Paul Rosch, Sally Fallon and Dr. Mary Enig of the Weston A. Price Foundation, and others. He devotes particular attention to the work of Dr. Kilmer McCully, who questioned the attribution of heart disease to elevated cholesterol levels from the beginning, and began discovering the link between homocysteine and heart disease in the 1960s.
The importance of Dr. McCully's research shows that not only does the cholesterol hypothesis indentify the wrong culprit, but its paradigm is fundamentally backward. While the cholesterol hypothesis falsely identifies heart disease as a disease of excess, McCully's more thoughtful and evidence-based research shows heart disease to be a disease of deficiency —a deficiency of certain B vitamins, lost in modern processing and modern food preferences, that are used to metabolize the abrasive and toxic homocysteine into a harmless byproduct.
Contrary to the cholesterol hypothesis of heart disease, Dr. Graveline uses Statin Drugs Side Effects to show that cholesterol is one of the most important and valuable molecules in the body, responsible for the production of steroid hormones, bile acids, and the formation of synapses. This is a message that this website strives to hit home, but one that has been lost on most people in the mire of anti-cholesterol hysteria.
Who Should Read Statin Drugs Side Effects
Anyone who has suffered the ravages of statin-induced memory loss will identify with this book. But more importantly, if you have a friend or family member on statins, or who is considering using statins, this may be the most important book you could use to convince them to consider other options.
If your doctor is not aware of the cognitive side effects of statins, you must alert her or him to the existence of this book. Unfortunately, most doctors even in 2005 are not aware that statin drugs have serious cognitive side effects. Your doctor needs to be aware of this even if she or he has no intention of prescribing alternative treatments to her or his patients. It is imperative that when physicians are encountered with a case of amnesia or other type of memory dysfunction that they consider the statin drugs the patient is on as a probable contributor to this problem.
If they do not, serious damage to the patient, the patient's family, or even the public could be a result. If a pilot suddenly has an attack of TGA while flying a plane, or a driver while driving a truck or car, and this involves a serious retrograde component where memory is lost through the period during which the operator received her or his training, will the operator be able to drive the truck, car, or fly the plane? We do not yet know the answer to this question.
While transient global amnesia is generally rare, its incidence has exploded since the advent of the strong statin drugs such as Lipitor. For the sake of both public and patient safety, every physician needs to know that TGA is a side effect of statin drug use.
Drawbacks of Statin Drugs Side Effects
If there is a fault to Statin Drugs Side Effects, it is its organization. For example, after three chapters on TGA, case reports of TGA again appear in half of the "How the Statin Drugs Work" chapter, and there is a general tendency to muddle the distinction between chapters and topics.
A secondary effect of this tendency is the tendency to duplicate information. Topics that appear in multiple chapters sometimes have almost identical paragraphs explaining a concept, rather than a simple reference to the previous explanation in a previous chapter.
While the separation of the book into the main body meant for all readers and a very lengthy addendum for more scientifically oriented individuals is meant to benefit the reader, its primary effect is to introduce another layer of unnecessary duplication.
Dr. Graveline tends to use moderately flowery language, which the more scientifically oriented individuals might be disappointed to find reduces the information density of the book somewhat —an effect that, on the other hand, will probably make the book easier to read for the typical reader.
Add Statin Drugs Side Effects to Your Library
Drawbacks aside, Statin Drugs Side Effects, though geared towards the lay reader, is not only essential for physicians to read, but is a valuable contribution to the scientific inquirer's library. In particular, Dr. Graveline's discussion of the inhibition of nuclear factor kappa B is a unique contribution that is generally overlooked in most discussions of statins.
It is reassuring to see more and more doctors and researchers joining the ranks of those skeptical of the cholesterol hypothesis and aware that just because America's favorite drug habits are legal does not mean they are safe.
Statin Drugs Side Effects is a welcome addition to our collective pool of knowledge, and Dr. Graveline must be commended for his brave and persistent resistance of the common denial to uncover the truth about the side effects of statins.■
Copyright © 2005 by Chris Masterjohn. This article was reprinted from the Cholesterol and Health website (http://www.cholesterol-and-health.com) with permission by the author.
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