Shyam Kolvekar (a heart surgeon) is all over the news today having asserted that Butter should be banned to save thousands of lives. The Daily Mail asserted “Saturated fat is blamed for a third of the 200,000 premature deaths from heart disease a year.” Facts please, Daily Mail?! There is not even a consistent association between country intake of saturated fat and heart disease, let alone an established causation. It is highly likely that there is an association, if not a causation, between national sugar/flour and processed food consumption and heart disease, but we are too busy attacking real foods like butter to look into other suspects.
The estimate goes that eating the government recommended saturated fat intake (which by definition means eating more carbs – because that’s all that is left to eat) could save 3,500 lives a year. I really cannot recommend highly enough Dr Malcolm Kendrick’s “The Great cholesterol Con” , where he goes into an example of these lives saved claims…
The British Heart Foundation, Heart Protection Study is the study Dr Kendrick tears apart: The study claims that if an extra 10 million high-risk people were to go on statins (the drug companies must have loved this report), this would save about 50,000 lives a year. First of all – lives can not be saved. Life can be prolonged, but we’re all going to die! The issue then becomes – for how long can statins possibly prolong life/delay death – if at all.
Kendrick: “If one in two hundred more people are alive after one year of taking statins, this means that if you wait another two-hundreths of a year (plus another little bit) the statin group will have caught up on the ‘placebo’ group in total number of deaths.” Kendrick works out that there is an increased life expectancy of slightly under two days. Then “50,000 lives will be saved” becomes the slightly less sensational “If 10 million people, at very high risk of heart disease, took a statin for a year, they would all live – on average – two days longer“. They would have to take statins every day for two hundred years, from the date of diagnosis, to live an extra year! Or, if people take statins for a (pretty long) thirty year period, they may buy themselves approximately two months.
That’s just heart disease stats remember. The largest study of cholesterol levels and overall mortality (Honolulu study) shows that you are more likely to die from one of the many overall causes of death if you have low cholesterol. Low cholesterol and high mortality are the correlated factors in this study (and others looking at overall mortality). So – you may gain 2 months, you are more likely to die of cancer or some other cause and you may have some pretty nasty side effects from statins during the 30 years.
Anyway – back to the butter. Here was my response to the article on the Daily Mail blog this morning:
“This is verging on medical malpractice. I don’t know what is worse – a doctor making such an outrageous statement or the fact that Unilever PR are behind it . Unilever being the makers of low fat spreads and the co. represented on the board of the Scientific Advisory Committee for Nutrition – advisors to the Food Standards Agency, Dept of Health etc.
Fact – butter is a real food, delivered as nature intends us to eat it and naturally solid at room temperature.
Fact – man made spreads are processed foods, delivered as food manufacturers intend us to eat them and goodness knows what has been done to them to make them solid at room temperature.
The UK National Food Survey tells us that we eat 39 g of butter per person per week. As compared to 731 g of sugar (World Health Org) and 1.4 kilos of flour (Flour Advisory Bureau) per person per week. Which substance is more likely the cause of heart disease (obesity) or any other modern illness?”