First Do No Harm

Ancel Benjamin Keys was born January 26th, 1904 and died just short of his 101st birthday on Nov 20th, 2004.

Ancel Keys is the man responsible for changing over 100 years of nutritional guidelines by suddenly, out of nowhere, claiming that FAT was bad for us and we were all dying from heart attacks caused by cholesterol. Keys is the man responsible for the "lipid hypothesis."

He brought to the world his very famous Seven Countries Study that "proved" that “the risk and rates of heart attack and stroke [cardiovascular risk] both at the population level and at the individual level was directly and independently related to the level of total serum cholesterol.”

It is because of this gentleman that the words “saturated fat” can’t be found far from the descriptive “heart-clogging.”

Now you might ask yourself: How does a man with a BA in economics and political science, an MS in zoology, and a PhD in oceanography and biology from Scripps Institute of Oceanography get to dictate to the world our dietary requirements and restrictions?

Well, maybe because he was a pioneer in biostatistics. Or maybe because when World War II broke out, he helped invent K-Rations (3,200 calories packed into just under two pounds).

Or maybe it was his Starvation Studies conducted at the University of Minnesota.

You see, during WWII, Keys studied human performance (something of interest to the military) and the effects of testosterone on muscles. He also studied supplementation of vitamins and minerals. Toward the end of the war, news of famine in Eastern Europe and Asia began reaching our shores and you know scientists: You can’t just go out and feed the starving; you have to create a study so that you will know exactly what and how to feed them. So the Minnesota Starving Experiment (also known as the Minnesota-Semi-Starvation Experiment and other much nicer monikers) started up using volunteers from conscientious objectors who had been “inducted” into public wartime service.

The war ended before the study finished, and so the world just chipped in and sent food to the starving people who seemed rather grateful that they didn’t have to wait for the final results of Keys’ study before being fed.

Working with diet influenced Keys and led him to start questioning our diets' role in health, and in cardio-vascular disease (CVD) in particular, especially when he realized that with starvation, CVD rates declined, but with prosperity, they increased.

He felt that the American businessman was the “best-fed” human being in history. Why should the American businessman be dying from heart attacks with such a great diet?

He quickly postulated (I’m not sure, but I think “postulate” is Latin for “to pull something from one’s ass") that high cholesterol was the reason for the high rate of CVD in the American businessman and immediately started a study, the Minnesota Businessman Study.

But before the study had even been underway very long (it was a cohort study, thus medical records were available for the 281 businessmen in the study), he was off to Geneva to report his findings to the World Health Organization.

Did I tell you that Ancel Keys was a very confident, brusque, and blunt sort of fellow?

All accounts report that he delivered his “hypothesis” with his usual “confidence and bluntness” and was quite taken aback when suddenly challenged. He was challenged by an Oxford debating expert, and when he responded, he got crushed

Keys then went on a working vacation that resulted in his famous (infamous) Seven Country Study, and the rest is history.

Well, a bit of twisted history, actually. You see, Keys was one of the many nutritional researchers who discovered the “Mediterranean Diet.” He found people in Italy living into their hundreds. Many of these people were quite poor and could hardly afford meat more than a few times a year, and mainly during holidays. He focused on their lack of meat and animal fats rather than on their use of olive oil, fresh vegetables and fruits, and, of course, garlic. It was this incorrect focus that carried his study to its conclusion.

Keys published his study and quickly found himself vindicated as his face ended up on the cover of Time and his dietary recommendations were the talk of the town as the American Heart Association hit the airways (television was still in its infancy and in almost 50% of all homes) with…well, allow me to present Wikipedia’s version:

After observing in (southern Italy) the highest concentration of centenarians in the world, Keys hypothesized that a Mediterranean-style diet low in animal fat protected against heart disease and that a diet high in animal fats led to heart disease. The results of what later became known as the Seven Countries Study appeared to show that serum cholesterol was strongly related to coronary heart disease mortality both at the population and at the individual level. As a result, in 1956, representatives of the American Heart Association appeared on television to inform people that a diet which included large amounts of butter, lard, eggs and beef would lead to coronary heart disease. This resulted in the American government recommending that people adopt a low-fat diet  in order to prevent heart disease.

And this is how we became a low fat, high carbohydrate, super obese, metabolic-syndrome wracked population on statin drugs…who are dying of heart attack (and cancer) at rates never before witnessed in this country, and at rates quite a bit greater than the rest of the world that hasn’t adopted our dietary and cholesterol guidelines.

A paper entitled “Cholesterol and Saturated Fat Prevent Heart Disease: Evidence from 101 Scientific Papers” by David Evans points out that the seven countries in the Seven Country study were cherry picked, as was the data. Evans concludes (as many others have) that Keys manipulated the data to come up with his results. 

According to a friend of Keys, Henry Blackburn, Keys was humiliated about his saturated fat theory at a World Health Organization meeting in Geneva, convened to discuss rising rates of heart disease. Keys had a strong personality and was prone to abusive scolding of anyone who disagreed with him. According to Blackburn, Keys was determined to put down his detractors, and so manipulated the data to prove himself right.

Medicine quickly jumped on Keys' hypothesis, and when the government got involved, you had the untrained, uneducated (in nutrition) trying to set our nutritional guidelines. When they talked to people in the know, they learned that Keys had cherry picked his data, and that if he'd thoroughly reviewed the data he'd have gotten a different conclusion. But not understanding that, they went to another expert who happened to agree with Keys (there weren't many) and the theory was so simple that they too bought into it, and today we have completely false nutritional guidelines that are killing us off if we follow them.

When I was in college, I loved my two history professors. They truly stimulated me to always question, but in the end realize that people are all the same everywhere from any time.

There are many theories in history. You have Hegel’s Dialectic and the Circular Theory of History. You also have the “Great Man” Theory of History that says history is a collection of events caused by great men.

Well, now we have the Great Boob Theory of History. Keys was a very smart man. He was a very creative man. But he was an injured man who would get his revenge. “I’ll teach them,” is usually the battle cry, and yes, he certainly taught us all. He taught us all the wrong things about diet and nutrition and the world loved him for it. Creating a Cholesterol Theory of Heart Disease has profited the medical industry hundreds of billions of dollars. And today Keys' "lipid hypothesis" is still just that: an unproven hypothesis.

Sadly, it will take another ten to twenty years to reverse that damage this man has done to humanity, because the lies are so damn profitable.

Further Reading

Meet Monsieur Cholesterol

Know Your Fats (at Weston Price Foundation)

Saturated Fat Is Good For You, by Uffe Ravnskov MD

 


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