The skinny on fat and cholesterol

November 18, 2013 by Leah Burrows

Last week, the Food and Drug Administration proposed banning transfat—partially hydrogenated oil—from restaurants and grocery shelves because it raises bad cholesterol and lowers good cholesterol, contributing to heart disease. This week, the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology released groundbreaking new guidelines on cholesterol treatment that could double the number of patients taking cholesterol-lowering drugs known as statins.

BrandeisNow spoke with Professor Emeritus K.C. Hayes, a nutrition expert and the inventor of Smart Balance, about how these new regulations will impact in the U.S.

Let's start with cholesterol. New guidelines lower the threshold to prescribe statins to patients at risk of developing heart disease. Under these recommendations, the number of Americans taking a statin could double from 15 million to 30 million. What are statins and how do they lower cholesterol?

Back in the 1970s, scientists looked to herbal medicine to find a way to control . Statins are chemical compounds synthesized from a prototype identified in red yeast rice. They target and inhibit in the liver. Most importantly, statins lower LDL, or , but leave HDL, good cholesterol, alone. Statins were found to lower risk of , stroke and even some forms of cancer. However, there are side effects if you block body cholesterol production too much. Muscle aches and weakness can develop because your body needs to make membranes and sterol hormones, among other things. So there are some risks.

Is the medical industry relying too much on drugs, focusing on treatment instead of causes?

Well, statins have saved millions of lives. Their use could be considered the biggest public health advance since fluoridation. But by focusing on treatment we often overlook cause. In many people, heart disease and diabetes are lifestyle diseases. Eating a Mediterranean diet and exercising would help, too, but unfortunately, people don't have much of an inclination to change lifelong habits.

Unless the government intervenes, as the FDA is doing by banning transfat, nothing will happen. You've been a long-time advocate for banning hydrogenated oils. How do you feel now that it is finally happening?

It's about time. We've known about the negative effects of transfat since the early 1990s—some would argue even sooner—so it's really 20 years late.

What will be the ramifications of these two changes in public health policy?

By using and eliminating transfat, at the very least, we will end up improving the LDL to HDL ratio and reducing the risk of heart disease and diabetes. One thing to be careful of, however, is the increasingly common alternative to transfat known as interesterified fat, which may be just as harmful. If that becomes the replacement—instead of saturated fats like palm and coconut oil—the FDA may be banning that in 30 years.

Explore further: American Heart Association comment: FDA announces safety changes on labeling for some statins

Related Stories

ACC/AHA publish new guideline for management of blood cholesterol

November 12, 2013

The American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association today released a new clinical practice guideline for the treatment of blood cholesterol in people at high risk for cardiovascular diseases caused by atherosclerosis, ...

Recommended for you

Artificial heart design features porous plastic foam

October 2, 2015

Artificial hearts with multiple moving parts increase the chance of failure; scientists have worked up a device which is a single piece. No less interesting is the material they used; the team is taking a page out of soft ...

What powers the pumping heart?

September 25, 2015

Researchers at the Ted Rogers Centre for Heart Research have uncovered a treasure trove of proteins, which hold answers about how our heart pumps—a phenomenon known as contractility.

Sticky gel helps stem cells heal rat hearts

September 24, 2015

A sticky, protein-rich gel created by Johns Hopkins researchers appears to help stem cells stay on or in rat hearts and restore their metabolism after transplantation, improving cardiac function after simulated heart attacks, ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.