Busting the cholesterol myths

28 January 2021

Did you know you need cholesterol?

The cells of your body produce it for the formation of your cell membranes and to make bile acids, vitamin D, and steroid hormones (cortisol, oestrogen, progesterone, aldosterone and testosterone).

Cholesterol is transported in your body by lipoproteins. These ‘transport molecules’ pick up, transport and deliver cholesterol (as well as fat-soluble vitamins and triglycerides) wherever it is needed. Without high density lipoproteins (HDL), triglycerides can build up in your blood; without low density lipoproteins (LDL), cholesterol would not get transported to where it is needed.

So, if cholesterol is so needed, how did the myths in the graphic above arise?

In the 1950s, Dr Ancel Keys cherrypicked data from 22 countries to support his theory that eating fat and cholesterol increases the risk of heart attack. He called his report the Seven Countries Study. Yep, seven countries out of 22. He excluded data from any country that did not support his theory! Other researchers some years later identified that when all the data from all 22 countries was considered, there was no association, but by then the cholesterol-is-bad lie had been well and truly accepted, and we were all told to avoid butter, eggs and fatty meats.

In 2015, a scientific review[1] showed:

  • There is no evidence that high cholesterol causes heart disease.
  • High cholesterol is protective against many illnesses.
  • The higher your cholesterol the less likely you are to die from any cause, and the lower your cholesterol the more likely you are to die from any cause!

Whether it was due to this review or not, I am unsure, but in the same year, the USDA Dietary Guidelines Committee Report[2] stated: “available evidence shows no appreciable relationship between consumption of dietary cholesterol and serum cholesterol” and that cholesterol “is not a nutrient of concern for over-consumption.”

Did this make the headlines? No! Most in the medical community still need to catch up, but fortunately more and more doctors are no longer pushing statins.

Need more info? Read The Great Cholesterol Myth by Jonny Bowden PhD and Stephen Sinatra MD.



  1. Towards a paradigm shift in cholesterol treatment. A re-examination of the cholesterol issue in Japan: Abstracts. Annals of Nutrition & Metabolism. 2015;66(suppl 4):1–116.
  2. Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee. 2015. Scientific Report of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee: Advisory Report to the Secretary of Health and Human Services and the Secretary of Agriculture. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service, Washington, DC.
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About Tira

About Tira

Tira Cole is a nutritionist, researcher and educator. Her passion is meat-based nutrition and support of farming.

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