Diamond, who has a PhD in biology and 40 years of experience as a neuroscientist, spoke on a topic that drew his interest later in his career: cholesterol science and the various forms of deception apparent in research on cholesterol-lowering statins.
“I want to show you how we are deceived,” Dr David Diamond told the audience at the 2019 CrossFit Health Conference.
Diamond developed an interest in cholesterol and statins in 1999 after being diagnosed with familial hypertriglyceridemia. This genetic anomaly causes triglyceride levels in the blood to become elevated and leads to additional health complications such as obesity.
After following the dietary recommendations — reducing his saturated fat and meat consumption while consuming greater quantities of carbohydrates such as oatmeal and beans — Diamond had succeeded only in raising his triglycerides, lowering HDL cholesterol, and gaining weight. His doctor recommended that he begin taking statins.
Diamond recalled saying, “‘Well, I’ve got a PhD in biology. The least I can do is read about what a triglyceride is and what I should do about it.’” After delving into medical research, he realized, “Damn! It’s the bread, potatoes, and sugar I’ve been eating. I’ve been so happy eating bread without butter, and … it’s the bread driving up my triglycerides.” He continued, “I was struck by this epiphany that I’d been given the wrong information.”
After his epiphany, Diamond began investigating how his doctor and the dietary guidelines could have gotten the science on cholesterol wrong. He traced the misinformation to Ancel Keys, who became famous in 1961 for developing the cholesterol hypothesis. Keys’ hypothesis suggested that saturated fat consumption leads to increased cholesterol that clogs arteries and leads to heart disease.
Despite a preponderance of evidence to the contrary, Keys’ hypothesis became influential, and Keys, a man Diamond notes had “a bachelor’s in economics” and “knew nothing about nutrition, knew nothing about heart disease … was in charge, to a great extent, of nutrition and heart disease research in America.”
Diamond continued to review cholesterol science and statin research, and his first epiphany was followed by many more. For instance, contrary to a received dogma, “People with high cholesterol have a significantly lower rate of cancer, infectious disease, and live [an] overall normal lifespan,” he explained.
During his talk, Diamond also explained the methods of statistical manipulation researchers and drug companies use to inflate statins’ effectiveness for lowering heart disease risk while downplaying the drugs’ adverse effects. He demonstrated, for instance, that the authors of the trial for cholestyramine were able to make a statistically insignificant .4% improvement in heart disease risk look like 24% by reporting relative rather than absolute risk.
He looked at the study on Lipitor, which helped generate $100 billion in revenue for the company and found the same thing: The study claimed the drug could decrease heart disease risk by 36%, a gross manipulation of the 1% absolute risk that matters.
Diamond also argued that the adverse effects of statins are manifold and significant. The peer-reviewed medical literature, he explained, has demonstrated an association between statins and Type 2 diabetes, rhabdomyolysis, cognitive disorders, cataracts, renal failure, and liver dysfunction, to name a few. Nevertheless, statins remain the most widely prescribed class of drugs in the United States.
To explain why this is true, Diamond cited a quote from his colleague Paul Rosch, published in the Scandinavian Cardiovascular Journal: “That belief that coronary atherosclerosis is due to high cholesterol has been perpetuated by powerful forces using tactics to preserve the profits and reputations of those who promote the doctrine.”
Diamond concluded, “The only person that potentially can benefit from a statin is someone that wants to depend more on medication than a lifestyle change.”