There is no link between high cholesterol and heart disease in people over 60, a major study has found.
Health officials are accused of fearmongering as a comprehensive analysis reveals that older people with high levels of “bad” cholesterol actually live longer.
British heart specialists have called for National Health Service guidelines to be overhauled completely. They question whether the millions of people who are prescribed cholesterol-lowering drugs are being wrongly medicated.
“The truth has always been out there: that the cholesterol hypothesis is wrong,” Malcolm Kendrick, a GP and co-author of the study, said.
“What we found in our detailed systematic review was that older people with high LDL levels — the so-called ‘bad’ cholesterol — lived longer and had less heart disease. Many of us suspected this may be true but the consistency of the results was astonishing. The diet/heart cholesterol hypothesis has been called the greatest scam in the history of medicine. It seems that is right.”
The researchers analysed 19 international studies involving 68,094 elderly people and found that in 92 per cent of cases LDL cholesterol — low-density lipoprotein, or bad cholesterol — did not increase the chance of death caused by heart disease.
They also found that people with high levels of LDL cholesterol were less likely to die prematurely from other diseases, such as cancer.
The results, published in the journal BMJ Open, are the latest from a series of studies that undermine accepted theories involving diet and health.
Whitehall sources say that nutritional guidance is to be reviewed after a controversial report found that fat was beneficial to health. There are claims that UK government guidelines are based on “flawed science, exacerbated by commercial influence”.
A draft report will be published next year, according to The Sunday Times.
Aseem Malhotra, a cardiologist, said: “The scientific evidence clearly reveals that we must stop fearmongering when it comes to cholesterol and heart disease and focus instead on insulin resistance, the most important risk factor as a precursor to many chronic diseases.”
More than seven million people in Britain are prescribed statins in an attempt to reduce their risk of heart disease, Dr Malhotra said.
Researchers say that cholesterol is vital to health and in elderly people prevents infection, strokes, cancer, cataracts, muscle pain and fatigue.
The study, written by 17 experts from Scandinavia, the United States, Italy, Japan and Great Britain, has been met with fierce criticism from health experts and charities.
Professor Jeremy Pearson, of the British Heart Foundation, said: “The evidence from large clinical trials demonstrates clearly that lowering LDL cholesterol reduces risk of death overall and from heart attacks and strokes, regardless of age.”