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Heart Attacks and Cholesterol: Agribusiness Sees It Differently

The average “bad” cholesterol (LDL) level in people having heart attacks is in the “near-optimal” range, suggesting that the current guidelines are too lax.

December 20, 2011 |
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Image thanks to wayne marshall.



The level of LDL cholesterol our blood—our “bad” cholesterol—may be the single most important indicator of heart disease risk, and is the primary target of both drug and diet therapy. Your doctor will likely tell you that anything over 130 is high; anything under 130 is optimal or near optimal. But that’s what most people hospitalized for heart attack had circulating in their blood stream. \
Notes one of the investigators on this study, “Almost 75 percent of heart attack patients fell within recommended targets for LDL cholesterol, demonstrating that the current guidelines may not be low enough to cut heart attack risk. Close to half had “optimal” levels, though I’m not sure our grieving spouses and orphaned children will take much comfort in that fact.
The leading agribusiness publication had a very different take on this study: “For years, we’ve been brainwashed to think that red meat and its associated fat content are killing us. Researchers, however, have found that the vast majority of patients — 75%, in fact — hospitalized for a heart attack did not have cholesterol levels that would signal a high risk for a cardiovascular event.”
He’s saying see, cut out meat, and bring your cholesterol into the quote unquote optimal range and still die of a heart attack. So, he concludes, “fire up the grill, and eat up. The next time someone tells you that you just served a heart attack on a plate, you’ll be able to give them
a science-based reason why they’re dead wrong,” when in fact you’ll more likely just end up dead.

To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by veganmontreal.

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Dr. Michael Greger

Doctor's Note

Please feel free to post any ask-the-doctor type questions here in the comments section and I’d be happy to try to answer them. Be sure to check out all the videos on heart disease and industry influence.

And check out my associated blog posts for more context: Generic Lipitor is not the answer to our heart disease epidemic and Stool Size and Breast Cancer Risk.

  • Michael Greger M.D.

    Please feel free to post any ask-the-doctor type questions here in the comments section and I’d be happy to try to answer them. Be sure to check out all the videos on heart disease and industry influence.

    And check out my associated blog post “Generic Lipitor is not the answer to our heart disease epidemic.”

  • BPC

    As it stands, I am not finding the presented argument on heart attacks and cholesterol to be persuasive since heart disease is multi-factorial. Therefore, there is always a non-zero probability that someone with a very low cholesterol could get a heart attack.

    So what does it prove if a study reports that some who have low cholesterol get heart attacks. It could even be that blood cholesterol level matters to a point, but then fails to matter below a certain threshold.

    Average blood cholesterol level is a useful metric to make predictions about populations, but of limited value in interpreting an individuals health. I feel we should keep this point in mind when interpreting these studies.

  • Mike Quinoa

    This is extremely interesting stuff. You can read the whole agribusiness article here:

    The author, who seems to conclude that since were not really sure of anything, it’s best just to merrily continue stuffing ourselves with animal flesh (and for good measure he throws in a pic of a big slab of red meat for the slow-witted among us). He does though quote the bit that the current guidelines might not be low enough.

    A lot of pro-meat/anti-veg websites use information like this study (or “accepted” cholesterol guidelines) to propose that cholesterol is not really a risk factor for heart disease after all. Or, as even our agribusiness friend quoted in his article, maybe it could be that the current guidelines might not be low enough.

  • Rain Vainik

    Great video!
    So what’s the (almost) dead-proof cholesterol level then?
    150 for total?
    or even lower…?

  • Mike Quinoa


    I’m not sure of the optimum LDL level, but from what I’ve read, no-one in the long-running Framingham Heart Study with a total cholesterol level of 150 or below has ever had a heart attack.

  • Rain Vainik

    yeah, I have heard that too but from the chart that shows at about 30 sec in the video one can see that the average total cholesterol of hospitalized patients was 170,1 +/-48,2
    which should mean that at least some of them had it below 150…
    (one should read the actual study to be sure but at least so it looks from the chart)

  • Heather

    My mom has been eating vegan/plant-based for sox months. She has lost 15 pounds,but her cholesterol has not dropped. Any thoughts? We are confused.