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Dietary cholesterol, heart disease risk and cognitive dissonance

  • Donald J. McNamara (a1)

In the 1960s, the thesis that dietary cholesterol contributes to blood cholesterol and heart disease risk was a rational conclusion based on the available science at that time. Fifty years later the research evidence no longer supports this hypothesis yet changing the dietary recommendation to limit dietary cholesterol has been a slow and at times contentious process. The preponderance of the clinical and epidemiological data accumulated since the original dietary cholesterol restrictions were formulated indicate that: (1) dietary cholesterol has a small effect on the plasma cholesterol levels with an increase in the cholesterol content of the LDL particle and an increase in HDL cholesterol, with little effect on the LDL:HDL ratio, a significant indicator of heart disease risk, and (2) the lack of a significant relationship between cholesterol intake and heart disease incidence reported from numerous epidemiological surveys. Over the last decade, many countries and health promotion groups have modified their dietary recommendations to reflect the current evidence and to address a now recognised negative consequence of ineffective dietary cholesterol restrictions (such as inadequate choline intake). In contrast, health promotion groups in some countries appear to suffer from cognitive dissonance and continue to promote an outdated and potentially hazardous dietary recommendation based on an invalidated hypothesis. This review evaluates the evidence for and against dietary cholesterol restrictions and the potential consequences of such restrictions.

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Corresponding author: D. J. McNamara, email
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