Jonny Bowden and The Great Cholesterol Myth

Posted by Erin O’Maley, D.C.


Jonny Bowden, Ph.D., CNS, is the author of many successful books that are oft spotted resting on shelves in the offices of many a nutritionist, chiropractor, and other natural health practitioners. I listened to an excellent Podcast discussion with him about the topics covered in his new book, The Great Cholesterol Myth: Why Lowering Your Cholesterol Won’t Prevent Heart Disease – and the Statin-Free Plan That Will, and I’m very excited to add this one to my library.

Before becoming a nutritionist, Bowden began his career as a personal trainer. He describes his early career as being a advocate of “possibly the most destructive myth every perpetrated on the American public, which is that gaining weight and obesity is all about calories and exercise” or “eat less and exercise more”. It was after observing the progress of his clients over time that he began to change his mindset from the conventional wisdom and came to learn that weight gain is driven by hormones, not simply fat and calories.

Bowden describes what he calls the “Four Horsemen of Aging,” creators of “systemic mischief” that cause all major disease. They are inflammation, oxidation, glycation, and stress. He explains that lowering cholesterol in order to eliminate heart disease is “like eliminating trees to prevent forest fires rather than looking at the conditions under which the fire ignites”. Cholesterol is almost an innocent bystander. It’s vital in the body and the brain and there are terrible consequences of lowering cholesterol at random. Bowden continues that the danger is particularly great in children, whose brain isn’t fully formed until age 25, and you can hear him start to get fired up as he speaks of his concern over the current movement to put children on Statin drugs.

The current way of looking at LDL and HDL cholesterol, the “bad cholesterol” and “good cholesterol”, respectively, is an improvement over looking at total cholesterol, but Bowden says this is still over a decade out of date. There are at least five kinds of HDL and at least five of LDL, and all LDL isn’t bad. For this reason, about half the people with heart disease have “normal” cholesterol according to standard tests, and half the people with high cholesterol have healthy hearts. Bowden insists that unless the doctor knows which type of LDL is high, they are treating a number and not a patient, and before going on a Statin, you should ask your doctor for a particle size test.

LDL-A, he says, is like throwing a cotton ball at the blood vessel wall, and does as much damage. LDL-B, however, is shaped like a B.B., and is highly oxidized and inflammatory, as is type Lp(a). An extremely good indicator of the particle distribution pattern in absence of a particle size test is comparing the triglycerides to HDL ratio on standard blood work. This is one of the best predictors of cardiovascular disease and insulin resistance leading to type II diabetes. If the triglycerides are 100 mg/dL and HDL is 50 mg/dL, it’s a 2:1 ratio. If it’s 150 mg/dL to 50 mg/dL, it’s a 3:1 ratio, just a bit high. As long as the ratio is 2:1 and below, it is extremely unlikely that the individual will have a heart attack and is very unlikely to become insulin resistant.

Bowden stresses that it has never been fat and cholesterol that made us get fat, sugar and processed foods “have been the demon all along” that sludge up the blood vessels and lead to heart disease. When asked if all fructose is a problem or just high fructose corn syrup, Bowden explains, “I feel the way about fructose the way I feel about fur: It’s gorgeous on its original owner; On the back of a woman at the opera, not so much.” An apple is approximately 7% fructose and also contains pectin, fiber, phytonutrients, and water. Refined sugar has about 50% fructose, high fructose corn syrup is about 55% fructose, and agave nectar even more. In addition, he notes that processed foods are intentionally created with the perfect amount of sugar, fat and salt to trigger dopamine and create an addictive response. For this reason, some people may be able to tolerate these foods in moderation on special occasions, but it may benefit others to cut them out entirely.

Co-author Steve Sinatra, M.D., as Bowden was a true believer in low-fat diets, early in his career had been a major proponent of Statin drugs, and had received honorariums from two major drug companies for lecturing to other doctors on their benefits. Bowen and Sinatra’s current position in the book is this:

“Statin drugs are wildly wildly overprescribed. They are wildly overprescribed to populations on which they have not been tested and on and on which they have shown no benefit. They are wildly overprescribed for primary prevention, for which they have shown no benefit”.

Bowden says it is indisputable that Statins have been shown to have a very modest effect on a population of middle aged men with existing cardiovascular disease, but if you are older, greater than 50 or 60 years, you should not be on these drugs, and they same goes for the majority of women, and all children. The drugs thin the blood and are mildly anti-inflammatory, but fish oil has 10 times the anti-inflammatory power.

One study cited in the book, led by Dr. Beatrice Golomb at the University of California, San Diego, found that up to 65% physicians did not report side effects of Statin drugs to MedWatch, the FDA’s reporting agency for adverse drug reactions, because they didn’t believe the patients that the symptoms resulted from the medication. The symptoms the patients reported included lethargy, confusion, muscle pain, and numbness, all of which are established proven side effects of Statins, yet many of the doctors denied these were even a possibility. The obvious alternatives to medication are lifestyle changes, proper nutrition, and supplements.

Lifestyle changes would include exercise, stress reduction, minimizing exposure to toxicity, including toxic relationships, getting outside, playing with animals, and participating in community and in projects larger than oneself. The typical U.S. diet is carb-heavy and results in a constant state of sugar overload for the body, which decreases insulin sensitivity and the body’s ability to cope with the excess. Exercise has an insulin-like effect and allows the cells to utilize and clear out the sugar. Bowden adds that community involvement is especially important because in observations of Centenarians all over the world, people living greater than 100 years who are still having excellent quality of life, they’ve repeatedly found extreme variations in diet type, but their common link is that they all were very active within their community.

Bowden says his major dietary recommendations to prevent and reduce heart disease are to lose the fear of eating fat, eat fresh, colorful produce, cut back on carbs, especially processed ones, and eliminate processed sugar. While saturated fat does mildly raise LDL cholesterol, it tends to raise the harmless cotton-ball type A, and lowers the inflammatory type B LDL. This is why saturated fat in its natural form, from foods like grass-fed beef, cage-free eggs, and coconut, is not a problem. He says to eat what he calls the “Jonny Bowden 4 Food Groups: Food you can hunt, fish, gather or pluck.”

For supplements for heart health, Bowden calls omega 3 “the most anti-inflammatory substance on the planet” just about everyone will benefit from, along with magnesium, “the great relaxer” that calms the mind, lowers blood pressure, and helps regulate blood sugar. He also lists among his favorites that he expands upon in the book curcumin, reservatrol, coQ10, carnitine, vitamin D, vitamin C, and citrus bergamot (found to lower triglycerides, raise HDL, and lower the inflammatory type of LDL). One startling side effect of the Statin drugs used to treat high cholesterol is that they cause depletion of coQ10, one of most important nutrients for the heart in the body.

When asked what he has to say for people whose doctors are “excited by cholesterol lowering to 90”, Bowden says to find a new doctor. Having generally lower cholesterol is linked to having greater risk of accidents, suicides, depression, and decreased ability to fight infections. Bile acids, vitamin D, and sex hormones are created from cholesterol. He states that his hypothesis is that it is not a coincidence that there is an epidemic of erectile dysfunction among middle aged men on Statin drugs. One practitioner called in and added that findings reported in the European Journal of Neurology were that if a woman is on Statin drugs and develops a depletion of coQ10, it increases her breast cancer risk 800 times, and pointed out that in Europe, doctors are mandated by law to administer coQ10 in conjunction with Statins or they are fined.

Bowden says these findings are anything but uncommon and he cites the Framingham Heart Study in his book as another that showed increased mortality rates with lowered cholesterol levels. Instead of concentrating on lowering cholesterol, it is more prudent to focus on increasing the intake of healthy sources of cholesterol and improving the cholesterol ratio.


Bowden, Jonny, Ph.D., C.N.S (Featured Speaker). 2013. “Book- The Great Cholesterol Myth”. Podcast audio program. Designs for Health Member Website, March 6.

The Great Cholesterol Myth: Why Lowering Your Cholesterol Won’t Prevent Heart Disease-and the Statin-Free Plan That Will

Physician Response to Patient Reports Adverse Drug Effects

Statin Side Effects: Do Doctors Take Patients’ Complaints Seriously?

High density lipoprotein cholesterol and mortality. The Framingham Heart Study.

 Is the use of cholesterol in mortality risk algorithms in clinical guidelines valid? Ten years prospective data from the Norwegian HUNT 2 study.


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