Posted by: Joseph Dixon | June 17, 2014

Science: Unintended Consequences; Ancel Keys, Cholesterol, and the Transition to an Obese Society; Foreword, Why I Wrote this Book

I wrote this book for several reasons.

First, I have been teaching a course called Nutrition and Health for almost 25 years and I have taught the material in this book many times. Over this period of time I have adjusted my teaching so that the students could maximally learn the important concepts underlying fat and lipoprotein metabolism so that they could use this information in later classes.

Second, I have been asked by many people about cholesterol and why it is so important or so bad for them, and I finally decided to write a book that would finally explain the functions of this mystery substance in a way that my friends and family could understand. In fact, I have encountered some doctors who had no idea what cholesterol was and what it did in the body. So this book is for them, too.

Third, I recently was asked to teach the department’s obesity course and although I am not an obesity researcher, I gave it a try. For twenty five years I had taught about obesity in my general nutrition class, but this only takes about two lectures as there is so much other material in the course. I thought I knew everything I needed to know about obesity, but in teaching the obesity course for two semesters, I was surprised to learn that, in fact, I knew very little about obesity and its causes.

And in fact, when I combined what I learned in teaching the obesity class and what I had been teaching in Nutrition and Health for twenty five years, I realized that I had a powerful message to make available to a wider audience.

And finally, one day I started to look through Ancel Keys’ “Seven Countries” book that I had on my book shelf in my office. I kept on reading it through the afternoon, and by the next day, I had read the book cover to cover. And the thought that immediately came to my mind was that everything that I had heard about Ancel Keys in my graduate school classes and in basic scientific discussions was not accurate. I had heard that he had been a dominant and divisive figure in the history of CHD research, but this was not the Ancel Keys that came across so eloquently in the book. The book was carefully written and was open minded; Ancel Keys did not use bombastic language that indicated he was the ultimate source of knowledge; and most importantly, several times in the book he acknowledged that he did not understand his findings. I found a man who was a true scientist, and not someone who used science for his own purposes and advancement.

And if one searchers for Ancel Keys on the internet, it is immediately apparent that there are many people who consider him the devil because of his scientific findings. They dispute the cholesterol hypothesis with very little understanding how complex lipid metabolism is and with little sense of how work it required to make even elementary discoveries. In fact, they reminded me of the global warming science deniers that are so prevalent today.   So another reason I wrote this book was to set the record straight concerning Ancel Keys’ research accomplishments, and also the research accomplishments of the many scientists who have struggled to make sense of the cholesterol and fat fields. And as he does in his scientific research articles, Dr. Keys gives credit to other scientists and their research studies in his book, “Seven Countries.”

As I indicated earlier, I am not an obesity researcher. But I am a lipids researcher and I understand lipid metabolism to the extent that I can explain it and relate it to our current obesity crisis. It is quite possible that at times I made lipid metabolism too simple. If I have done so, I recommend that you read a biochemistry text! The fact that I am not an obesity researcher may be an important facet of what I bring to the table because I think it helped me sort through the great quantities of articles and information that has accumulated in the obesity field of study. Also, not being an obesity researcher may have caused me to leave out some important aspects of the obesity problem. If I have done so, then I apologize for these omissions.




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