I hold that orthodoxy is the death of knowledge, since the growth of knowledge depends entirely on the existence of disagreement.,

Karl Popper, The Myth of the Framework, in Defence of Science and Rationality, 1994, Routledge ed, p224


American scientist Ancel Keys is responsible, almost more than any other individual, for the public health misconception around fats that exists today. Through published work that was vaunted across the world, he had a far-reaching impact on how we think about the role of fats.

When Keys first published his theories, alleging that saturated fats were uniquely harmful, they were controversial.

This controversy remains strong today as the debate on the roles of fat and sugar in relation to cardiovascular disease (CVD) associated with atheroma goes on.

This article reflects upon two main subjects: understanding the complexity of chronic diseases as antithesis of acute infectious diseases; and the principle of falsifiability applied to atheroma theories and the practical consequences this entails.

After WWII, the work of Keys played a fundamental role in the debate around fats. How? Because it claimed to demonstrate a link between saturated fats consumption and atheroma:

‘Many factors are probably involved in the atherosclerotic development and in the clinical appearance of coronary heart disease, but there is no longer any doubt that one central item is the concentration, over time, of cholesterol and related lipids and lipoproteins in the blood serum. No other etiological influence of comparable importance is as yet identified.’

(Keys, American Journal of Public Health, Nov 1953, Vol 43, pp1,399-1,407)

Today in reality, scientists see tobacco, diabetes and hypertension to be much more powerful risk factors. We condemn researchers who, for over 40 years, have not been keen to verify the data and the conclusions it suggested.

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