Major Australian Current Affairs Show Exposes National Heart Foundation’s Dubious “Heart Tick” Scheme
Dec 2013 21
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I've previously written about the Australian National Heart Foundation, a 'non-profit' organization that runs a highly dubious program in which food manufacturers pay for the right to adorn their products with the Foundation's "Heart Tick".

The whole purpose of the Heart Tick program is to impress upon consumers that there is something especially "healthy" about the endorsed food. But the NHF has awarded its tick to such junk as refined vegetable oils that are rich in the omega-6 fatty acid linoleic acid.

Linoleic acid - essential in small amounts - is found in nature, but the refined vegetable oils rich in this fat are not. As such, widespread consumption of these vegetable oils has led to unnaturally large intakes of linoleic acid in many industralized nations. A major factor behind the dramatic increase in consumption of these oils was the vilification of perfectly harmless saturated fats and concomitant endorsements of n-6-rich oils from organizations such as the American Heart Association and the National Heart Foundation.

Epidemiological studies, animal experiments and, more importantly, human clinical trials have shown regular consumption of n-6-rich oils such as corn/sunflower/safflower/soy to increase both the risk of cancer and - most ironically - heart disease.

Despite this, the National Heart Foundation has absolutely no qualms about awarding its Heart Tick to vegetable oils high in n-6. Providing, of course, their manufacturers fork over the required fee.

Meanwhile, truly healthy foods such as meats, vegetables and fruits produced by those who do not take part on this cash-for-endorsements charade receive no such tick of approval.

The Heart Tick program, therefore, is inherently misleading. The over-riding determinant of whether a food receives a Tick is not its nutritional value or its scientifically demonstrated ability to enhance human health, but whether its manufacturer is prepared to cough up thousands of dollars per product per year to the Heart Foundation.

Perhaps this wouldn't be quite so bad if the products in question came with clearly visible warning labels informing consumers that the underlying incentive for awarding Heart Ticks is financial (below is a label I proposed earlier this year). Not surprisingly, neither the NHF nor the manufacturers of endorsed foods see fit to include such labels on their products.

national-heart-foundation-tick-logo-proposed-disclaimer-1An even better proposal would be to scrap the entire Heart Tick escapade altogether, and on Thursday, November 21, 2013, one of Australia's most-watched current affairs show discussed this very proposition. You can watch the entire segment at the link below (it's only 3:15 minutes long, but packs quite a punch nonetheless):

In response to the segment, the National Heart Foundation issued an utterly pathetic media release containing the usual evasive and self-contradictory PR flim-flammery:

National Heart Foundation Statement on Channel 9's A Current Affair

I've got to hand it to the National Heart Foundation: They can sure can cram a lot of hogwash into one short press release.

Let's take a look at some of the rather audacious and patently false nonsense they expect us to swallow whole:

The Heart Foundation begins by whining that "The online petition featured on the program clearly misrepresents the recommendations of not only the Heart Foundation but the Australian Government’s Dietary Guidelines and the wider medical and scientific communities."

Fact: The NHF endorses unhealthy junk in response for monetary payment, and A Current Affair rightfully and matter-of-factly pointed this out.

"Many of the signatories to the petition are from outside Australia where the food supply chain and food processing is vastly different. For example, in the United States many margarines still contain trans fat, whereas in Australia they are virtually trans fat-free."

That's lovely. But completely ignores the fact that most of the signatories were from Australia, the same country in which the National Heart Foundation sees fit to endorse food items that have been shown in clinical trials to increase cancer and heart disease.

Also note the Foundation's use of the red herring strategy. To read the above passage, one might conclude this issue is all about trans fats. It isn't. It's about the National Heart Foundation's long standing habit of providing official endorsements for highly questionable foodstuffs in exchange for thousands of dollars per product per year. The issues with this questionable scheme go far beyond concerns about trans fatty acids; an especially troublesome issue is the abundant science conflicting with the Foundation's eager endorsement of linoleate-rich vegetable oils, which we'll talk more about in a  moment.

"By her own admission, the petition author is not qualified to give health or dietary advice and we would encourage people to seek such advice from qualified professionals."

Ah, now we get to see the National Heart Foundation's true colours. By failing to cite even a skerrick of scientific evidence and instead snidely belittling Jessie Reimers (the young mother who organized the petition mentioned in the ACA story), the Foundation resorts to the time-old tactic of character assassination, also known as the ad hominem attack.

Here's something to think about: If Reimer's lack of professional qualifications renders her so incapable of presenting a valid argument against the NHF, why can't they just demolish her claims on scientific grounds, and shut her up once and for all? Why do they instead have to resort to snide remarks about her qualifications, or lack thereof?

The answer to that is quite simple: Because they can't refute her arguments on scientific grounds.

Whether Reimers is the world's most accomplished researcher or a high-school dropout is utterly irrelevant; the real issue here is that she has raised compelling concerns about both the propriety and scientific validity of the  National Foundation's Heart Tick program, and the best they can muster in response is to attack her personally.

Rather pathetic, isn't it?

And here's something else to chew on. The Heart Foundation pompously ridicules Reimers' lack of recognized credentials and urges people to instead seek advice "from qualified professionals". Hmmm, qualified professionals? You mean, like the registered dietitian in the segment who wholly agreed with Reimers? The same qualified professional the Foundation mysteriously ignores in their media release?

Why no mention of her? Why focus on Reimer's lack of "qualifications" and blatantly ignore the legally valid qualifications of the dietitian who appeared in the same segment?

Clearly, the National Heart Foundation thinks we're all idiots.

"While there has been much public debate around saturated fat and cholesterol – this is another example of the extreme views of a noisy few who show astonishing disregard for the scientific evidence."

My hats off to the National Heart Foundation for their ability to keep a straight face while uttering such blatantly hypocritical garbage.

The "noisy few" that the elitist Heart Foundation snidely dismisses in fact includes preeminent and wholly respected Australian and international researchers. One such figure is Michel deLorgeril, the French researcher who headed the most successful CHD dietary intervention trial ever conducted: The Lyon Diet Heart Trial. Published in the major British medical journal Lancet in 1994, the trial actually had to be cut short for ethical reasons because those who were randomized to an omega-3- and antioxidant-rich diet experienced massive reductions in morbidity and mortality. After an average follow-up of 27 months, CHD and overall mortality were slashed in the treatment group by a whopping 81% and 60%, respectively. The difference was so clear and pronounced that it would have been grossly unfair to the control group to keep the trial going.

Why would an omega-3- and antioxidant-rich diet have such a pronounced effect on mortality rates? Because it helps reverse the damage done by excess consumption of the omega-6 fatty acid linoleic acid - the very same fatty acid that abounds in many of the vegetable oils the National Heart Foundation happily (some would say perversely) awards its Heart Tick to.

There's another reason the Heart Foundation would prefer you not know about de Lorgeril and the Lyon Diet Heart Trial: The intervention group experienced their massive reduction in mortality even though cholesterol levels between the diet and control groups remained identical throughout the study.

As I've stated umpteen times before and explain extensively in The Great Cholesterol Con, cholesterol does not cause heart disease. Never has and never will.

Unlike the National Heart Foundation, de Lorgeril has conducted and published a successful CHD dietary intervention trial. And his experiences have enabled him to see the cholesterol hypothesis of heart disease for exactly what it is: A theory that was widely embraced before ever being proven correct, and has since been demonstrated as scientifically untenable.

Which raises the following question:

What exactly does the NHF do with the tens of millions of dollars it receives each year? Despite much talk about "science", and the public's perception of the NHF as an organization that funds research, the Foundation has come nowhere near establishing a highly effective and non-toxic method for preventing and reversing heart disease.

Instead, while simultaneously endorsing toxic vegetable oils for cash reward, the folks at the NHF choose to belittle real researchers like de Lorgeril - scientists who are actually in the trenches trying to find truly effective treatments for CHD - as noisy extremists.

What a sick joke.

The Evidence the National Heart Foundation Ignores

As I discuss here and in detail in The Great Cholesterol Con, there is a wealth of evidence showing n-6 vegetable oils - the kind the NHF endorses - do not prevent heart disease and may actually increase the incidence of CHD and cancer!

The NHF can't claim to be unaware of this evidence. One of the earliest studies testing the highly misguided polyunsaturated hypothesis was conducted right here in Australia.

The Sydney Diet Heart Study (SDHS) was conceived in 1964, not long after the vegetable oil charade kicked off in the United States. Despite all the hooplah, the linoleate hypothesis had not yet been tested in clinical trials, so researchers from the University of Sydney decided to conduct a trial of their own.

They recruited 458 men aged 30-59 with pre-existing CHD, then randomly assigned them to either their usual diet or one in which saturated fat intake was decreased and polyunsaturated fat intake increased. To achieve this, intervention participants were provided with liquid safflower oil and safflower oil polyunsaturated margarine. It should be mentioned that, by the end of the study, the diet of the control group had also increased in polyunsaturate content thanks to prevailing propaganda, but to a lesser extent than the intervention group.

The control group should have ignored the propaganda: Their overall death rate was only 11.8%, compared to 17.6% in the intervention group.

The first and only Australian clinical trial of the polyunsaturate paradigm found it was a load of bollocks.

But that's hardly the start of it.

Low Cholesterol is Good For You! Low Cholesterol Increases Heart Disease and Overall Death

In the original SDHS report, which can be accessed here, the authors concluded that diet, along with cholesterol level, showed no significant relationship with mortality. Rather, those who entered the study overweight, with hyperuricemia, or with more severe coronary disease were more likely to die during the trial. Those who maintained higher levels of physical activity were more likely to survive.

The original SDHS paper was published in 1978. Earlier this year, the British Medical Journal published a new paper, co-authored by one of the original SDHS researchers and several American researchers. The British Medical Journal, I should add, is one of the world's most widely-read medical journals and is written in English. In other words, there's no excuse for the National Heart Foundation to remain unaware of this article.

The researchers of the new BMJ paper had dug up the original SDHS data, reanalyzed it, and included it in a meta-analysis with data from other saturate vs polyunsaturate trials.

The original published paper only reported the overall death rate, which obviously is the most important mortality data of all. Hey, no use avoiding premature CHD only to get struck down by premature cancer instead. But of course, when the intervention being tested is supposed to be heart healthy, it’s still nice to know what if any effect it had on cardiovascular morbidity and mortality.

As per the original report, the researchers of the new BMJ report noted the intervention group had higher rates of all-cause death than the controls (17.6% vs 11.8%), giving a relative risk ratio of 1.62 at a probability of 0.05.

The figures for cardiovascular disease mortality were almost identical (17.2% vs 11.0%, RR = 1.70, P=0.04).

For coronary heart disease, the mortality data were 16.3% vs 10.1%, RR 1.74, P=0.04.

This was despite the fact that serum total cholesterol decreased more in the LA intervention group than in the control group (−13.3% v −5.5%; P<0.001).

Read that again: Cholesterol levels dropped more in the treatment group, but this group experienced a higher overall, CVD and CHD death rate.

Like I said, the cholesterol thesis is bullshit.

Polyunsaturated Vegetable Oils are Good For You! Polyunsaturated Vegetable Oils Increase Heart Disease and Overall Death

Now, remember how the original research group concluded that diet changes were unrelated to mortality outcomes?  The new team took a second look at the dietary records also, and came up with an entirely different conclusion.

For the dietary re-analysis, only participants with baseline dietary measurements were included (n=429, 63 deaths). To further hone in on which of the prescribed nutrient changes could have produced the increased mortality observed in the intervention group, they repeated the same analysis limiting the sample to the intervention group only (n=207, 35 deaths).

Using this criteria they found that, among intervention patients (in whom the PUFA increase was pretty much all n-6 LA from safflower oil), an increase of 5% of calories from n-6 LA predicted 35% and 29% higher risk of cardiovascular death and all cause mortality, respectively (adjusted for age, dietary cholesterol, body mass index at baseline, smoking, alcohol use, and marital status).

Increases in the LA:SFA ratio in the intervention group were also significantly associated with higher cardiovascular death and all cause mortality; however, the reduction in SFA was not significantly related to any mortality outcome.

Among controls (in whom polyunsaturate source was not restricted to safflower oil and hence PUFA changes may not have been specific to n-6 LA), changes in PUFA and SFA consumption were not significantly related to risk of death.

Among the control and intervention groups combined, an increase of 5% of calories from unspecified PUFA predicted about 30% higher risk of cardiovascular death and all cause mortality.

A reduction in SFA and increase in the PUFA:SFA ratio were also associated with increased risks of all cause and cardiovascular mortality.

“Among patients in this intervention group, the increase in n-6 LA was associated with higher all cause and cardiovascular mortality, providing supporting evidence that LA itself was a key component mediating the unfavorable effects.”

In other words, the SDHS re-analysis strongly suggests that in patients with pre-existing coronary disease, safflower oil is more than just useless – it is potentially deadly.

And then there was the meta-analysis. When the researchers included the updated SDHS data with two other secondary prevention trials (Rose et al, Minnesota Coronary Survey) specifically examining n-6 LA, they found a marked increase in coronary heart disease mortality (1.84, P=0.02) among the intervention groups.

In contrast, analysis of four randomized controlled trials that increased n-3 PUFAs alongside n-6 LA showed reduced cardiovascular mortality (0.79, P=0.04).

The clinical evidence is clear and consistent: Increasing n-6 intakes confers no cardiovascular or overall mortality advantage. To the contrary, it raises the risk of an early demise.

Now, if someone came to me with a wad of cash and asked me to endorse a substance that had been shown in clinical trials to increase the death rate from heart disease and cancer, I'd promptly tell them to go self-fornicate.

The National Heart Foundation, evidently, experiences no such repulsion at the idea of accepting money to endorse  potentially dangerous foodstuffs.

The NHF also evidently doesn't begin to see how ridiculously hypocritical it is to accuse others of having an "astonishing disregard for the scientific evidence”, when it does the exact same thing itself.

As an outfit that claims to hold scientific evidence as its guiding light, the NHF fails miserably.

Anthony Colpo is an independent researcher, physical conditioning specialist, and author of The Fat Loss Bible and The Great Cholesterol Con. For more information, visit or

Copyright © Anthony Colpo.

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