The great cholesterol myth; unfortunate consequences of Brown and Goldstein's mistake

QJM. 2011 Oct;104(10):867-70. doi: 10.1093/qjmed/hcr087. Epub 2011 Jun 20.


Following their Nobel Prize-winning discovery of the defective gene causing familial hypercholesterolaemia, Brown and Goldstein misunderstood the mechanism involved in the pathogenesis of the associated arterial disease. They ascribed this to an effect of the high levels of cholesterol circulating in the blood. In reality, the accelerated arterial damage is likely to be a consequence of more brittle arterial cell walls, as biochemists know cholesterol to be a component of them which modulates their fluidity, conferring flexibility and hence resistance to damage from the ordinary hydrodynamic blood forces. In the absence of efficient receptors for LDL cholesterol, cells will be unable to use this component adequately for the manufacture of normally resilient arterial cell walls, resulting in accelerated arteriosclerosis. Eating cholesterol is harmless, shown by its failure to produce vascular accidents in laboratory animals, but its avoidance causes human malnutrition from lack of fat-soluble vitamins, especially vitamin D.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Arteries / physiopathology
  • Arteriosclerosis / blood
  • Arteriosclerosis / etiology*
  • Arteriosclerosis / physiopathology
  • Cholesterol / blood
  • Cholesterol, Dietary / adverse effects*
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Evidence-Based Medicine
  • Humans
  • Hyperlipoproteinemia Type II / blood
  • Hyperlipoproteinemia Type II / complications*
  • Hyperlipoproteinemia Type II / genetics
  • Mythology


  • Cholesterol, Dietary
  • Cholesterol