How The Cholesterol Hypothesis Started

To find out how the cholesterol hypothesis actually started, we have to travel back far into the past, to Berlin in the mid-19th century. I have found that it was a huge conspiracy between right-wing governments across the world, pursuing a neo-imperialist pro-globalisation agenda, in conjunction with the pharmaceutical industry! let us peer into the laboratory of a brilliant and already famous pathologist, Rudolf Von Virchow.

Although it's late at night young Rudolf is still working, his mind ever active. He is gazing with feverish intent through a powerful new microscope at the arteries of corpses(though they were not necessarily all the victims of heart disease). He has noted that the arteries have thickened 'plaques' in them, and he wants to know more. And tonight he makes a breakthrough discovery that will echo throughout history for the next 150 years. He has found that the plaques in the arteries contain a great deal of cholesterol.

And where, he ponders, could this cholesterol have come from? The blood seems the only possible place. In a state of agitation, he jumps up, leaps upon his horse and gallops through the streets of Berlin shouting 'Eureka' (Actually, perhaps that was someone else...) The thing about this (admittedly over-dramatised) story that I am most impressed by is that Virchow was able to recognise cholesterol when he saw it. However, despite Virchow's findings, very little actually moved forward during his lifetime.

His was an era in which medicine was preoccupied with infectious diseases. In 1850 you could still die from a small scratch. Tuberculosis felled millions, as did infection during childbirth. Anyone who managed to avoid an infectious death and ended up clutching their chest from a heart attack was probably considered to have done pretty well. A heart attack, young man, is the sign of a long life, well-lived: (Actually, no one would have said this, because no one knew what a heart attack was back then: it was called discombubulitis praecordia, and considered, by learned opinion leaders of the time, to be due to a lack of prompt leech application).