Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The "Business" of Cholesterol

Cholesterol drugs are the rave in the pharmaceutical industry, in 2005 people in the US spent close to $20 billion on statin drugs. Statin drugs are big business. These drugs do a great job of lowering cholesterol so they must be good, right? Well, if your objective is to lower your cholesterol the answer is yes but if your objective is health and a longer life than the answer is no.

If they lower cholesterol how can they be bad? You might think I’ll refer to the side effects and while they are something to think about I feel it is more important to look at the effectiveness of these drugs. These drugs do lower cholesterol but do they lower your chance of having a heart attack and dying? Well, the answer is yes and no. If you’ve already had a heart attack they decrease your chance of another one by about 1% over 3 years, yes that’s right 1%. For every 100 people taking Lipitor, compared to 100 taking a placebo, 1 fewer person had a heart attack. If you’ve never had a heart attack the protection is significantly lower.

The common belief is that cholesterol causes arteriosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) which leads to heart attack when the arteries to the heart become to narrow or a piece breaks off leading to a clogged artery. If cholesterol is the cause of arteriosclerosis then why don’t they work? While cholesterol is the substance that sticks to the walls of the arteries leading to narrowing it’s being in the blood stream is not what causes it to stick. Cholesterol only sticks to the walls of the arteries when there is injury and inflammation in the lining of those arteries. Without injury and inflammation cholesterol is used for other purposes, like making hormones.

Eating a Mediterranean diet or just eating more fish have both shown a greater benefit than statin drugs at reducing heart attacks.

If you or a loved one is taking a Cholesterol drug I encourage you to look at the information in the articles and video below to make an informed choice about taking it.

A very enlightening article on the effectiveness of cholesterol drugs published in Business Week: Do Cholesterol Drugs Do Any Good .

Life Extension Foundation on Coronary Artery Disease and Atherosclerosis .

This is a great video by Matthew Loop DC on cholesterol drugs.

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