Why Cholesterol May Not Be the Cause Of Heart Disease

WE HAVE ALL BEEN LED TO to believe that cholesterol is bad and that lowering it is good. Because of extensive pharmaceutical marketing to both doctors and patients we think that using statin drugs is proven to work to lower the risk of heart attacks and death.

But on what scientific evidence is this based, what does that evidence really show?

Roger Williams once said something that is very applicable to how we commonly view the benefits of statins. “There are liars, damn liars, and statisticians.”

We see prominent ads on television and in medical journals — things like 36% reduction in risk of having a heart attack. But we don’t look at the fine print. What does that REALLY mean and how does it affect decisions about who should really be using these drugs.

Before I explain that, here are some thought provoking findings to ponder.

  • If you lower bad cholesterol (LDL) but have a low HDL (good cholesterol) there is no benefit to statins. (i)
  • If you lower bad cholesterol (LDL) but don’t reduce inflammation (marked by a test called C-reactive protein), there is no benefit to statins. (ii)
  • If you are a healthy woman with high cholesterol, there is no proof that taking statins reduces your risk of heart attack or death. (iii)
  • If you are a man or a woman over 69 years old with high cholesterol, there is no proof that taking statins reduces your risk of heart attack or death. (iv)
  • Aggressive cholesterol treatment with two medications (Zocor and Zetia) lowered cholesterol much more than one drug alone, but led to more plaque build up in the arties and no fewer heart attacks. (v)
  • 75% of people who have heart attacks have normal cholesterol
  • Older patients with lower cholesterol have higher risks of death than those with higher cholesterol. (vi)
  • Countries with higher average cholesterol than Americans such as the Swiss or Spanish have less heart disease.
  • Recent evidence shows that it is likely statins’ ability to lower inflammation it what accounts for the benefits of statins, not their ability to lower cholesterol.

So for whom do the statin drugs work for anyway? They work for people who have already had heart attacks to prevent more heart attacks or death. And they work slightly for middle-aged men who have many risk factors for heart disease like high blood pressure, obesity, or inflammation, (vii) imbalances in blood sugar and insulin and oxidative stress.

To control these key biological functions and keep them in balance, you need to look at your overall health as well as your genetic predispositions, as these underlie the types of diseases you’re most likely to develop. It is the interaction of your genes, lifestyle, and environment that ultimately determines your risks — and the outcome of your life.

This is the science of nutrigenomics, or how food acts as information to stall or totally prevent some predisposed disease risks by turning on the right gene messages with our diet and lifestyle choices. That means some of the factors that unbalance bodily health are under your control, or could be.

These include diet, , and activity levels. Key tests can reveal problems with a person’s blood sugar and insulin, inflammation level, level of folic acid, clotting factors, hormones, and other bodily systems that affect your risk of cardiovascular disease.

Particularly important are the causes if inflammation, which are many, and need to be assessed. Inflammation can arise from poor diet (too much sugar and trans and saturated fats), a sedentary lifestyle, stress, food allergies, hidden infections such as gum disease, and even toxins such as mercury. All of these causal factors need to be considered anytime there is inflammation.

Combined together, all of these factors determine your risk of heart disease. And I recommend that people undergo a comprehensive medical evaluation to see what their risk really is.

Zeroing in on Key Factors for Heart Disease

There’s no doubt about it, inflammation is key contributor to heart disease. A major study done at Harvard found that people with high levels of a marker called C-reactive protein (CRP) had higher risks of heart disease than people with high cholesterol. Normal cholesterol levels were NOT protective to those with high CRP. The risks were greatest for those with high levels of both CRP and cholesterol.

Another predisposing factor to heart disease is . We’ll do this not by lowering the LDL, but by getting more light and fluffy LDL particles, which are protective and more HDL cholesterol, which is THE most important cholesterol.

Now I’d like to hear from you…

Have you been told that you need to lower your cholesterol?

If so, what were your told to do and how does that compare to what you’ve read here?

Does any of what you’ve read here come as a surprise?

Please share your thoughts by adding a comment below.


(i) Barter P, Gotto AM, LaRosa JC, Maroni J, Szarek M, Grundy SM, Kastelein JJ, Bittner V, Fruchart JC; Treating to New Targets Investigators. HDL cholesterol, very low levels of LDL cholesterol, and cardiovascular events. N Engl J Med. 2007 Sep 27;357(13):1301-10.

(ii) Ridker PM, Danielson E, Fonseca FA, Genest J, Gotto AM Jr, Kastelein JJ, Koenig W, Libby P, Lorenzatti AJ, MacFadyen JG, Nordestgaard BG, Shepherd J, Willerson JT, Glynn RJ; JUPITER Study Group. Rosuvastatin to prevent vascular events in men and women with elevated C-reactive protein. N Engl J Med. 2008 Nov 20;359(21):2195-207.

(iii) Abramson J, Wright JM. Are lipid-lowering guidelines evidence-based? Lancet. 2007 Jan 20;369(9557):168-9

(iv) IBID

(v) Brown BG, Taylor AJ Does ENHANCE Diminish Confidence in Lowering LDL or in Ezetimibe? Engl J Med 358:1504, April 3, 2008 Editorial

(vi) Schatz IJ, Masaki K, Yano K, Chen R, Rodriguez BL, Curb JD. Cholesterol and all-cause mortality in elderly people from the Honolulu Heart Program: a cohort study. Lancet. 2001 Aug 4;358(9279):351-5.

(vii) Hansson GK Inflammation, Atherosclerosis, and Coronary Artery Disease N Engl J Med 352:1685, April 21, 2005

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