House Calls: Questioning Cholesterol by Julie Crist, L. Ac.
I should probably preface everything I write with the follow¬ing:“If you are eating the Standard American Diet (SAD) and living the usual American sedentary lifestyle, then you are committing suicide, and the following information will not excuse you from the laws of biology.”So, that said, there are two sides to every story, and medicine is no exception. On the one hand, you have the docs who have to look you in the eye when you come gimping in the door. They are moti¬vated by the reality that when someone comes to you asking for help and you try and fail to help them, it feels bad, even if the patient brought this on himself. Most of them really want to fix your problem. It’s a high-stress job. I can really relate.Then on the other hand, you have drug companies who want you sick and hooked on their dope for life. They don’t want you to get better. They are really excited about feeding you poison that results in a long list of side effects that they can then sell you more drugs for. Yes. Really.Some of you have even noticed that the drugs you take – if they work at all - only work for a while. Then they upgrade you to progressively more expensive, dangerous prescriptions. It’s kind of a pyramid scheme.I treat a surprising number of retired medical personnel. Some of these people were RNs. I really listen to what they have to say about the medical industry, because I think that three, four, or five decades of hands-on experience trumps predatory commercial drug company laboratories and a squad of non-clinical egg-headed researchers any day.I was talking to one of these retired nurses and she observed that over the course of her career, acceptable cholesterol levels were gradually dropped to the point where most people who had a cholesterol test would probably fail.That’s called moving the goalpost. Cholesterol medication is a multi-billion dollar industry. Although most docs will tell you that it’s a given that high cholesterol numbers are dangerous, it’s not. This is still a matter of debate – it’s actually called the “cholesterol hypothesis” - and guess who is arguing for lots of testing and medication? Drug companies control this conversation in the clinic because they are the largest funders of medical education in the nation. In other words, they donate billions to every med school in the country, so the school that teaches their docs to fill drug com¬pany pockets with the most money will receive the most fund¬ing. Here’s how that works: The chapter on cholesterol and heart disease in my college textbook Pathophysiology: Adaptations and Alterations in Function 3d ed. by Bullock and Rosendahl starts out, “Diet is a main factor in the development of cardiovascular disease. In the United States, the intake has been increasingly geared toward consumption of a high-fat, high-carbohydrate diet.” So far, so good, if not badly written. You’d think for $180 they could afford to use the active voice.Then we get, “The American diet has resulted in generally high serum plasma cholesterol levels. Coronary risk is directly related to serum cholesterol: the higher the plasma cholesterol, the greater the risk.” These are a couple of really convenient statements to print in a textbook if you make your money peddling drugs. This is also a great example of how the American education system – at all levels – magically turns a theory into a “fact” without having to confirm it first. First you print it in a big (1,237 pages), expensive, official-looking textbook with gold lettering on the front, and then you make the stressed, powerless and insignificant student memorized it, and then you test him on it.So any doc who “goes off the ranch” and implies that the cholesterol hypothesis is flawed must be some left-field nutcase who got his degree out of a Cracker Jacks box and is just trying to make a name for himself, right?Yup, that would probably describe Harlan Krumholz, professor of medicine and cardiologist at the Yale University School of Medicine.A group of “experts” called the Adult Treatment Panel sets your personal cholesterol guidelines. They are reviewing those guidelines later this year, and I have a couple of predictions. One, I bet they drop the numbers again, and two, I bet if you dig into these guys’ backgrounds, you will find a drug company in the woodpile.Dr. Krumholz wrote a letter to the panel describing three big problems he has with the whole cholesterol scam (my word, not his).His first issue – and I have to say, this is really an Emperor Has No Clothes moment – is that there is no scientific basis for claiming that using statin (cholesterol-reducing) drugs to lower cholesterol reduces heart disease. There is a huge percentage of patients who take statins to reduce their cholesterol and still have heart disease. Statins do not even reduce cholesterol in everyone who takes them, and, as Dr. Krumholz points out, statistically, LDL levels are a really poor indicator of heart disease risk. What statins do do is reduce inflammation. It’s pretty clear by now that chronic inflammation can kill you, or at least make your really sick, and that might be how statins work – reducing inflammation. Problem is, they also offer a boatload of really nasty side effects. Cleaning up your diet and cutting down on sodium will reduce your inflammation without giving you depression, impotence, and “transient global amnesia.”His second issue is that no one has studied the safety of dropping your cholesterol like a rock with drugs for decades. We are, of course, reassured that the experts are well on top of all that, but the fact is that drug companies do not ever do decades-long studies because they will be bad for business. Long-term, aggressive drug treatment of diabetes and high blood pressure usually result in premature death, and not in a good way. Two years ago, Baycol – one of those incredibly safe statins – was recalled after it killed 31 people that they know of.Dr. Krumholz’s third point is that using cholesterol drugs to prevent heart disease is kind of like bailing out the Titanic with a teaspoon. Treatments to prevent heart disease should be holistic and need to look at ALL the person’s risk factors, not just cholesterol. This means that the average American described at the beginning of this article needs to clean up her act in order to prevent heart disease, not just hope that magic drug fairies will excuse her bad habits and gift her with excellent health. Oh – and did I mention that now the drug dealers are pushing for healthy adults with normal cholesterol levels to take statins? Let’s just give ‘em the drugs up front, since, as all the experts know, most Americans are too stupid and lazy to understand and follow nutritional advice.Right?Julie Crist, L. Ac., is a licensed acupuncturist at Acuplanet Acupuncture (located in the Town Center Building in downtown Colville).