High Cholesterol Doesn’t Mean Your Health Is In Jeopardy

| September 27, 2012 | Comments (6)

Most doctors who check cholesterol levels will order a ‘lipid panel’ – a blood test which measures levels of total cholesterol, low density lipoprotein-cholesterol (LDL-C), high density lipoprotein-cholesterol (HDL-C), and triglycerides. Conventional wisdom tells us that, on the whole, cholesterol is a bad thing, particularly LDL-C. While HDL-C is generally regarded as a good thing (associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease).

Most doctors I come across are more moved by total cholesterol levels. Once this goes beyond 5.0 mmol/l (193 mg/dl) alarms bells ring for many doctors. I’ve lost count of the number of patients I’ve seen with cholesterol levels in the high 5’s or around 6 who have been told to ditch the fat and get exercising, and if that doesn’t work to bring cholesterol down, they are told to seriously consider statins.

Even if raised cholesterol is associated with an increased risk of, say, heart disease, the only really important thing is if cholesterol reduction (as we doctors often urge people to undertake) is beneficial. Most doctors, I think, would swear blind that there’s really no doubt about the benefits. Yet, several strategies (including more than one type of drug) that are effective in lowering cholesterol have not brought benefits for cardiovascular health. Some actually make matters worse. The bottom line is that cholesterol reduction per se is not guaranteed to bring health benefits, and may actually hasten cardiovascular disease and even death.

However, even before we get to these crucial issues, we might at least ask if the relationship between cholesterol levels and health is as clear-cut as we are so often lead to believe. I recently came across a study which, like others, casts some doubt on the notion that higher cholesterol levels are inherently bad for our health.

The study was conducted in men with an average age of almost 77. About three-quarters of the men neither had a history of cardiovascular disease nor were taking a statin drug. The rest of the men either had a history of cardiovascular disease or were taking a statin.

Here’s a brief summary of the relationship between total cholesterol, LDL-C and HDL-C levels and risk of death from heart disease in the men:

High HDL-C levels were associated with a reduced risk in the group of men who had a prior history of cardiovascular disease or were taking a statin. When all the men were lumped together, higher HDL-C levels were still associated with a lower risk of death from heart disease.

Higher LDL-C levels were associated with an increased risk of death from heart disease, but only in the men with no history of cardiovascular disease. When all the men were analysed together, higher LDL-C levels were NOT associated with an increased risk.

Total cholesterol was associated with an increased risk of death from heart disease but, again, only in men with no history of cardiovascular disease. When all the men were analysed together, higher total cholesterol levels were NOT associated with an increased risk.

Another parameter assessed by the authors of this study was the ratio of total cholesterol to HDL-C, with higher ratios generally viewed as a bad thing. Here, higher values were associated with an increased risk generally, but this was not true in the group of men with a previous history of cardiovascular disease or taking a statin.

What this study shows is that the standard ways of assessing heart disease risk in this population lack consistency and do not appear at all reliable. The fact that in the population as a whole, neither total cholesterol nor LDL-C was associated with an increased risk of death from heart disease should perhaps cause us to question the basis on which we make recommendations regarding cholesterol management.

Here’s to a healthy heart

Dr John Briffa
Editor
for The Cholesterol Truth

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References:

1. Clarke R, et al. Cholesterol fractions and apolipoproteins as risk factors for heart disease mortality in older men. Arch Intern Med 2007;147(13):1373-1824

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Category: Latest Cholesterol Research

Comments (6)

Testimonials are based on the personal experience of individuals. Results are not typical and the potential benefits of taking any drug or supplement may vary depending on your individual needs and health requirements. Please consult your GP before making any changes to your medical regimen.

  1. Chris says:

    Read this and you will never think of cholesterol in the same way again. It the longest, most detailed and well sourced article I have ever read on cholesterol.

  2. Chris says:

    What a disgrace! These nurses should be sued for medical malpractice. Hopefully doctors are starting to wake up more and more about the lies about cholesterol.

    I you have a friend or a relative who is on statins warn them against it in the strongest possible way that you know how ! She, if my mum was as uninformed and suffering as much as you describe due to such disgracefully false medical advice I would kidnap her if necessary to get her away from these glorified drug meddlers that she keeps going back to !

  3. Andy Biddulph says:

    MY neighbour had been put on statins and could hardly walk. The doctor left him on statins and supplied support devices for his knees and elbows so he could cope with life after a fashion. I suggested he discontinue statins. He is now trotting down the road to get his newspaper without any need for support devices.

  4. She says:

    My poor Mum was told she had high cholesterol about 25 years ago, by her practice nurse. As a result she cut out just about all animal fats. What happened to her? She’s nearly 78, crippled with arthritis, thin, weak and now starting to fall over. She’s got osteoporosis, is prone to infections and just falls asleep in her chair after very little exertion. Basically she’s wreaked and has been for years. She’s terrified of fat and still has her Le els checked regularly by the same nurse who is pleased that Mums levels are still falling. I think the advice and resultant unhealthy diet has robbed her of her health and life. The one good thing to come out of it is that I won’t believe this theory and have read and researched the subject in detail.

    Pass the butter Doctor, and if you tell me again that if your own cholesterol readings were the same as mine you would definitely take statins, I will happily write you a prescription and leave you to it!

  5. S.Fuller says:

    I had my cholesterol checked about 18 months ago. It came as 9.7! My Dr. told me I had a 25% increased risk of heart attack. At first I panicked and thought I would have to take statins. Then I did loads of research starting with thecholesteroltruth and finally decided to do nothing. My brother was on statins and suffered side effects so he stopped ans feels better than he has for years. By the way there is no family history of heart disease, my mother had very high cholesterol and smoked and lived to a ripe old age.

  6. K Pullin says:

    I am a 66 year old male 5 Ft 2 inches tall and 126 lb s in weight.
    In November I went to my doctors surgery for a check up with the practice nurse. This found me fit and well and my cholesterol sample sent for analysis. At this point I informed her that my levels were checked more than 20 years ago and they were very high (7.2 ). By the way she looked she obviously took this with a pinch of salt and said “we`ll see”.
    When the results came back they were 7.1.
    The nurse told me that my cholesterol was far too high and that if I did not take statins for the rest of my life , then I “will get a heart attack, I know”. I accepted this although I had misgivings since I do not take medication unless I really need it. After some research , including the “cholesterol truth”,and feeling some of the symptoms accredited to statins (possibly psychological, maybe not),tiredness and muscle soreness, I decided to stop taking the statins(simvastatin). I had taken statins for 4 weeks and my cholesterol reduced to (4.8). I telephoned the nurse to inform her of my decision and make an appointment to explain to her why I was taking this decision. Her answer was to hang up on me.
    I then saw my GP and explained the situation.
    He listened to what I had to say then told me that being on statins was affecting my health more than
    any benefits from them and told me to go and enjoy my life. This maintained the relationship that I have and have had with my GP for over 30 years.
    Obviously my case raises deep concerns about the modern theories on the “risk” of so called high cholesterol.If what the nurse told me that I “would” have a heart attack because of my extremely high cholesterol,then why aftermore than 20 years (known),possibly 30,possibly 40,possibly 50 years, am not only still alive but very fit and healthy.

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Testimonials are based on the personal experience of individuals. Results are not typical and the potential benefits of taking any drug or supplement may vary depending on your individual needs and health requirements. Please consult your GP before making any changes to your medical regimen.




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