New Cholesterol Guidelines: Utter Madness

Usually I try to write these newsletter articles with a modicum of objectivity and fairness, checking my passion at the gate. But this latest travesty from the Cholesterol Establishment is simply too much to take sitting down.

On Nov 11, The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute issued new guidelines on cholesterol.

They now advise screening for all children between 9-11.

Let me tell you in no uncertain terms why this is utterly ridiculous.

Number one: Cholesterol is a hormone factory.

Cholesterol is actually the parent molecule for the whole family of hormones known as steroid hormones. These hormones include cortisol (known as the “flight or fight” hormone), and the entire family of sex steroids including the estrogens, progesterone and testosterone. The sexual side effects of statin drugs has been well documented, and was even the subject of an entire book by one of the top cholesterol researchers in the world, Michel de Lorgeril, MD. Do we really want to put children on a drug that can conceivably impact their entire sexual development? Really?

Number two: Cholesterol is used by the body to synthesize bile acids.

Bile acids vitally important for the digestion of fat. They’re synthesized from cholesterol and then secreted into the bile. Bile acids are so important to the body that it holds onto most of them, keeping them from being lost in the feces and instead causing them to be reabsorbed from the lower intestine, put into a kind of “metabolic recycling” container and taken back to the liver. Still, even with its best efforts, the body loses some bile acids and to make up for this, the liver synthesizes approximately 1500-2000 mg of new cholesterol a day (that’s about 7-10 times the amount in a large egg). Clearly the body thinks you need that cholesterol.

Number three: Cholesterol is an essential component of cell membranes.

Cholesterol is an essential part of the membranes of the brain, the nervous system, the spinal cord and the peripheral nerves. It’s incorporated into the myelin sheath, a kind of insulation or “cover” for the nerve fibers that facilitates nerve impulse transmission. Cholesterol is also important for stabilizing cells against temperature changes. Memory and cognition problems are one of the most common side effects of statin drugs. (For more on this, see Dr. Duane Graveline’s frightening book, “Lipitor: Thief of Memory”.)

Number four: Cholesterol is important for the Immune System.

Cholesterol has an important connection to the immune system. Research has shown that human LDL (so-called “bad” cholesterol) is able to inactivate over 90 percent of the worst and most toxic bacterial products(1-4).

And a number of studies have linked low cholesterol with a greater risk of infections. One review of 19 large, peer-reviewed studies of more than 68,000 deaths found that low cholesterol predicted an increased risk of dying from respiratory and gastrointestinal disease, both of which frequently have an infectious origin. Another study that followed more than 100,000 healthy individuals in San Francisco found that those who had low cholesterol at the beginning of the 15—year study were far more likely to be admitted to the hospital because of an infectious disease.(1,2). And an interesting finding from the MRFIT study found that 16 years after their cholesterol was first checked, the group of men whose cholesterol level was 160 or less were four times more likely to die from AIDS than the group of men whose cholesterol was over 240! (3)

Number five: Cholesterol is the parent molecule for vitamin D

It’s well known that an enormous number of people- perhaps over 50% of the population in this country, though exact figures aren’t known—have far less than the optimal amount of vitamin D in their systems. Low levels of vitamin D have been linked to depression, cancer, physical performance, weakened immunity, the inability to lose weight and even overall life expectancy. Could the huge number of vitamin D deficiency clinicians are seeing on a regular basis be partly due to the overuse of statin drugs? It’s hard to know—but it passes the smell test.

Do you really want to put a kid on a drug that’s going to clearly impact his body’s ability to make this vital, important nutrient?

But the biggest, most glaring reason the idea of screening kids for high cholesterol is boneheaded is this: Cholesterol doesn’t cause heart disease.

No folks, we’ve been completely mislead, lied to, bamboozled and just plain misinformed.

Parents: Do NOT repeat NOT succumb to the inevitable pressure to have your child tested for cholesterol and under NO circumstances consent to putting him or her on a statin drug.

Cardiologist Stephen Sinatra and I are currently at work on a book explaining the whole thing- how we got on this crazy cholesterol-phobic path to begin with, and why the cholesterol myth continues to persist today despite the fact that it is clearly past its expiration date.

I’ll save the details for the book, but in light of these new guidelines, I thought it was urgent to get the message out to you now.

Trying to prevent heart disease by lowering cholesterol is like trying to cut calories from your McDonald’s super-size meal by eliminating the radish garnish.

Cholesterol is the wrong target, and we’ve been totally and completely misled by those who tell us differently.

Look, I don’t believe in “conspiracy theories”, at least not the kind publicity seeking hucksters promote in books with subtitles like “Secrets “THEY” don’t want you to know about!”  But I do believe there is a subtle (and not-so-subtle) circle of influence that flows freely between government (the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute, the National Cholesterol Education Program), regulators (FDA), the pharmaceutical industry and their lobbyists, the medical journals and other movers and shakers in the “medical-industrial” complex.

For example:  When the National Cholesterol Education Program lowered the “optimal” cholesterol levels in 2004, 8 out of 9 people on the panel had financial ties to the pharmaceutical industry, most of them to the manufacturers of cholesterol-lowering drugs who would subsequently reap immediate benefits from those same recommendations.

Statin drugs are blockbusters. They are literally money factories for their manufacturers. (Lipitor, for example, is the best-selling drug in the history of pharmaceuticals.) Their manufacturers are not necessarily bad, evil people- but they have a responsibility. And that responsibility is to their shareholders, not to some Platonic vision of a healthy population.

So, like any company, one of their goals is to find and develop new markets. If they can subtly help convince you- through publicity, marketing, influence, behind-the-scenes shenanigans, etc.– that children are at great “risk” from high cholesterol, they have created a brand new, extremely lucrative market for their products.

Which is exactly what you, as a shareholder, would love to see. But you as a parent or a patient—well that’s another story.

I consider the cholesterol book I’m currently working on with Dr. Sinatra to be the most important work I’ve ever done. Heart disease is the number one killer in the world, and people need to stop focusing on cholesterol and get to work on what the real issues in heart disease: inflammation, infections, oxidation, glycation and stress.

I’m almost thinking we need an “Occupy Wall Street” type mass movement telling these folks, “Stop already!!!! Stop inundating us with messages about how “bad” and “dangerous” cholesterol is so you can continue to make 30 billion a year (and rising) selling us drugs to cure a “problem” that plays a very minor part in heart disease. Stop trying to get us to focus on the Radish garnish so that we won’t notice what those super-sized fries and milk shake are doing to us.”

Just. Stop. It.

Seriously.

This has gone far enough.

 

 REFERENCES:

1)    Iribarren C and others. Serum total cholesterol and risk of hospitalization, and death from respiratory disease. International Journal of Epidemiology 26, 1191–1202, 1997.

2)    Iribarren C and others. Cohort study of serum total cholesterol and in-hospital incidence of infectious diseases. Epidemiology and Infection 121, 335–347, 1998.

3)    Neaton JD, Wentworth DN. Low serum cholesterol and risk of death from AIDS. AIDS 11, 929–930, 1997.

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