Why is conventional medicine so stuck on treating cholesterol rather than fixing the underlying cause of heart disease?
The story of how cholesterol came to play the role of “enemy of human health” is a slow progression and dates back as far as 1858. Rudolph Virchow, a professor of pathology in Berlin, found that when tissue broke down, large amounts of cholesterol were released. As we discussed yesterday, cholesterol is always present at the scene of the crime. Although Virchow’s results clearly showed that cholesterol was not the cause of the degradation, but rather a product, scientists began to mistakenly view cholesterol as the problem.
The cholesterol confusion was furthered 55 years later when Russian physiologist, N. Anitschkow, conducted an experiment whereby he filled rabbits with cholesterol resulting in changes in their arteries similar to that found in the victims of heart attacks. There were numerous flaws to the study including the fact that rabbits are vegetarians and are not accustomed to metabolizing cholesterol in the first place. As scientists began to replicate Anitschkow’s experiments, huge amounts of cholesterol were used, which would be completely unrealistic in a clinical setting. To add, the cholesterol that was used was not the form that humans or animals would consume, instead it was either crystalline cholesterol or heat-dried egg yolk powder allowed to set for weeks. This is important because the chemical structure is changed at this point, making it an inadequate comparison to true cholesterol.
Shortly after this poorly planned study, epidemiological focus began to look at the rate of heart attacks in countries that consumed very low-fat thus low-cholesterol diets. On the surface, these countries looked as if they were healthier and had lower incidence of heart disease, but as we will discuss next week, there was another factor completely ignored.
Throughout the years, a large amount of circumstantial evidence has been building up against cholesterol. Poorly designed studies and misinterpreted epidemiological studies have given cholesterol a bad reputation despite several publications that have refuted this mindset. The Framingham study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, showed that after the age of 50, an increased overall death rate is not associated with high cholesterol. What they did find however, was a direct association between declining levels of cholesterol and an increased rate of death.
Additionally, the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society published a study that looked at the cholesterol levels of 3,295 participants between the ages of 65-84, over a period of four years, and found that those with a cholesterol level lower than 189 were at a higher risk of death even when other related factors are taken into account. I bet you haven’t heard that study in the news!
The record has yet to be set straight by conventional medicine, and today we even have institutions like the National Cholesterol Education Program (NCEP) that continue spreading the disinformation. The NCEP’s purpose is to educate the American people and medical community about the dangers of high cholesterol. It is interesting to note that 88 percent of those on the NCEP board are directly paid by pharmaceutical companies. These pharmaceutical companies of course sell cholesterol-lowering drugs. The NCEP is responsible for lowering the standard set for “normal” cholesterol levels, making an enormous amount of Americans prime candidates for statin drugs. This level has fluctuated drastically over the years and beckons the question: Is the cholesterol standard constantly adjusted for the health of Americans or to create a burgeoning market for cholesterol-lowering drugs?