Cholesterol, Just a Number?


This article concurs with what I have been saying all along. If you have high cholesterol or are already on cholesterol lowering drugs, this should be cause for you to do your own research. Similar information is available at Dr. Mercola’s website, which I have referenced many times in the past.

Readers may intuitively ask why I would be writing so many articles on cholesterol when my specialty is in neurology? Well, quite honestly two reasons.

  1. The main reason is that heart disease is the leading cause of death in this country.
  2. The second? Because I too have fallen victim to the “take these cholesterol meds or else…” story.

Cholesterol has become an incredibly hot topic in recent years as well as a financial gravy train for the pharmaceutical companies who manufacture the drugs. Virtually no one who has been to see a doctor in the last 20 years cannot tell you their cholesterol number as quickly as how many children they have. However, routine screening exams performed by the vast majority of primary care doctors, are next to useless with respect to predicting heart disease. They are useful to give you a cholesterol number which will then be used to determine whether or not you will receive a prescription for cholesterol lowering drugs.

If having a low number is your goal, then this is appropriate. However, if preventing heart disease is your goal, then this formula requires rethinking. With the number of people taking these drugs, why has the rate of heart disease gone up? One of the main side effect of cholesterol lowering drugs is muscle fatigue and weakness. Clinically, I hear this all of the time simply from the large number of people taking these drugs. One must ask the question, isn’t the heart made of muscle? Again, not sensible.

The first thing that needs to change is our screening process. The focus of blood work needs to be on inflammatory markers rather than on total cholesterol. There are several lab panels now available which are much more useful than simple total cholesterol screening. If you are determined to be at elevated risk, this is most always correctable with diet and exercise. You should be working with someone skilled specifically in this area, or, your doctor should be working directly with a lipidologist.

If you are currently taking cholesterol lowering drugs, you should not stop taking them without an alternative plan and you should always be working with a trained professional. After all, it is health which we all rally strive towards, rather than just boasting the lowest “number”.



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