Unbalanced and poorly researched health reporting is often criticised for the effect it can have on people’s health choices. That effect can be very difficult to quantify, but a paper published this week in the Medical Journal of Australia estimates that an extra 28,000 Australians stopped taking cholesterol-lowering statins after an Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) documentary.
Statins are widely-prescribed drugs that are used to lower the levels of dangerous LDL cholesterol in the blood. According to the Australian government’s most recent estimate, they were the most commonly prescribed drug in Australia in 2011. Any change in the number of people taking statins therefore has a huge impact, affecting thousands of people.
Let us not forget the ever-decreasing threshold that doctor’s use to prescribe statins, despite little evidence that the demands for extremely low LDL are actually beneficial.
And that’s all totally ignoring the fundamental issues with the ‘cholesterol hypothesis’ generally — it is possible that elevated LDL is a byproduct of metabolic syndrome or other inflammatory conditions, not vice-versa, and also that total LDL alone is a poor measure of cardiovascular risk. Doctor’s need to consider HDL and triglyceride levels, as well as certain ratios of these lipid levels, and even that is imperfect.
Just remember, folks: researchers and doctors, all too often, inappropriately draw narrow conclusions that are not adequately supported by their data. For example, for decades we’ve been told that dietary cholesterol is bad for our health, and raises LDL — except that it doesn’t, and the data has never adequately supported this conclusion. It was only this year that the FDA finally admitted “oh yea, turns out cholesterol is tightly regulated by the body [which we’ve known for awhile], and dietary cholesterol doesn’t matter” and they removed restrictions on cholesterol in the diet.