Evil Cholesterol

Many members in my family are core medical researchers and as such it is often dangerous to start any medically inclined conversation among us. The gloves come off and fangs are bared without regard to our common genetic pool. We love to disagree, often for its own sake. The thing about medical research is that there are often, I would even say – frequently, totally contradictory results. This makes for a very fertile battlefield since we are well aware of each other’s strength and weaknesses.

Recently, an article was brandied about which claimed that the hype about the dangers of elevated cholesterol levels was created mainly by the drug manufacturers who stood most to lose if people stopped taking their pills. We are talking about the loss of ten billion dollars annually if the hype wasn’t continually propagated. It was also stated in the article that elevated cholesterol levels reflect little on the chances of heart attack or high blood pressure. The article then went on to stipulate the dangers of having reduced cholesterol levels.

My father flew off the handle when he finally got around to reading the article. And when my father flies off the handle, its nearly impossible to control or subdue him till he has had his complete say in the matter and then some. He has had two bypass surgeries, one of which was a quadruple bypass. He practically lives on statins, the drug used to lower cholesterol levels. He, of course, totally disagreed.

According to him, cholesterol, while essential in moderate quantities, is pure evil as far as our lives and health are concerned. Its one of those things in life where less is better than more. He said that while nominally elevated levels of cholesterol can be controlled through a judicious change in lifestyle and diet, high levels of cholesterol must be controlled through medication after individual tests for the patient. There is no such thing as a general benchmark of high and low levels of cholesterol that applies equally to all people. A level which is borderline high for one person may be extremely dangerous for another. Several factors must be considered and an informed medical opinion is essential before you decide what level of cholesterol is right for you.

He says that the involvement of higher cholesterol levels with arterial blockage and cardiovascular diseases is well established. The role of statins has to be evaluated considering their benefits versus side effects which vary depending upon the severity of the disease. It would be dangerous to conclude that high levels of cholesterol do not play significant role in cardiovascular diseases. One may argue over what is the normal level and high level of cholesterol. The levels are determined statistically by testing diverse populations within the defined limits. In a range say of 120 to 190 mg total cholesterol per deciliter a value of 180 is within the normal limits but may be dangerously high for some. Because the patient’s actual cholesterol value when he was healthy might have been only 120 mg and due to disease later in life his cholesterol increased to 180. No abnormally high value as such represents a disease but only indicates or suggests the possibility of  a disease. Disease is established by an array of tests and clinical examinations. On the same ground a value higher than the normal level say 220 mg may not actually be abnormal as the person may be still healthy and his normal value has consistently been higher from younger age. You should get yourself checked before reaching any conclusions.

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