Cholesterol doesn’t Mean a Thing: A picture is worth a Thousand Words

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What your Cholesterol level does and does not tell you about potential cardiovascular issues

It would seem from the marketing that high cholesterol leads to heart disease, but it does not. Everyone gets very excited about high cholesterol findings on blood work testing and inevitably all people both men and women who have high total cholesterol test values and or high LDL are put on a drug called a statin to lower that cholesterol like a knee jerk decision.  Then a patient can feel “protected” from future heart disease!  Unfortunately, this is a fairy tale.

Your cholesterol level both LDL and total cholesterol are only one of many risk factors that can indicate a possible future collection of plaque on the blood vessels which are the real problem causing damage to the heart by blocking needed oxygen to the heart.  So now we can test the real thing with a simple test that takes less than an hour –a cardiac calcium scan! 

I’m afraid the pharmaceutical companies have hammered the need for statins into the hearts and minds of every primary care doctor in the country and they are writing a script to prevent heart disease for people who don’t need it an those who may be damaged by taking the drug. 

Statins were designed to be given to those people who already have had a heart attack or stroke, or those with diagnosed arterial plaque to slow the progression of plaque production.  Plaque is the hard corrosion that lines arteries with fat and calcium and that blocks the flow of blood causing a heart attack, stroke, high blood pressure and some kidney disease.  It does do that for those people who already have arteriosclerosis, but for those patients who do not have this problem, statins can cause Alzheimer’s disease, muscle damage, muscle pain and aches, as well as weakness.  It is not a drug for everyone!

I like to divide the wheat from the chaff and in this case that means to determine the patients who actually need statins and take those who don’t have plaque or vascular disease off of it, to prevent other diseases and muscular damage.

First and foremost, cholesterol acts as the primary building blocks of your muscles, all your cell walls and your sex hormones both estradiol and testosterone.  Your liver makes cholesterol out of your food, not just cholesterol containing food, but all food.  Some people make more cholesterol than others, but the production of cholesterol doesn’t mean it is sticking to your blood vessels!  It requires inflammation throughout the body from an infection, obesity, allergies, autoimmune disease, trauma, or dental disease to stimulated inflammation and make cholesterol stick to blood vessels.  If you have high cholesterol but do not experience these other problems, then probably, you will not collect plaque. 

So, to determine whether a patient needs a statin you need more than a mere cholesterol level.  The one picture that can tell you more than a stress test, EKG, or cardiac ultrasound is a Cardiac Calcium Scan.  It is two picture CT scan that measures the calcium laden plaque in your heart. If you have no plaque, but a high cholesterol and you are 50 or older then you probably will not need a statin in your lifetime, unless your metabolism changes drastically.  If a patient has plaque but a low cholesterol, then a statin is necessary to prevent occlusion of the vessels that feed your heart and brain.  I also believe that lowering inflammation with an anti-inflammatory drug is wise to decrease that risk factor for plaque formation.

I have lived this story myself. My husband had high cholesterol both LDL and total cholesterol, and my husband was put on a statin at age 40, and he is now 68.  Despite his statin he has developed plaque on his blood vessels.  We are now correcting his inflammation, and blood sugar to help control progression.  I have familial high cholesterol and have had a high total cholesterol and ldl since I was 42, but at age 64 I have absolutely no plaque on my Cardiac scan. 

It would seem from the marketing that high cholesterol leads to heart disease, but it does not. Be aware of the potential for negative side effects of anti-cholesterol drugs and statins. Talk to your doctor about getting a cardiac calcium scan

This Health cast was written and presented by Dr. Kathy Maupin, M.D., Bio-identical Hormone Replacement Expert and Author, with Brett Newcomb, MA., LPC., Family Counselor, Presenter and Author.

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