Nick P. is a forty-nine-year old man from Orlando, Florida with a total cholesterol of 268. His LDL is 164, HDL is 72, and triglycerides (a blood lipid) are 53. Nick’s doctor started pushing statins on him long before his numbers reached this level; he had what the doctor called hypercholesterolemia, a dastardly sounding condition that simply means a patient’s cholesterol levels are higher than what “authorities” have established as optimal. Bear in mind that high cholesterol in itself is not a disease, and yet Nick’s doctor insisted that taking a statin helps people “live longer and healthier” lives.
Cheryl F. is a fifty-nine-year old woman from Carlsbad, California with total cholesterol of 255. Her LDL is 181, HDL is 58, and triglycerides are 80. When she got her cholesterol test results back from her doctor, Cheryl said there was no discussion about why her numbers were supposedly poor and whether changing her diet and lifestyle would help improve her numbers. Her doctor simply wrote a prescription for a statin with no further comment. Interestingly, when she refused to take the statin, Cheryl got a prerecorded telephone call from her health insurance company; they advised her to follow the advice of her doctor as soon as possible, adding that it was critical to her health. They followed up again with a letter stating that high LDL alone causes heart disease,
and backed it up with a full-color “educational” newsletter that included an illustration of an artery filled with plaque. Again, this was not the doctor following up; it was the insurance company marketing fear and misinformation in an effort to make more money off the ignorance of patients.
Bob H. is a sixty-nine-year old man from Harrison, Arkansas who started taking 10 mg Lipitor in 2004 on the advice of his doctor. Each year the dosage was upped, reaching 40 mg by 2007. After experiencing a significant increase in joint and muscle pain, Bob went off the drug in 2012. When he told his doctor, the immediate reaction was disappointment. Bob had his cholesterol tested
again in early 2013 and the total was 215. The nurse at his doctor’s office recommended that he go back on a low-dose statin. When Bob refused and asked his doctor why he kept pushing a medication that brought pain to his body, the doctor said that if he didn’t follow the protocol of prescribing statin drugs for people with elevated cholesterol levels, he would be penalized by the
medical board. Interesting.
Erin S. is a fifty-five-year old woman from Flagstaff, Arizona with total cholesterol of 251. Her LDL is 160, HDL is 78, and triglycerides are 65. After she got her test results back, the nurse-practitioner asked Erin to come in for a “discussion” about her numbers. When the nurse expressed concern, Erin requested particle-size testing, which would provide a direct measurement of her cholesterol. This time, her total cholesterol came back 217, with LDL 145, HDL 71, and triglycerides 42. Her LDL particles were the big and fluffy Pattern A variety, which are considered good, rather than the smaller, denser Pattern B particles, which are considered bad. (Again, don’t worry about the terminology; LDL particles will be explained soon). Nevertheless, the nurse counseled that to prevent a heart attack, Erin must immediately begin taking a statin drug. Because she had educated herself, Erin refused. But a seed of doubt planted by a doctor or nurse is a powerful thing, and most people aren’t as confident as Erin.
David P. is a twenty-two-year old man from Kennesaw, Georgia with a total cholesterol of 204. His LDL is 138, HDL 56, and triglycerides 52. This young man was chided by the overweight nurse at his doctor’s office for his “high” cholesterol test results, and told that the doctor would prescribe a statin drug if he did not switch to a low-fat diet with “lots of vegetables, healthy whole grains, fruits, and lean meats.” Once again, fat and cholesterol were targeted as the villains, and statins promoted as the ultimate cure.
Dottie W. is a fifty-five-year old woman from Lexington, Kentucky with total cholesterol of 240. Her LDL is 155, HDL 65 and triglycerides 98. Dottie had already been diagnosed with high cholesterol many years before and prescribed Lipitor by her doctor. She never took it because her other numbers were right where they needed to be. Her doctor kept insisting that she take a statin drug,
and when she asked him if he could run a more advanced cholesterol screening, he explained that such a test is only for people with a family history of heart disease and it would not be covered by her health insurance. Not knowing any better, she didn’t have it run. One week later, Dottie received a telephone call from her doctor’s office, again pushing Lipitor, this time because she has a
“family history of high cholesterol.” Needless to say, such pressure left Dottie feeling extremely frustrated and angry.