We’re just about to start a new school year, but the statistics are relatively the same as last year. The same things that made us sick at previous falls will make us sick this fall. Heart disease is still a problem, and many things people believe about it are just plain wrong. It’s time to take some time and delve into the truth about heart disease and statin drugs. This article is NOT brought to you by Merck, Pfizer, or Bayer.
What You Know About Cholesterol Is Probably Wrong
With the new school year upon us, it’s time that many of us visit our primary care physician for that yearly physical. Whether it be for school, our employer, or insurance, a high percentage of us will be making that appointment soon. At that time, the doctor will almost certainly recommend running a basic lipid panel to determine your cholesterol level and risk of heart disease.
Your primary care physician may not be a total quack; running the lipid panel is how they learn to assess heart health at medical school. It’s not the Wellness Way approach, but it’s worth saying, in all fairness, that they do this with the best intentions. After all, heart disease is the number one killer in the United States and does not discriminate by gender, race, or age. The lipid panel is the test they use to make that determination. 
Most of us are conditioned to believe everything our MDs tell us- even if it’s completely wrong. But let’s think about this… Did you know doctors can lose their licenses if they don’t prescribe these drugs? Did you know they have a quota they need to maintain? And you haven’t lived until you’ve seen the smorgasbord pharmaceutical companies bring to medical clinics to make friends and customers.
Without putting too fine a point on it, let’s put it this way: if your PCP wasn’t at your last birthday party, they’re probably not going to jeopardize their license for you.
What Is Cholesterol, And Why Do We Need It?
Cholesterol is, as you can read on the American Heart Association’s website, “a waxy substance that comes from two sources: your body and food. Your body, especially your liver, makes all the cholesterol you need and circulates it through the blood.” 
They don’t tell you that cholesterol is essential to your body’s function. It is the main component of cell membranes; it is a precursor for all steroid hormones; cholesterol is a precursor for Vitamin D production in our skin; it supplies nerve function and memory formation; and it’s converted to bile salts, which help us break down fats.
Without cholesterol, we would die. Low cholesterol means you are sick. It’s linked to a shorter lifespan.
Clearly, our body needs a certain level of cholesterol, and having too little can have adverse effects.
So, What Does The Lipid Panel Reveal?
What this blood test gives us are your low-density lipoprotein (LDL), high-density lipoprotein (HDL), triglycerides, total cholesterol, and non-HDL cholesterol (your total cholesterol minus your HDL). You will often hear HDL referred to as your “good cholesterol” and LDL your “bad cholesterol.”
Determining your “Total Cholesterol” is a simple equation: You add your LDL, your HDL, and 1/5 of your triglycerides, and the sum is your total cholesterol. That makes sense, right?
Except that it doesn’t make sense. The information in this equation is clinically inaccurate and… it’s pretty much useless. The only truly clinically relevant marker is your triglycerides.
Lipid Panels Tell Very Little About Your Risk Of Heart Disease
LDL and HDL are, as their name suggests, lipoproteins, not cholesterol. They are cholesterol carriers, but their levels are insignificant to cholesterol levels.
Using LDL and HDL levels to measure cholesterol is like measuring how many people are out on a Friday night by counting the number of cars on the street. An SUV could have one person in it, or it could have ten- and that can be a big difference.
And the math they use makes common core look rational.
True story from one of our doctors: One of his patients had his lipid panel run by his regular doctor. His HDL was 60, which is perfectly acceptable. His LDL was 120. The “safe zone” is 40-130, so that number was good, too. Triglycerides were 100, so they divided it by 5 and ended up at 20, another acceptable number. Add them together, and we get 200.
Apparently, 200 was too high a number. They wanted to put this man, whose numbers were all in the safe zone, on a statin drug.
Forget, for the moment, that statin drugs don’t decrease the risk of heart disease and often elevate the levels they claim to lower; we’re talking about chemically altering someone who doesn’t need alteration. The patient’s individual numbers were well within a reasonable range, and looking at them collectively doesn’t change anything.
A Conversation With Your Doctor
Most conversations with a PCP regarding heart disease follow one of two paradigms.
Doctor: Do you have high cholesterol?
Doctor: Let’s get you set up on a statin drug.
Doctor: Do you have high cholesterol?
Doctor: Does anybody in your family have high cholesterol?
Doctor: Let’s set you up on a statin drug, just in case.
Does either of those scenarios sound familiar?
What’s behind the massive push to get people on statin drugs? Why did the drug companies try to manufacture a chewable statin drug for children (fortunately, the FDA put the kibosh on that!)? Why have there been movements to put statin drugs in our water? What’s behind the desire to get everyone in the country taking statin drugs?
Even though your doctor might have your best health interests in mind, it doesn’t matter if your body doesn’t need a drug. Unfortunately, this is the standard of care in the medical community. If the number lands in a particular “Chicken Little” range, they will put you on the drugs. The proof is self-evident: statin drugs are the world’s biggest-selling drug, and nobody wants to take on that cartel.
We Have A Better Idea
Arm yourself with knowledge and be ready to tell your doctor that you don’t need statin drugs. If they want to fire you (drop you as a patient), tell him/her you can live with that. If you have a family history of heart disease, if a doctor told you that your cholesterol is high, or if you’re on a statin drug already, make an appointment at a Wellness Way clinic. Make sure you get the Custom Cardiometabolic Panel done. It’s a simple blood test that measures your body’s inflammatory factors, the amount of cholesterol, how many particles, and how big they are. At The Wellness Way, we recommend staying ahead of cardiovascular issues and suggest every adult have that Cardiometabolic Panel done.
Originally posted January 6, 2017. Updated August 8, 2023.