About 3 years ago, the American Heart Association and American College of Cardiology came out with a treatment guideline recommending that statins be used as the primary method of controlling high cholesterol. Diet changes and other cholesterol-reducing medications were relegated to second class status because the authors concluded, based upon the selected data they reviewed, that using those approaches did not appear to lower overall cardiovascular risk as much as statin drugs.
And after all, the argument was, we’re not just treating people to make their numbers look good; we’re treating people to help them live better, longer – right?
Many physicians felt that this argument was taken to the extreme, especially since, in many circumstances, the guidelines advocate prescribing statin medications regardless of a patient’s initial cholesterol levels and, often, at highest tolerable doses. What’s more, the recommendations place little importance on follow-up testing of cholesterol levels.
So, the recommendations were, and remain, controversial.
Last week, a new analysis performed by leading experts in the field, looking at a wide spectrum of published data, concluded that it doesn’t matter how you get there – cardiovascular risk is reduced proportionately as cholesterol levels decline. Period.
As this new review of evidence shows, statins aren’t the only way to reduce risk – and for some, may not be the best way. And checking cholesterol levels so you know what sort of response you’ve had to treatment might actually be important so you know where you are with your risk.
Most importantly, these findings reveal that reducing your LDL, or “bad” cholesterol, by changing your diet is just as good as reducing it by taking pills, as long as you are monitoring the effects of your nutrition change and getting to your particular treatment goal.