Tim was one of the most trusted and well-respected journalists in American media... Tim had always been an overweight guy, and eventually was diagnosed with diabetes. His diabetes-and the high cholesterol that usually results from diabetes-was treated with medication and exercise. Days before his 58th birthday, Tim underwent a stress test and did well...Six weeks after passing the stress test, Tim collapsed while working at his desk at a national network news studio...
It's time the medical industry tells the whole story about cholesterol and heart attacks, Virgie Bright-Ellington, M.D., writes in her book, 'What your Doctor Wants You to Know, But Doesn't Have Time To Tell You.'
"For years, we've been told that high cholesterol is the cause of heart attacks. The lower your cholesterol, the lower your risk of heart attack,'' she writes in Chapter 5 of the handy health reference book that is being excerpted on AOL Black Voices. "Based on this mantra, physicians have been treating millions of Americans with a class of medicines that lowers cholesterol, called statins. We've been blasted with messages from pharmaceutical companies and the media that high cholesterol is a sure ticket to an early grave and must be lowered as much as possible, preferably with statins, which are most effective in lowering cholesterol. This is true, but it's not the complete story.''
The truth is that studies have repeatedly show that, although statins definitely lower cholesterol levels, statins-with other medications and lifestyle changes-only reduce the likelihood of death attacks or other serious illnesses by approximately 40 percent, explains Dr. Bright-Ellington, who trained at the Cambridge Hospital of Harvard Medical School. "Looking at this another way, even if you do everything 'right' and take statins and aspirin, and do other interventions as recommended to protect against coronary artery disease, you still have a 60 percent chance of dying from a heart attack,' she writes.
We do know that high levels of "good' or HDL cholesterol protect against heart attack, she writes. Despite a pharmaceutical company's failed effort to develop a medicine to raise HDL cholesterol levels, the best way to increase your HDL level is to pick parents with high HDL levels-meaning, HDL levels are largely genetic. If, like most folks, you couldn't pick the right parents, the best way to significantly increase you HDL is to do regular cardiovascular exercise, minimum three to five days a week.
Studies have shown that drinking one to two glasses of red wine daily can raise HDL levels slightly.
Unfortunately, we don't know as much about "bad'' cholesterol and their role in chasing heart attacks as we'd like to. Studies show that cholesterol, specifically "bad'' or LDL cholesterol, is only one piece of the puzzle that leads to heart attacks. If we think about it, it makes sense that high "bad'' cholesterol is not the only factor in developing coronary artery disease. People in other countries, like Spain and Switzerland, have high cholesterol levels similar to those of Americans or even higher, but they have much lower rates of coronary atherosclerosis and heart attacks.
The Moral of the Story:
Cholesterol testing alone as an evaluation for risk of fatal heart attack and stroke is incomplete and misleading. At this point in the 21st century medicine, we have only a partial picture of the causes of and solutions for atherosclerotic heart disease. Research is still required and ongoing to complete the rest of the atherosclerotic disease puzzle...
Statin medicines are effective in reducing cholesterol levels but have incomplete on prevention of death from heart attack or stroke. Remember to take all medicines as prescribed by your doctor, eat a high omega-3 fatty acid diet, and speak with our doctor about safely doing regular cardiovascular exercise three to five days a week.
Dr. Virgie Bright-Ellington is a graduate from the University of Michigan Medical School. She is a former clinical professor at New York University Medical School and a former instructor at Harvard Medical School, Youngstown State University and Northeastern Ohio Universities College of Medicine.