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Bad cholesterol not that bad? Shame on MSNBC...Again!

Posted Feb 15 2010 6:20am
When it comes to politics, I do like MSNBC . They are also not bad in delivering the headlines. However, when it comes to health, especially on their web site, they have a long way to go. I am particularly dismayed at their re-purposing of material from other sources. This strategy, used by many other reputable web sites is not in and of itself horrible, but when it comes to health, I am not sure that their editors even read the articles they are posting as their own! This is especially true of material that the post from Men's Health . I mentioned this a while back in my post The truth on the 8 drugs doctors wouldn't take . This was a horrible article that was re-purposed on MSNBC about drugs that were supposedly so dangerous, doctors wouldn't take them. In fact, the authors of the article never asked one doctor when writing this article. I actually did (via Sermo), and found that 7 of the 8 drugs mentioned, most doctors had no problems prescribing.
Now Men's Health is back to their usual scare tactics in an article called "Bad cholesterol: It’s not what you think" which is now a featured article on MSNBC .

Factually, there is nothing wrong with the article. The major point of the article is that the concept of LDL cholesterol being "bad" is oversimplified. In fact, certain LDL particles may actually not be that harmful, whereas other types of LDL cholesterol can be killers. Fortunately, newer technology is becoming more readily available, which may help us customize treatment more accurately.

The problem that I have is the inflammatory language they use, calling the LDL "hypothesis"
"the greatest medical misadventure of our time" One of the paragraphs states that "the LDL hypothesis has also encouraged many of us to swallow the most-prescribed class of drugs in recent history. Americans spent more than $14 billion on LDL-lowering medications in 2008. Whether that money came out of their own pockets — straight up, or through ever-escalating co-pays — or out of the hemorrhaging U.S. health-insurance system known as Medicare, it's a huge expenditure. " In fact, the subtitle of the original article, which is not posted on MSNBC states, "before you swallow what your doctor prescribes, we suggest you read this article." They make it sound like doctors and the medical establishment have duped patients into taking unnecessary and expensive medicines.

With multiple drug advertisements on TV and blame being pointed at drug companies for our rising health care costs, it is not surprising that many people would find this "information" yet another reason not to take medications. The problem with this type of "journalism" is that it can actually harm people. In our media world of soundbytes, tweets and headlines; not everyone reads the entire story. In fact, many patients who need medicines get scared and stop taking them. My reason for posting the initial Men's Health article was because a patient whose horribly controlled asthma had been substantially improved with Advair was in my office sick again because she had stopped taking it. Her reason: her fiancee read the Men's Health article and told her her medicine was dangerous.

Medicine and health is complicated. There are some conditions where medication is overprescirbed (antibiotics for colds) and many chronic conditions like high blood pressure and diabetes which remain out of control and probably need even more medications. In addition, there are certainly a host of drugs proven not to be safe (Vioxx), including certain cholesterol medications (Baychol) which were pulled from the market. However, here is the truth about cholesterol lowering medications
  • Currently available cholesterol lowering medications (statins) are the most commonly prescribed medications in the US
  • Statins are extremely safe. The main side effect is muscle pains which happen in about 3% of patients, are usually mild, and usually go away.
  • Serious side effects from statins do exist, but happen to fewer than one in a million patients, which is safer then most medications we have.
  • Statins are likely responsible for the dramatic reductions seen in heart attack and stroke in the US.
  • Cardiovascular disease (heart attack, stroke) is the single leading cause of death in the US. It beats cancer, diabetes, and accidents...combined!
  • There are more studies on statins then any other medications
  • The evidence that statins prevent heart attack and stroke in patients with risk factors is overwhelming.
  • There is even talk of a polypill that contains multiple medications including a statin, that everyone over 50 would take to prevent heart attacks and strokes.

Bottom Line: We certainly need more tools and techniques to better identify those at risk and individualize treatment. However, currently LDL cholesterol is one of the best markers we have for cardiovascular disease (our country's leading killer) and we have safe and effective medications proven to lower this risk. Do not be afraid of statins.

Shame on MSNBC (again) for re-purposing inflammatory and potentially dangerous information.

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