One of the things I do in practice is consult in complex hyperlipidemias, the collection of lipoprotein disorders that usually, but not always, lead to atherosclerosis.
First order of business: Make the diagnosis--familial combined hyperlipidemia, hypoalphalipoproteinemia, lipoprotein(a), familial heterozygous hypercholesterolemia, familial hypertriglyceridemia, hyperapoprotein B with metabolic syndrome, etc. These are the disorders that start with a genetic variant, e.g., a missing or dysfunctional enzyme or signal protein, such as lipoprotein lipase or apo C3.
I then ask: What can be done that is easy and safe and preferably related to diet and lifestyle?
By following an effective diet, many of these abnormalities can be dramatically corrected, sometimes completely. Familial hypertriglyceridemia, for instance, an inherited disorder of lipoprotein lipase in which triglyceride levels can exceed 1000 mg/dl, high enough to cause pancreatic damage, responds incredibly well to carbohydrate restriction and over-the-counter fish oil. I have a number of these people who enjoy triglyceride levels below 100 mg/dl--unheard of in conventionally treated people with this disorder.
Then why is it that, time after time, I see these people in consult, often as second or third opinions from lipidologists (presumed lipid specialists) or cardiologists, when the only solutions offered are 1) Lipitor or other statin drug, and 2) a low-fat diet? Occasionally, an aggressive lipidologist might offer niacin, a fibrate drug (Tricor or fenofibrate), or Lovaza (prescription fish oil).
Sadly, the world of lipid disorders has been reduced to prescribing a statin drug and little else, 9 times out of 10.
I don't mean to rant, but I continue to be shocked at the incredible influence the drug industry has over not just prescribing patterns, but thinking patterns. Perhaps I should say non-thinking patterns. The drugs make it too easy to feel like the doctor is doing something when, in truth, they are doing the minimum (at best) and missing an opportunity to provide true health-empowering advice that is far more likely to yield maximum control over these patterns with little to no medication.
All in all, I am grateful that there is a growing discipline of "lipidology," a specialty devoted to diagnosing and treating hyperlipidemias. Unfortunately, much of the education of the lipidologist is too heavily influenced by the pharmaceutical industry. Not surprisingly, the drug people favor "education" that highlights their high-revenue products.
Seeing a lipidologist is still better than seeing most primary care physicians or cardiologists. Just beware that you might be walking into the hands of someone who is simply the unwitting puppet of the pharmaceutical industry.