Leave our kids’ cholesterol ALONE

This topic is almost too upsetting for me to blog about, but I need to put my opinion out there in the hopes that somehow it might help influence peoples’ thinking on this topic.

As you know if you’ve been anywhere near a mainstream media outlet this week, the American Academy of Pediatrics has issued a recommendation that children as young as two be screened for cholesterol and, even more heinous, children as young as eight should be put on cholesterol-lowering drugs.

We need to wake up. Cholesterol is NOT the problem.

Trying to lower cholesterol via prescription drugs, OTOH, is a HUGE problem.

I’ve blogged before about cholesterol. We’ve managed to collectively demonize the stuff: a textbook example of the phenomenon of “mistaken consensus.”

Here’s the reality of the situation. We NEED cholesterol. Our brains need it, our bodies need it. It’s an essential component of dozens of critical cellular structures, such as the myelin sheaths that surround our nerve cells (can’t lay down new neural pathways in the brain without myelin, folks); it’s a component of the bile salts we use to digest fats; it’s a building block of our sex hormones (yes, that’s estrogen, testosterone, & friends).

So why is cholesterol the bad guy? Because it’s also a well-known component of arterial plaque.

But we’ve made a crucial error. We’ve assumed that since plaque is made of cholesterol, lowering cholesterol levels will help prevent heart disease.

Well, I say “we.” People have been questioning the role of cholesterol for years, now. This is from 1987:

In considering 1,400 patients whose blocked arteries were replaced with veins taken from other parts of their bodies, Dr. [Michael E.] DeBakey found again that cholesterol levels did not predict which of these bypass patients would redevelop blockage and require further surgery. He said patients with ”low” cholesterol levels, below 200 micrograms per milliliter of blood, did not fare better as a group than patients with high levels, about 240.

That’s over 20 years ago!

Since then, the thinking has evolved considerably; research now points more toward inflammation than cholesterol levels as the critical risk factor for heart disease. Google “inflammation heart disease” and you find plenty of stuff to mull, much of it along the lines of this bit from Andrew Weil’s website:

C-reactive protein (CRP) is a substance found in blood that is a marker for inflammation in the body. High levels of this protein are associated with an increased risk of heart disease and low levels with a low risk. The notion that inflammation plays a central role in heart disease is relatively new, although we’ve long known that CRP levels go up to signal any type of inflammation . . .

[T]he link between elevated CRP levels and heart disease has been demonstrated repeatedly, and there is some evidence that CRP may be a more important indicator of heart disease risk than high LDL (“bad”) cholesterol. In an eight-year study involving 27,939 women led by Paul Ridker, MD, director of the Center for Cardiovascular Disease Prevention at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, more than half of the women who eventually developed heart disease had high CRP levels even though their LDL levels were not considered high. Dr. Ridker has estimated that the same may be true for 25 percent of the U.S. population. The study results were published in the November 14, 2002, issue of the New England Journal of Medicine. More recently, a Cleveland Clinic study found ultrasound evidence that clogged coronary arteries had not gotten worse among 502 patients who were most successful at lowering their CRP levels. The study was published in the Jan. 6, 2005, issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

It gets crazier. Courtesy of this piece published by the Weston Price Foundation: cholesterol seems to protect against infection. Since infection causes inflammation (low grade bacterial infection might be the true heart disease culprit), high cholesterol levels might actually PROTECT against heart disease.

Yes, there is a subset of the population for which high levels of so-called “bad” cholesterol is correlated with increased risk of heart disease. But it’s only a small subset. And it doesn’t include kids!

So why would ANYONE even CONSIDER drugging kids to lower their cholesterol levels?

I’m no conspiracy theorist. But I do think the American Academy of Pediatrics has betrayed its role as an advocate for our children. It’s shown itself to be too cozy to the “drugs are the answer” model of health care–and that’s not a positive thing.

Put on your thinking caps, guys, for crying out loud.

We need to feed our kids better. Childhood obesity IS an issue.

But drugging our kids to artificially lower levels of an essential molecule is NOT going to solve the problem.

What is will do, count on it, is put them at risk for a world of hurt. Starting with the known side effects of these drugs. And ending with who-knows-what other horrors. Messed up brain development? Hormonal imbalances during crucial stages of puberty? We just don’t know.

It makes me sick to my stomach . . .

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2 Responses to Leave our kids’ cholesterol ALONE

  1. Mike says:

    I’m with you. This is outrageous.

    I hope parents pay attention to their children’s cholesterol levels; but medication isn’t the only answer.

    Eating a diet of whole foods (rather than processed) and increasing foods high in omega-3s (like flax) will do wonders. I really worry about the long-term effects of medications like statins.

  2. Kirsten says:

    Thanks for the comment, Mike.

    I try to refrain from hyperbolic language but we’re killing our kids.

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