Cholesterol, seen as a culprit for heart diseases since long, got a clean bill of health yesterday after a controversial study said there was no association between bad cholesterol and heart disease in people over 60 years of age.
Coronary heart disease has been the biggest killer not only in the UK, but worldwide. The study released yesterday made headlines as every year the NHS spends millions of pounds helping people reduce their bad cholesterol levels using drugs like statins.
Cholesterol is carried in the blood by lipoproteins and exists in two main forms – LDL (low-density lipoprotein) and HDL (high-density lipoprotein). HDL is known as good cholesterol as it is protective, whereas LDL is referred to as “bad cholesterol”.
The claim is the result of a review of 19 studies involving 68,094 people that are published in the BMJ Open journal. It says that no association could be found between what has traditionally been considered as “bad” cholesterol and the premature deaths of over 60-year-olds from cardiovascular disease.
The joint author Dr Malcolm Kendrick described the findings as robust and thoroughly reviewed, though he added that these findings, which are actually the facts, will be considered controversial. This is because they are not in tune with the conception that was believed to be true for years.
The co-author Professor Sherif Sultan of the University of Ireland and Western Vascular Institute chairman said, “Cholesterol is one of the most vital molecules in the body and in the elderly prevents infection, intracerebral bleeds, cancer, premature cataracts, muscle pain and fatigue and thus must be protected and nourished.” He added that trying to prevent heart disease with cholesterol-lowering drugs among the population over 60 is a total waste of time.
As expected, the study has created a stir with critics, including Colin Baigent, Oxford University professor of epidemiology, accusing that the study had reached the wrong conclusion.
Consultant cardiologist Dr Tim Chico, a reader in cardiovascular medicine at Sheffield University, said – “There have been several studies that tested whether higher cholesterol increases the risk of heart disease, by lowering cholesterol in elderly patients and observing whether this reduces their risk of heart disease. These have shown that lowering cholesterol using a drug does reduce the risk of heart disease in the elderly, and I find this more compelling than the data in the current study.“