The American Heart Association and The American College of Cardiology published new guidelines on the prevention of heart disease last month: http://my.americanheart.org/professional/StatementsGuidelines/PreventionGuidelines/Prevention-Guidelines_UCM_457698_SubHomePage.jsp. However, a great deal of controversy has arisen with the publication. Many feel that the guidelines grossly overestimate the risk, and will lead to high percentage of healthy people being prescribed statins.
My complaint with the guidelines is the lack of emphasis on diet and exercise. A healthy Mediterranean-style diet and an exercise program could be as effective as statins without the side effects (JAMA Internal Medicine, Oct. 28, 2013). Statins lower LDL (the “bad cholesterol”), but they have a long list of side effects including muscle pain, memory loss, mental confusion, and type 2 diabetes. Research has shown that doctors advised only 1of 3 overweight adults to exercise (and this is an increase from the previous 10 years!). If a doctor writes a prescription for exercise the client is five times more likely to follow through. So why are drugs the first line of treatment?
These new guidelines will certainly put many more people on drugs: If a person appears to have even a moderate risk of a heart attack or stroke, he or she could be prescribed statins, regardless of LDL score or lifestyle. Not to be too cynical, but the research on these guidelines was funded by drug companies.
I would never tell anyone to ignore the advice of his or her physician, but before you allow yourself to be put on drugs take a look at your lifestyle. Smoking, a sedentary life, and a diet high in processed foods, sugar and trans fats will send your risk of heart disease to the top of the chart. Walking just 10 minutes a day has been shown to have health benefits. Before you expose yourself to the risk of drugs, give yourself a chance with the gift of fitness.