Cholesterol and cardiovascular health: the debate in the New York Times letters to the editor page continues

A recent letter to the editor of the NYT from a nutritionist expresses some of the same concerns about cholesterol control and cardiovascular health that we’ve been raising recently.

See also today’s NYT editorial on the FDA, which has lately been beset, bothered and besieged by questions about its ability to manage the drug approval process.


To the Editor:

Yet again, we miss the point about cholesterol. To read Gary Taubes’s article, one might think that cholesterol is a toxic substance.

In truth, cholesterol is a naturally occurring lipid produced by the liver. It is the biochemical precursor to vitamin D and to the sex hormones. It is an integral part of every cell membrane. So this war against cholesterol is a war against ourselves.

Perhaps a better question to ask would be, Under what conditions does cholesterol become part of the plaque that contributes to heart disease? And guess what? We’ve had some of the answers for years.

When free radicals attack or oxidize the LDLs, cholesterol may enter the plaque. This problem can be addressed by including more antioxidants in the diet or with vitamin supplementation.

Another factor is uncontrolled high blood glucose, which can damage blood vessels, increasing the potential for plaques to form. Here also, diet, exercise and antidiabetic drugs can help.

Moreover, there is a huge and valuable literature connecting heart disease to stress and emotional wounds. All the statin drugs in the world won’t scratch that itch.

Bottom line: When the questions we ask about health are defined by the pharmaceutical companies, the answers we get will be better for Big Pharma’s profits than for our health and healing.

Rona S. Weiss
Teaneck, N.J., Jan. 28, 2008

The writer is a nutritionist and health consultant.

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