Dr. Joseph Mercola, self described physician and author, recently wrote this article for the Huffington Post outlining why the entire community of doctors and medical scientists are part of a conspiracy to get you to purchase dangerous medicines that will only make you sicker. Warning: if you are both gullible and at a high risk for a heart attack, clicking the link may be harmful to your heath. Otherwise, especially if you enjoy scoffing at outlandish conspiracy theories, check out his website which includes gems like "Your Mattress Could be Acting as a Cancer-Causing Radiation Antenna" (omg evil mattress kill it with fire)
In his H-P post entitled "The Cholesterol Myth That Could Be Harming Your Health," Dr. Mercola recommends that people at risk for heart attacks should consume as much cholesterol as possible and quit taking their statin drugs. Yeah, you read that right. Whether or not he's heavily invested in funeral homes and burial plots remains to be determined. Now before we all ditch the cardiologist's advice and start on Dr. Mercola's new age deep fried bacon heart healthy diet, lets examine in detail how he came to this conclusion and learn how we can all avoid such embarrassing logical fallacies.
Dr. Mercola's theory that "cholesterol is your friend, not your enemy" stems from two main points. First, he asserts that "there is no life on Earth that can live without cholesterol." Ignoring the fact that prokaryotes do not use the chemical and eukaryotes outside of the animal kingdom rarely contain this sterol, he does have a point. Cholesterol is required to form steroid hormones (like estrogen), fat soluble vitamins (like vitamin D), and lipid rafts essential for cell membranes. But what he fails to mention is that enough cholesterol is produced in your liver to the point where you don't need to consume it. Your body tries to compensate for ingested cholesterol by regulating the amount produced, but what you eat ends up being absorbed in your intestines, recycled by your liver, and injected back into your intestines in an endless loop. Eating it is both unnecessary and potentially dangerous. Early man only consumed cholesterol via the occasional meal containing meat or eggs--today it seems every appetizer, entree, and dessert consists primarily of purified, hydrogenated, 100% animal lard.
Dr. Mercola goes on to say "cholesterol is a vital component of every cell membrane on Earth. That will automatically tell you that it cannot be evil. In fact, it is one of our best friends." Riiight...you know what else is a vital component of every cell in your body? Copper, nickel, and zinc ions, which are essential cofactors for a variety of enzymes. But for some strange reason the conspiracy of evil doctors doesn't recommend that you eat your spare change daily. The reason is the quantity of copper in a penny is far more than your body could handle, just like the amount of cholesterol in your average flame broiled Burger King patty disqualifies it from being considered health food. However, this isn't the most fair metaphor since your body does in fact require a dietary intake of metals to function properly. Saying that you should eat cholesterol, which is produced by your liver, to maintain your health is akin to suggesting that since your brain contains endomorphins and other such endogenous opioids, black tar heroin is part of a well balanced diet.
Now that Dr. Mercola has convinced you that cholesterol is good for you because your cells use it, how will he explain away all the data that clearly shows high cholesterol is linked to heart attacks and strokes? Enter point two of his theory: cholesterol is merely a sign of inflammation in your body. "Conventional medicine misses the boat entirely when they dangerously recommend that lowering cholesterol with drugs is the way to reduce your risk of heart attacks, because what is actually needed is to address whatever is causing your body damage -- and leading to increased inflammation and then increased cholesterol." He argues that since cholesterol is used in every cell in your body, more cholesterol in your bloodstream is just an indicator that your body is repairing damaged tissue. Ignoring the obvious fact that it could also be an indicator that you recently consumed a sack of processed animal parts from McDonald's, is there any truth to this hypothesis he presents as fact? Somewhat, but he misses the boat entirely.
When tissues in your body are suffering from inflammation, more cholesterol is circulated through the bloodstream to help rebuild cells. But when an excess of cholesterol is present, cells will stop producing LDL receptor proteins. Without LDL receptor proteins, the concentration of LDL in the bloodstream skyrockets, resulting in a slow and painful death. LDL is a lipoprotein that carries insoluble fats and cholesterol through the blood. Atherosclerosis is the hardening and thickening of the arteries that is caused when an excess of LDL collects in the blood vessels and oxidizes, triggering white blood cells to respond (inflammation) and uptake the oxidized fats. The white blood cells accumulate in the arteries and the cholesterol and fat remains, unless another lipoprotein HDL comes to the rescue and removes the disgusting deposits.
So cardiovascular disease is really caused by LDL, but cholesterol plays a causative role in increasing LDL concentrations to dangerous levels. That's where the statin drugs come in to play. As Dr. Mercola learned while getting his D.O., all medicine is evil and the only way to stay healthy is with massages and homeopathy. He claims that lowering your cholesterol with statin drugs is crazy and counterproductive, and then proceeds to list the frightening but true potential side effects (which for some reason does not include clogged arteries and heart attack.) His assertion is that statins treat the symptom, not the cause of the disease.
He could not be further from the truth.
Statins (like mevastatin and lovastatin) were originally isolated from 'shrooms, and "that will automatically tell you that they are one of our best friends." :P These structurally similar drugs all work by inhibiting HMG-CoA reductase, an enzyme that is the rate limiting step in cholesterol synthesis. Inhibition of this enzyme also results in an increase in LDL receptor proteins in the liver. So statin drugs deliver the one-two punch of reducing the amount of cholesterol produced by your liver (resulting in less LDL in your blood) while preventing LDL from leaving your liver in the first place.
Dr. Kevorki--I mean Mercola goes on to say "among the more than 20,000 patients who have come to my clinic, only four or five of them truly needed these drugs." Well that sucks for those other 19,995 patients. He then criticizes a clinical trial of atorvastatin, saying "for every 100 people who took the drug over 3.3 years, three people on placebos, and two people on Lipitor, had heart attacks. That means that taking Lipitor resulted in just one fewer heart attack per 100 people." So sorry that only 3% of participants were due to have a heart attack in those 40 months...instead of selecting patients healthy enough to take experimental medication they should have used people on Dr. Mercola's high cholesterol diet. Maybe then the 36% drop in heart attack risk would have jumped to something that he deems "effective."
When the media reports on scientific findings you can expect the jounalist, no matter how experienced, to make errors and misunderstand the subject. That is because they are not a scientist. But when the author pretends to be an expert on the subject, be extra careful. Listening to a quack like Dr. Mercola could convince you to stop taking the wonder drugs that are saving your life.