Barking up the wrong tree.

The New York Times ran an interesting piece today on the fact that the reduce-cholesterol-to-treat-heart-disease theory is possibly terribly flawed.

Yes, that’s the theory that sells many billions of dollars worth of pharmaceutical drugs every year.

Yes, that theory just might be totally wrong.

Apparently the FDA has been so confident in the veracity of this particular theory that it hasn’t required proof that new heart disease drugs actually affect heart disease—proof of a cholesterol-reducing effect has been enough to get a drug on the market. Oops.

It turns out that some cholesterol-lowering drugs affect heart disease and some don’t. Some even make heart disease worse.

How did this happen?

Well, there was money to be made, for one thing.

And then there’s the fact that scientists are social beasts, too. If everyone seems to think something is so, it’s hard to be the one who says “Well, maybe not.”

Further reading from the Times archives:

Gary Taubes: Do We Really Know What Makes Us Healthy?

John Tierney: Diet and Fat: A Severe Case of Mistaken Consensus


  1. Kiva Rose said,

    January 17, 2008 @ 8:26 pm

    I do love your nutrition posts, you have a way of keeping everything so clear and unmuddied, exactly the opposite of most literature on the subject.

  2. jim mcdonald said,

    January 18, 2008 @ 10:22 am

    ah, but did you see the “correction” tacked ontot he bottom of the article:

    “Correction: January 18, 2008

    A headline in Business Day on Thursday with an article about research involving two widely used cholesterol-lowering drugs misstated the issue raised by the results. It is whether using drugs to lower cholesterol at all costs is always medically effective, or even safe; there is no question that cholesterol itself can pose dangers.”

    yeah… “no question”… right.

  3. El said,

    January 18, 2008 @ 10:22 am

    Michael Pollan’s new book is all over this, actually. The little conspiracy theorist on my shoulder whispers that we’ll never ever hear anything about low-fat “foods” being bad for you. (They’ll never come completely clean on transfats, either.) I just feel awful about the whole thing, because so many people are so sadly brainwashed that fat=bad. They continue to eat the highly processed crap they buy because they somehow think it’s good for them, good for their heart, especially if they chase it down with some processed oatmeal. Sigh.

    Keep up the great work, Ms Crabapple!

  4. crabappleherbs said,

    January 18, 2008 @ 12:07 pm

    Thanks, Kiva!

    jim — The original title of the article was “Cholesterol as a Danger Has Skeptics.” That was the headline that ran in the paper on Thursday. They changed the online title to the not-quite-so-dramatic “New Questions on Treating Cholesterol,” but they didn’t backtrack on the contents of the article. (Though the article itself calls that very “unquestionable” fact into question. Sigh.) Of course, it’s interesting that this is all happening in the business section of the paper, not the health section. I doubt that headline would have made it past the health editors. Orthodoxy in action.

    El — The interaction of marketing and incomplete research has had a pretty intensely awful effect on food culture in this country. I’ve been thinking a lot about the roots of it lately. More posts to come… (I love the photo on your blog header, by the way!)

  5. Kiva Rose said,

    January 18, 2008 @ 8:22 pm

    oooohhhh, another nice pic, Rebecca! I do love the seasonal changes (i’ve already said that two or three times, haven’t i? ah well…)

  6. crabappleherbs said,

    January 21, 2008 @ 12:25 pm

    Thanks, Kiva!

  7. Jan S. said,

    January 21, 2008 @ 1:19 pm

    I was wondering when you would get a snowscene down there. I like it too and the fact that it changes- like getting to look out your window every season.

  8. crabappleherbs said,

    January 21, 2008 @ 2:48 pm

    Thanks, Jan.

    This was our first real snow this year. (We had a bit in early December, but it melted almost immediately). So up until a couple of days ago, the other picture was accurate!

  9. Rachel R. said,

    January 22, 2008 @ 1:00 pm

    I’m new to your blog (just found it through StumbleUpon – and added it to my feed reader!), so maybe this is a duplication, but…The Cholesterol Myths is a terrific book. 🙂 (And if the author’s theory about cholesterol is correct, then we just might be killing people more quickly by attacking their cholesterol levels without addressing the actual problems.)

  10. crabappleherbs said,

    January 22, 2008 @ 1:33 pm

    Thanks, Rachel!

    Yes, there are some really good books about Cholesterol out there. I haven’t read the one you mention, but if you’re interested in the history of the science, I recommend Gary Taubes’s new book. (In the US it’s called Good Calories, Bad Calories, but I prefer the UK title: The Diet Delusion.)

    I keep saying that I’m going to make a “recommended reading” section of this site, but it seems like such a big project. Thanks for the encouragement!

  11. Yaz. said,

    February 10, 2010 @ 12:10 am

    Yaz and yeast….

    Yaz canada. Yaz birth control. Side effects of yaz. Yaz….

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