I’m exhausted. My hair hurts. My head’s about to explode, singed by the firestorm of media coverage about new cardiovascular disease treatment guidelines – specifically, the newly-expanded recommendations to prescribe the cholesterol drugs calledstatins to just about every middle-aged person who still has a detectable pulse.
Five years ago, I was told by my cardiologist that, as a freshly-diagnosed heart attack survivor, I was most definitely in the right demographic to benefit from taking a statin every day for the rest of my natural life (along with a fistful of other cardiac meds). Statins, he explained, would help prevent another heart attack by controlling my specific target levels of low-density lipoprotein cholesterol, commonly known as LDL, or ‘bad cholesterol’. Lots of studies (at least, those paid for by the folks who make statins) seemed to indicate that lower LDL numbers would decrease both my risk of suffering a future cardiac event as well as death.
But now, these new treatment guidelines are essentially telling us and our doctors not to obsess at all on those target LDL numbers in favour of expanding the pool of potential statin-users out there.
Here’s a cardiac research story so confusing that the average dull-witted heart attack survivor like me can barely keep up with the plot. So let’s try telling the tale in pared-down plain English to see if we can figure out how two well-respected “experts” can have such viciously opposing interpretations of the same research, and what factors might just be at work to influence those opinions – financial and otherwise.
But before even looking at the story’s details, let’s do what everybody should do before evaluating any study results: fast-forward to the end of the research report until you find the teeny tiny fine print revealing researchers’ conflict of interest disclosures. And it turns out that each of the opposing researchers in this story has plenty of reason to trash the other’s interpretation. Continue reading →