Food v drugs

In the battle against heart disease, can you ditch the statins and eat your way instead to healthy cholesterol levels.

Out of all the things likely to shorten our lives in the UK, coronary heart disease is the most likely. It is believed that almost 80 per cent of adults have total cholesterol levels above the ideal and that raised cholesterol and fats in the blood are responsible for well over half the deaths caused by the disease.

Lowering cholesterol levels has, not surprisingly, become a big focus of the NHS, and to this end, the mass prescription of a group of cholesterol-lowering drugs known as statins is under way to those whose cholesterol levels register as “high” in routine GP tests. Statins work by blocking enzymes that play a key role in the production of cholesterol in your liver (most cholesterol in our blood is made in our liver rather than being eaten directly in food).

About three million of us are knocking back statins daily, millions more are being offered them and there is a proposal that these drugs should ultimately be offered to all men over 50 and women from the age of 60. Fat-busting drugs are the most costly class of drugs to the NHS and there has been a 17-fold increase in their prescription since 1997.

Which poses the question, is there an alter-native? For some people the answer is a definite “no”. If, for instance, you have an inherited form of raised cholesterol, have had a heart attack or stroke, have diabetes or raised blood pressure, you should do as your doctor tells you and take your medicine. Furthermore, some doctors argue that patients are more willing to pop a pill once a day than to change their diet. But for those who prefer not to take the pharmaceutical route, the outlook is brighter because recent studies have suggested that including a “portfolio” of certain foods – a portfolio diet – can help to lower cholesterol by up to 30 per cent, a result which reflects the achievement of statins.

Source - Times