For the last few years, most practicing physicians have followed a rough blueprint for cholesterol management provided by the Adult Treatment Panel-III “consensus” guidelines, or ATP-III, a lengthy document last released in 2001, updated in 2004.
For instance, ATP-III suggests reducing LDL cholesterol to 100 mg/dl or less for those deemed to be at high risk for future heart disease, arbitrarily defined as a risk of 20% over a 10-year period. It also suggests that a desirable triglyceride level is no more than 150 mg/dl. The ATP-III guidelines have been the topic of discussion in thousands of medical meetings, editorials, and reports. They have served as the basis for many dinners at nice restaurants, weeks in Vegas or Honolulu, many, many lunches catered by pharmaceutical representatives. For most internists, family doctors, cardiologists, and lipid clinics, ATP-III is the Bible for cholesterol management.
AT-III has also become the de facto standard that could conceivably held up as the prevailing "standard of care" in a court of law in cases of presumed negligence to treat cholesterol values. “Doctor, would you agree that the consensus guidelines issued by the National Institutes of Health and endorsed by the American Heart Association state that LDL cholesterol should be reduced to 100? You do? Then why was Mr. Jones’ LDL not addressed according to these guidelines?”
Who was on the ATP-III panel and on what scientific evidence were the guidelines based? Several problems:
1) Of the 9 physician members of the panel, 8 had ties to industry, some of them quite intimate.
2) The studies upon which the guidelines were based and figure prominently, such as the Heart Protection Study, PROVE IT, and 4S, were all funded by the pharmaceutical industry. Of course, it would be unreasonable to expect anyone other than the pharmaceutical industry to fund drug studies. But prominently neglected or understated in the guidelines are all the other insights and treatments for coronary atherosclerotic risk available that were NOT funded by industry.
Of course, there’s money to be made in reducing LDL cholesterol. Lots of it--$23 billion last year alone, in fact. Just keeping that fact in mind makes the ATP-III guidelines make far better sense.
ATP-III is really not a blueprint for heart disease prevention. It is a blueprint--by industry, for industry--on how and when to treat LDL cholesterol.
But what if ATP-III had been a map for navigating coronary plaque reversal instead? What if it were not obsessed with just reducing LDL cholesterol, but was focused on providing the corner internist, family doctor, or cardiologist a roadmap for navigating the highways and byways of reversal?
That would be interesting. Mainstream reversal. Imagine that.
Among the difficulties is that the path to reversal is not lined with deep pockets. Treat LDL and who gains? That's easy. Reverse heart disease and who gains? Beyond LDL reduction, very few (beyond you and me, of course).
That’s why the call for a new Age of Self-Empowerment in healthcare is necessary now more than ever. In my view, in the foreseeable future, we will not have an ATP-III-like blueprint for heart disease control or reversal, nor will we witness a boom of nationwide appreciation that coronary atherosclerosis is a reversible process.
It’s time to take the control back and put it in our own hands. Don't expect the American Heart Association to do it. Don't expect the pharmaceutical industry to do it. If there's anyone who's going to do it, it's YOU .