Letters

Ischaemic heart disease and cholesterol There's more to heart disease than cholesterol

BMJ 1994; 308 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.308.6935.1038 (Published 16 April 1994) Cite this as: BMJ 1994;308:1038
  1. L Bonneux,
  2. J J Barendregt

    EDITOR, - We are impressed by the “cholesterol papers.”*RF 1-3* M R Law and colleagues prove that it is highly probable that lowering the serum cholesterol concentration in the population will reduce the risk of ischaemic heart disease without increasing the risk of other disease. The jump from epidemiological evidence to conclusions regarding public health is not, however, as evident as they suggest.

    Law and colleagues state that lowering serum cholesterol concentration is critical in reducing ischaemic heart disease. It certainly was not so in the past; why should it be in the future? Several Western populations have seen a steeply decreasing mortality from ischaemic heart disease in association with constant or even increasing cholesterol concentrations.4 If we compare the cohort of the British United Provident Association (BUPA), which was recruited in 1975-82, with the Whitehall cohort, which was recruited one decade earlier, we observe higher serum cholesterol concentrations in all the fifths of the BUPA population (fig 12). Despite this, the incidence of ischaemic heart disease was at least three times lower in the BUPA cohort. As far as we can see - the y axis varies tremendously - the incidence of ischaemic heart disease in the patients with the lowest fifth of serum cholesterol concentration in the Whitehall study was still higher than that in the patients with the highest fifth of cholesterol concentration in the BUPA cohort. In the Whitehall study serum cholesterol concentrations were lower in the lower classes, but the risk of ischaemic heart disease was four times higher than that in the highest.5 Differences in cholesterol concentrations may explain the international variation in mortality from ischaemic heart disease but do not explain the variation in middle aged employed men in London.

    Before it is concluded that cholesterol concentrations must be reduced …

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