Diet and exercise 'do not affect' cholesterol

Exercise and a healthy diet are almost a waste of time for people with high cholesterol, a leading cardiologist claimed yesterday.

After presenting research that showed even patients who were treated with drugs were struggling to bring their cholesterol levels down, Dr Adrian Brady, a consultant cardiologist, said lifestyle changes were not enough to tackle the problem. He said cholesterol-reducing drugs should be used more regularly and more effectively.

"Healthy diets and exercise, of course, are good but they don't lower cholesterol an awful lot," Dr Brady, from the Glasgow Royal Infirmary, said.

"It's sort of a popular misconception that lots of exercise is good for your cholesterol. It reduces it a wee bit but if you run higher cholesterol you can reduce it by only 8 or 10 per cent if you go nuts on your diet."

"Cholesterol is made by the liver, and it's very much something you're born with."

Government guidelines under the national service framework for heart disease recommend blood cholesterol levels should be lower than 5 millimoles per litre (mml/l).

The "Performance for Life" study, headed by Dr Brady and funded by drug company Astrazeneca, used information from GPs on 80,096 heart disease patients from across Britain, collected until March 2003.

It showed that only 14,424 of those people were on the cholesterol-reducing drugs known as "statins". Between about a quarter and a half of those people being treated failed to achieve their cholesterol targets.

Dr Brady's research, which was presented to the Primary Care Cardiovascular Society in Dublin, showed only 48 per cent of patients achieved a 25 per cent cholesterol reduction on their first drug treatment.

Just over half (57 per cent) reached the 25 per cent target after further treatment. And 23 per cent of those on drugs failed to lower their cholesterol to the target of 5mmol/l.

Dr Brady said not enough people with high cholesterol were being treated with drugs, despite the health service in Britain spending £500m a year on them. Many people were being treated with the wrong type of drugs or dose, he said.

The cardiologist said thousands of lives were being lost as a result of poorly managed high cholesterol, and greater public awareness was needed.

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