Don't lament no OTC mevacor

After Merck's third go at FDA approval for over-the-counter (OTC) status for its statin cholesterol drug, Mevacor (lovastatin), the FDA advisory board suggested that its request be denied. They expressed concern that too many people would not understand how the drugs would be used and that misuse would be common.

Similar sentiments were echoed by Dr. Sidney Wolfe, director of the Health Research Group at Public Citizen; the American Medical Association (though the AMA always fights anything that threatens to erode physician control over health); and the de facto spokesman for cardiologists, Dr. Steven Nissen of the Cleveland Clinic.

Although I am a supporter for tools and legislation that yield greater self-empowerment in health care to the public, there is no need to lament the failed OTC status for Mevacor. For one, Merck had no plans to reduce the price on its OTC preparation. For many people, this would have meant an increase in cost, since health insurers would surely not cover a non-prescription agent.

Second, OTC status sends the implicit message that cholesterol is the most common cause of heart disease; it is not. (Small LDL particles are the number one cause, a pattern only partially addressed by any statin drug and a pattern largely responsible for the failure of statin drugs to "cure" heart disease despite pharmaceutical manufacturer's attempts to increase doses to take up any slack in effect.)

Thirdly, you can achieve the same effect--no, a superior effect--by incorporating several simple strategies into your life. These strategies are superior to Mevacor because they do more than just reduce LDL cholesterol. You can achieve similar LDL-reducing effect to Mevacor, 20 mg, just by adding:

--2 tablespoons oat bran or ground flaxseed per day (choose flaxseed if you have sugar problems or small LDL; flaxseed contains no digestible sugars, only protein and fiber)
--Raw almonds or walnuts--at least a handful, though more is fine and will not make you fat. (It's nuts like party mixes, mixed nuts roasted in unhealthy oils, and honey-roasted nuts that make us fat, not raw.)
--Soy protein sources--probably the weakest effect of all foods listed, but a contributor that can be obtained in a variety of forms, such as tofu, soy protein powders, and soy milk.
--Other foods that reduce LDL include pectin sources (e.g., citrus rind), flavonoids (e.g., green tea); stanol esters found in butter substitute Benecol (recall that sterol-containing products like Take Control and the flood of new products on the market like HeartWise orange juice might have potential for allowing sterol esters to enter the blood, so I do NOT recommend them); and, of course, niacin.

Many of these strategies also reduce small LDL, raise HDL, reduce triglycerides, and reduce blood sugar, effects that go beyond that achieved with Mevacor. Of course, a combination strategy is not as easy as popping one pill a day, it's better for you.

I will certainly not shed any tears for Merck and its relentless efforts to gain a stronger foothold in the "transform conditions into diseases" marketing strategy, the same strategy that classifies shyness, toe fungus, and sadness into medical conditions necessitating medication. While I do generally support efforts to increase public access to strategies that increase their health care power, this one was not necessarily all good.

Members of Track Your Plaque can read the complete report, Unique nutritional strategies to Reduce cholesterol naturally on the Track Your Plaque website.

Copyright 2007 William Davis, MD

Comments (4) -

  • Anonymous

    12/18/2007 10:30:00 PM |

    Dr. do psyllium husks also reduce small ldl ?

  • Dr. Davis

    12/19/2007 3:46:00 AM |

    Not specifically. They reduce total LDL of all sizes.

  • Anonymous

    12/19/2007 10:21:00 PM |

    Ok I'm sorry but I'm confused. Does ground flax seed help get rid of small ldl or is it just like psyllium husks and reduces all ldl?

  • Dr. Davis

    12/20/2007 4:55:00 AM |

    Mostly total.

    There may be a slight preference for small LDL, but documentation is rather skimpy.