Speaking to about 50 people at a Wilton Library event last Wednesday, Darien chiropractor Robert Zembroski talked about “Busting the cholesterol myth.” Some of his main points were that
- There is no such thing as “bad cholesterol.” Both LDL and HDL are “good.”
- Cholesterol does not clog arteries
- Statins may have a lot of bad side effects
Now it is important to note that chiropractic is not science and that the chiropractic neurology Zembroski practices is pure pseudo-science. Zembroski has no actual medical training, is not a research scientist and has published no research papers. His business, the Darien Center for Integrative Medicine also includes an acupuncturist and a massage therapist. They claim to practice functional medicine, which is not science-based medicine.
Zembroski has clearly informed himself about these issues in some detail, but he is not an expert and many of his conclusions are simply incorrect.
Speaking in the rapid-fire style of a professional conjurer, and calling himself “Dr Z,” Zembroski whizzed through dozens of slides, telling us that
- What I’m going to tell you tonight will “blow your mind.”
- Cholesterol does not stick to and clog your arteries.
- Can we really blame high cholesterol on anything?
He claimed he would present “real research” to back up his assertions. In fact, what he did was to flash through slides showing a tiny copy of the first page of a medical article, with a quote pulled out and enlarged. There was no way to identify the authors, the dates or in many cases the journals. And he made no attempt to explain the nature of the research. Instead, he focused on pithy, if inaccurate quotes.
Cholesterol and Heart Disease
There is no question that high levels of cholesterol contribute to heart disease. Here is a complete summary from the American Heart Association. You will find similar statements on all the medical reference sites. The difference between LDL and HDL is clearly explained on this Mayo Clinic web page. And a PubMed search will bring up hundreds of articles supporting this fact. For example, this one.
There is really only one kind of cholesterol, a waxy fat. It is carried around the body by lipoproteins called HDL and LDL, high-density and low-density lipoproteins. HDL, the “good transporter” moves cholesterol from the arteries back to the liver.
But LDL transports cholesterol to the arteries. And it also can move cholesterol into the walls of the artery, where it can cause a swelling and form plaque, which does indeed then clog the arteries. This is well known and in no way new information. By splitting hairs about clogging the inside of the artery versus clogging the inside of the wall, Zembroski tried to imply that cholesterol does not clog your arteries. This is dangerous nonsense and he should be ashamed.
After carefully noting that
“I’m not advising you on use of medications,”
Zembroski proceeded to do just that for nearly half his talk. This is an important disclaimer since he is not licensed to prescribe drugs and chiropractors are not trained in it.
He was particularly critical of statins, which are widely prescribed for lowering cholesterol and widely considered extremely safe.
He listed perhaps ten possible side effects of statins, not indicating how rare these are. The Mayo Clinic has a good summary. Some people believe that CoEnzyme Q10 can reduce some of the side effects of statins, but as the Mayo Clinic says, there are no good studies on this, so current guidelines do not recommend taking of CoQ10.
Thus his long discussion of the biochemistry of this, and his passing around of a bottle of CoQ10 supplement were inappropriate and misleading.
He also implied that statins could trigger auto-immune disorders. While this is true, he failed to note that this is extremely rare and the risks are small compared to not taking prescribed statins.
Cholesterol and Mortality
It is widely known that high cholesterol can increase the risk of heart attacks. Zembroski is trying to discount this by misquoting studies in this area.
For example, he quickly flashed a 30 year retrospective of the Framingham Heart Study with the quote:
There is a direct association between falling cholesterol levels over the first 14 years and mortality over the following 18 years (11% overall and 14% CVD death rate increase per 1 mg/dL per year drop in cholesterol levels).
This would seem to fly in the face of standard knowledge in this area, but he intentionally takes this quote out of context. The study clearly says that
Under age 50 years these data suggest that having a very low cholesterol level improves longevity. After age 50 years the association of mortality with cholesterol values is confounded by people whose cholesterol levels are falling–perhaps due to diseases predisposing to death.
Misleading the audience like this is unprofessional and in line with the rest of the misinformation in this talk.
Why, we might ask, did he spend the evening on this nonsense? It all became clear when he offered each person in the audience a “free consult” in his office. This entire talk seemed then to be nothing but a sales pitch, and quite a misleading one at that.
Zembroski is a glib and entertaining speaker, but chiropractic is not a science and he is not a scientist. Any further such talks need to come with a rebuttal by well-informed scientists.
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