IN OTHER WORDS: Revelation

The evidence has gotten stronger that a substance known as C-reactive protein may be every bit as important as cholesterol in the diagnosis and treatment of heart disease. Back in 2002, a study found that a blood test for C-reactive protein, called CRP, was actually better than the standard cholesterol test at predicting the risk of a heart attack. Now two studies published in The New England Journal of Medicine have shown that drugs that reduce the levels of that protein in patients with severe heart disease can slow the progression of atherosclerosis. Although the studies came laced with caveats, their cumulative impact suggests that cardiology is in the midst of a revolutionary shift in understanding the causes of heart disease. The study found that heart disease patients who were given high doses of a cholesterol-lowering statin drug also experienced a drop in CRP levels and in heart attacks. Thus the high-dose statin packed a double wallop.

These findings apply only to patients already suffering from heart disease. A separate clinical trial will seek to determine whether lowering C-reactive protein can reduce heart attacks in healthy patients. But right now, it would seem prudent for all overweight couch potatoes who think they are safe because their cholesterol levels are low to get their C-reactive protein levels tested. —The New York Times