Vytorin Gets it Wrong
Merck has been running commercials for it's new cholesterol drug Vytorin. The advertising campaign talks about how you can have high cholesterol because of your diet as well as your family history. This is nothing new -- any phenotype is shaped by genetic makeup and environment -- but it's how it's presented in the commercial that's so bothersome.
The adwizards that came up with this one (SNL reference for those who aren't big Adam Sandler fans) keep pushing the idea that family history can shape cholesterol levels, an idea so ludicrous it must be squashed. First off, family history can be a good indicator of cholesterol levels (as well as a good indicator of height, weight, eye color, hair color, and many other characteristics). Family history does not shape any of these characters. Saying you get high cholesterol because of your family history is like saying I will be persecuted for being Jewish in Eastern Europe because my grandparents were persecuted for being Jewish in Eastern Europe. It's mixing up correlation, causation, and association.
You see, us scientists use correlation and association to make inferences. You are not more likely to have high cholesterol because Grandpa Sid had high cholesterol, but you are more likely to have high cholesterol if you inherited a predisposition to high cholesterol from Grandpa Sid. It may seem like a subtle difference, but it's preposterous to say that there are two sources of cholesterol: the food you eat and that produced by your body based on family history. Cholesterol does come from the food you eat and it is produced by your body, but the cholesterol produced by your body is based on your genotype, which is inherited from your ancestors and inferred based on family history. Yes, we can determine your predisposition to many diseases and ailments based on family history, but family history is NOT THE CAUSAL SOURCE -- it's the genes stupid!