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Statin Drugs are NOT the Only Solution to Cholesterol

Statin Drugs are NOT the Only Solution to Cholesterol

The new guidelines offer insight to physicians on how to use statin drugs to reduce heart attack rates. Period. Is it fair to expect more than that? No it really is not. We are not taught anything about nutrition, sleep physiology, exercise physiology or for that matter anything about “health”. What we are taught in medical school is the use of drug therapy to control the symptoms of disease. We study disease not health, and the insurance companies that we all typically work for (yes, doctors are employees of the insurance companies and not free agents) expect us to write down codes and submit our bills to them for treating diseases. We cannot bill for making someone healthy. There is no ICD-10 code for reversing diabetes or resolving high blood pressure. We get paid for prescribing drugs to manage the “symptoms” (not the cause) of disease. We don’t get paid for making people healthy – that is not a destination that doctors are taught to strive for. Therefore the statin guidelines make perfect sense to help doctors know how and when to use drug therapy.

That’s is not the same as saying that statins are the only way to treat high cholesterol and reduce heart attack rates. In fact a recent study out of Sweden would claim that when 4 million people (that’s a lot) were followed over 4 years, the use of statins did not significantly lower the rate of heart attacks or deaths secondary to heart attacks. This is documented in spite of statin use increasing 3 fold over that same time frame. So allow that sink in. Looking at 4 million people, statin prescriptions increased 300% yet heart disease didn’t change in its rate of occurrence or rate of deaths.

There are some people for whom statins work well and are important adjuncts, but to suggest that they are cardiovascular saviors all by themselves is not accurate or healthy. So the question becomes; “If I want to follow the new guidelines which state that I should reduce my LDL cholesterol, what tools are available to accomplish this besides statin drugs?” And by the way, we need to factor in that the majority of people who suffer a heart attack have a normal cholesterol to begin with. So is our preoccupation with statin use to lower cholesterol truly our most effective approach? Likely not.

There are many tools that are equal to or greater than statins in their ability to reduce cholesterol and more importantly reduce heart attack risk while improving your health. Lets start with lifestyle since that’s where most heart disease starts anyway. The new guidelines recommend the DASH diet and its load of wheat and carbs. This is not a wise choice as sited in my previous article. Adopting a Paleolithic type diet has been shown in clinical study to be far superior at not only reducing cholesterol but also reducing blood sugar and insulin, which are the primary drivers of inflammation and heart disease in the first place. What is Paleo? Well that essentially means no bread, no grains. Cavemen didn’t have access to bread and grains and neither should we. (see other posts on Gluten free and “Wheat Belly”).

“But I can’t live without bread !!!”. More accurately you can’t live WITH bread. You can exist and you can survive but you can’t live a full active life if wheat is a part of your daily diet. It’s destructive and will cause poor health whether you recognize it or not. The singular removal of bread (and pasta, crackers, etc) from the daily diet is responsible for more improvement in general health than anything I have ever witnessed.

Don’t believe me? Cool, then take the challenge. Don’t give up bread forever but simply do an experiment and remove all forms of wheat from your diet for 2 weeks and then follow this by eating it for 2 days in a row and tell me how you feel. Bloated, achy, moody, sluggish, foggy . . . oh what fun. Nuf said.

The next change I would make to reduce my LDL is to add fish oil to my daily intake. I live in Ohio where it is state law that you only eat fish once per week, or less. I assume that this is customary in other states but I can only comment on the Ohio river valley. Our body needs omega 3 fatty acids as a REQUIRED nutrient in order to experience good health yet many of us have ignored that scientific fact in favor of chips, soda and fast food. Yes, I get it, those foods are more convenient but your body doesn’t know that. You’re body simply sees Dorito’s and assumes that your desire is to die young and begins to comply with your stated wishes. Omega 3 fats from fish improve how your body handles blood sugar, it reduces the effects of stress on the brain, it improves sleep, it lowers triglycerides, reduces vascular inflammation, reduces blood pressure and about 100 other good things. Get a proper dose of fish oil and talk to someone knowledgeable about brand and dose. Not all fish oils are created equal but any is better than none.

So now we are eating less starch (bread) and taking fish oil so blood sugar is dropping and pants are shrinking. That alone will cause LDL to drop but if we need to push a little harder then I would talk with a good integrative physician who can guide you to some good alternatives such as niacin, fermented garlic extracts, citrus extracts, plant sterols/sterolins, berberine and other natural elements that have shown good impact on vascular health and cholesterol. These are well-studied nutrients and botanicals that have real science behind them. So why doesn’t your doctor mention them? Again we received no education of these elements in medical school despite their appearance in our medical journals showing their beneficial effects.

Why not just take a statin . . . it’s easier . . . right? It is an option for those that choose it but it does come with some baggage. Statins increase the risk for diabetes. The risk is significant with increases ranging from 9 to 48% depending on the study. One study from 2012 reported that a post-menopausal woman starting a statin would increase her risk for diabetes by 48%. There are several mechanisms whereby statins have been shown to interfere with proper sugar metabolism and diabetes is one of the leading causes of heart disease and Alzheimers.

Statins will lower the body’s level of CoenzymeQ10, which is an important element that our body makes as a part of our “energy” pathway. This is pointed to as the reason that statins cause muscle ache and pain. If you want to make the heart LESS efficient as a pump then simply suck all of the Coenzyme Q10 out of it and congestive heart failure risk increases.

Statins also reduce testosterone production. Hey guys, life is tough enough after turning 50 without losing your testosterone. Something to consider. A drop in testosterone is also strongly associated with increased risk for diabetes, heart disease and weight gain.

Bottom line here is that there are options. One option that is completely unacceptable is to do nothing. You can’t avoid the gym, eat hoagies every day, avoid fish oil and then refuse a statin because you heard they were bad. Pick a direction and move. But the idea from the standard medical machine that statins are your only choice is neither honest nor healthy. I have some patients who derive great benefit from a low dose of statin and then employ other natural therapies such as those outlined above to arrive at a nice blended approach.

You are not a statistic, you are an individual and you have the right and ability to choose the path that best suits your individual needs. Statins have some beneficial qualities that help some people but are not for everyone. There are ample options in the pursuit of ideal health so don’t feel cornered into the idea that the only way to avoid a heart attack is with drug therapy. It’s one option but unfortunately it’s the only option that most doctors get instructed in.

Let me share an example of a woman that saved her own life just by following the path outlined above. Next time…

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