Have you been to the doctor recently and been identified as someone who has high cholesterol or fit into one of the standard high risk categories. If you live in the western world, most likely you have been instructed to take a statin drug. Possibly you know what you are getting into but just opt to go with what your doctor tells you. Or maybe the level of fear compels you to move forward with this approach. It’s understandable, this is your life and you have been given a list of things that threaten your way of life and put you in jeopardy of heart disease. Like every story there are multiple sides and it’s good to have knowledge from all sides to make the best possible decision. Trust your instincts!
Cholesterol is a complex topic. The standards in this country will tell you that you should have cholesterol under 200 mg/dl, LDL less than 100 mg/dl, HDL 60 mg/dl or higher and triglycerides less than 150 mg/dl. There is really more to this than meets the eye. So what does this mean?
I think it’s important to understand how we arrived at this place in our history. You need to go back to the diet heart hypothesis to really grasp how this all started. During the time when Dr. Ancel Keys was formulating his theory on heart disease in the 50’s, the incidence of coronary heart disease related deaths were climbing massively. The pressure was enormous to find a reason for this increase and many studies were performed over many years to try and find this correlation hoping to reverse this trend. One of the main studies carried out by Dr. Keys was his seven country study. This study really set the stage and appeared to be a terrific study on paper, but upon further review many years later it was determined that the study excluded variables that really cast a shadow on the study. It’s hard to fully grasp just how his works became so ingrained in our culture in light of these flaws, but it did reach to all major government bodies and essentially was adopted as the truth. We see this now in our establishments from universities to government health agencies and it has all filtered down into how medical professionals view and treat fat, cholesterol and heart disease. Plus we now see low or no fat products everywhere as result. I do think that Dr. Keys and others had the absolute best intentions to find root causes, but the works of these men unfortunately had major lasting impacts on our health as a nation. A big part of our issue today is the over prescribing of statin drugs due to the erroneous correlation between a diet high in fat, cholesterol and its link to heart disease.
It’s not my position to say that statin drugs are evil or that you shouldn’t take them at all. There are studies that show that people who have a pre-existing heart condition do benefit from these drugs. But the data is just not there to support those who have yet to develop CHD. The risk factors don’t translate into disease and one big factor is how the pharmaceutical companies and researchers calculate the risk. These groups use a relative risk statistical model to calculate risk. So essentially if a drug trial highlights a reduction of say 30%, this number may seem impressive on the surface, but if you breakdown the data it actually loses some of its luster. The individual components may be something like a reduction in risk from .5% to .35% or going from 1 to 200 chance of having a heart attack; after taking a 1 to 285 chance. The risks and side effects of these drugs just doesn’t warrant taking them in all cases.
Let’s talk about cholesterol specifically and what it is.
So what happens when you inhibit cholesterol production, which is the main function of statin drugs on the liver? For starters all of the functions in the bullets above suffer. Pick anyone of them. Say production of bile for example, why is that important? If you can’t digest fats, you no longer have a long burning fuel source, you can’t make hormones, cell membranes are weak, cell communication fails, inflammation and we know inflammation is the source of disease! I could go on for pages on this, but each of these will have serious implications if left up to statin drugs.
What are the specific components that make up cholesterol? Well first off Cholesterol is fat soluble, meaning that it in order for it to move around in the blood it needs to be wrapped in a vehicle that carries it. The special protein is called a lipoprotein and its either low density (LDL) or high density (HDL) lipoproteins. These are the markers that are indicated in your blood work and each protein moves differently in the blood. For example, LDL which is considered the “bad” cholesterol is moved away from the liver to areas in the body, while HDL is moved back to the liver to be removed from the body. This becomes the bile which is essentially a river of toxins that breaks down fats and is expelled through the digestive tract.
So LDL is labeled as the bad cholesterol, while HDL is labeled as the good. While there are components of the LDL that are true markers of risk, it’s important to understand that there are things we are now finding out about LDL that are changing the way we look at this. First off, it’s now known that it’s not the cholesterol inside the lipoproteins (LDL-C) that’s the risk factor marker. The area of concern is the total number of lipoproteins or particles (LDL-P) in the blood. Unfortunately when you get your cholesterol numbers, in most cases this will provide you with the total amount of cholesterol (LDL-C) in the lipoprotein and not actually provide the total number of particles in the blood (LDL-P). Essentially if you have low LDL-P and high LDL-C, you are not a high risk for heart disease. However, you will most likely be treated with a statin drug as the test most likely did not focus on the LDL-P.
The major point I would like to make in this post is that statin drugs are littered with side effects. So the disregard of a very important marker is very concerning and is actually doing more harm than good. Let’s look at some of the major impacts of statin drugs:
Everything listed here ultimately will create more symptoms that get treated with different medications that create more symptoms that get treated with more medications. Statins will lead to memory loss, so what happens? The patient is prescribed a drug that deals with memory loss and a potential impact of this kind of drug is Parkinson’s. Seizures are a result of these, so the patient is given anti-seizure medication. Or another all too common example is that with cholesterol reducing drugs, sex hormone production is impacted and impaired. We need these sex hormones even if we are not sexually active as they not only keep us young, but they have impact on non sex hormones produced by the Adrenals. Cholesterol is the “mother” of all hormones. In essence we lose our ability to regulate sodium levels, stress hormones become impaired and all of this leads to the perfect storm. The net here is that when on statins we can’t make hormones due to mineral deficiencies which leads various issues like blood sugar regulation (correlation between statins and diabetes), blood pressure may go up or down so we are prescribed BP medications, we can’t heal so we are prescribed steroids, these drugs lead to anxiety and depression, which will then prompt yet another drug to treat that. I could go on and on as the side impacts are long, but I am sure you get the point. It’s no wonder that as we get older it’s not uncommon to take 5+ medications. This is just no way to live!
You may wonder as you read through this, what causes high LDL-P count? There are a number of particles that are also transported in the LDL particles like triglycerides, fat soluble vitamins and antioxidants.
In making decisions it is important to weigh every bit of evidence and decide for yourself if you want to take a drug that is absolutely littered with side effects. I find it deeply concerning that the Japanese work with components that eventually became the statin drugs of today were found to be very toxic. It was an American Pharmaceutical company that purchased the rights and the rest is history. Now statins are the most popular drugs on the market and just maybe the most problematic of all time. This is in despite of all the known impacts. There are alternatives in the majority of cases to dealing with cardiovascular issues. As with everything in our culture, it’s about the quick fix. What can be done about this right now? We will worry about side effects later. Unfortunately this approach is not what the doctor should order. We should be looking at the entire body. We should be looking at digestion. We should be cutting out sugar if we want to be healthy! We should be looking at leaky gut! We should be asking the question why more. Are you not digesting fats? Why? There are so many valuable questions and answers to be obtained through a good discovery process and it’s at the heart of health! I would implore you to be your own detective and ask why. Trust your instincts! Its your body!
Ian Sandage is a Nutritional Therapy Practitioner who speaks from the personal experience of someone with autoimmune disease and the highs and lows of a health journey