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Myth #2: Cholesterol is the Cause of Heart Disease and Statins are the Answer

by Tim Reynolds MD 08/08/2008

It’s hard to even start writing about this topic — there is so much misinformation out there. Let’s start with the basics. Cholesterol is a necessary part of almost all metabolic processes in the body. Without it we could not survive.

In the early 80s there were some landmark studies linking cholesterol levels to atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries). Since then, all kinds of conclusions have been made as to what this means, what numbers are “normal”, and how those numbers change depending on your medical history.

Drug companies have invented a class of drugs called statins that lower plasma cholesterol levels from 10-50%, depending on the type of drug given and the amount. Statins are prescribed so frequently that they are now a multi-billion dollar industry.

Unfortunately, they also have side effects that can be devastating to some patients. In my medical practice, I have had to take many patients off their statin drugs because of side effects such as muscle pains, aching, and fatigue. In addition, the medical community has no long term studies (20-30 years) to see what the consequences of taking statins will be.

Here are some facts to keep in mind.

bulletThere has been no evidence that having low cholesterol reduces the risk of first time heart attack. In fact, half of those with a first time heart attack have normal cholesterol levels. In a study of 10,000 people comparing those taking a statin to those that did not but maintained their weight and exercised, there was no difference in outcome of any kind.1 Did you get that?
bulletThere is LDL (bad cholesterol) and HDL (good cholesterol). Statins lower both, and the problem is we want to see HDL increased. In fact, it seems that heart health results more from increasing HDL than lowering LDL. Drug companies are scrambling to find a drug that raises HDL, but so far without success. Only exercise and the B vitamin, niacin, have been proven to raise HDL.

So what’s a better way to ensure your heart is healthy? Start by having your homocysteine and C-reactive protein (CRP) levels checked. These markers are better predictors of your cardiac risk.

Homocysteine is an amino acid that occurs naturally and can be measured in the blood. The correlation between homocysteine and coronary artery disease is not completely understood but it has been noted that homocysteine levels higher than 14 are associated with a higher risk of heart disease.2 The best way to prevent elevated homocysteine levels is to ensure you are taking sufficient amounts of the B vitamins and folate either through diet or supplementation.

CRP is a marker for inflammation of the arteries. It is now thought that inflammation plays a large role in contributing to heart disease. CRP is not routinely measured, but it should be. Elevated levels can identify individuals at increased risk for heart disease. If you find that your CRP levels are high, increase your intake of fresh fruits and vegetables along with antioxidant supplements.

My personal heart disease prevention plan looks like this:

  1. High intensity exercise on a regular basis
  2. A diet consisting of natural foods — high in fresh fruits and vegetables and low in trans fats
  3. Fish oil supplements, 3 grams daily
  4. Niacin supplements, 1 gram daily
  5. Fiber supplement (Metamucil or FiberCon)
  6. Coenzyme Q10, 200 mg daily
  7. Grass-fed beef to increase omega-3 fatty acids
  8. Fresh fish at least twice a week
  9. Pomegranate juice three times a week for extra antioxidants
  10. 1/2 cup red wine every evening

Instead of rushing to take a statin, find a physician you trust and take some time to talk to him or her about your particular situation. You may find that with a proper diet, nutritional supplements, and moderate exercise, your risk of a heart attack from all causes can be dramatically reduced.

[Ed. Note: Tim Reynolds, M.D., is a practicing physician and a health and lifestyle expert. For more information, click here.]

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Foot Notes:

bulletThis article appears courtesy of Early to Rise’s Total Health Breakthroughs which offers alternative health solutions for mind, body and soul.
bulletJAMA December 18, 2002;288:1998-3007,3042-3044.
bulletNEJM November 27, 1997 Vol 337 number 22:1631-1633.

This page was last updated on Tuesday, March 24, 2009


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