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Nutritional Medicine

Challenging the Statin Drug Dogma

Drugs You Don’t Need – And the Best Natural Alternatives

by Dr. Zoltan P. Rona, MD, M.Sc. RSS

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Cholesterol lowering statin drugs are a $26 billion a year industry in North America. The commitment by mainstream doctors to these drugs, in fact, is so powerful that many physicians themselves take statins, even though their cholesterol levels may be normal. In the past year alone, I have seen at least two dozen patients who were prescribed statins by other physicians, even though the patient’s blood levels of cholesterol were normal. In many cases, the physicians prescribing the drugs boasted that they were taking the same prescription.

Few conventional MDs ever question the validity of taking statins. Ask anyone over 50 and there’s at least a 50% chance they take a statin of some kind. (That’s all provided they are not a regular reader of this magazine.) In my opinion, statins may well be the biggest scam perpetrated upon an unwary public and the medical profession. Big Pharma spends big bucks to make sure all doctors continuously prescribe these money makers, and great efforts are also made to minimize the significance of side effects.

The most common statins include: Lipitor (atorvastatin); Zocor (simvastatin); Pravachol (pravastatin); Lescol (fluvastatin); Mevacor (lovastatin); Crestor (rosuvastatin).

SIDE EFFECTS OF CHOLESTEROL LOWERING DRUGS

Statins are believed to be “preventive medicine” against heart disease, but are they really? If one looks at actual statistics in the prevention of a first heart attack, statins only prevent 1% of first heart attacks over a period of 10 years. For every life saved by a statin, an equal number of deaths occur that are caused by adverse reactions to statins in the form of accidents, infections, suicide and cancer (also 1% over 10 years). As a form of first heart attack prevention, statins are an ineffectual waste of money. The evidence for reduction of mortality is, at the very least, highly debatable.

All statins work primarily by blocking an enzyme (HMG CoA reductase) in the liver that helps manufacture cholesterol. Unfortunately, this is the same enzyme the body uses to manufacture coenzyme Q10, the most important antioxidant for the cardiovascular system. Consequently, coenzyme Q10 tissue levels are lowered by statins and numerous side effects occur.

If you suffer from Fibromyalgia, statins are definitely not for you. These drugs have been proven to turn on the gene that causes muscle damage leading to atrophy (shrinkage) and wasting. It’s a given. Everyone (that’s 100% of the time) taking statins gets muscle damage – it’s just a question of the degree. You may not have muscle pain or weakness now from taking a statin, but you definitely have microscopic muscle damage.

The most serious form of muscle damage is called rhabdomyolysis (major muscle cell death) and is said to occur in only 1% of statin users. This damage is permanent and only partial relief is seen when the statin is stopped. At least 5 to 7% of statin users report varying degrees of muscle pain or discomfort. That percentage goes up to 10% in those who use higher doses and the percentage climbs to 25% in those engaged in regular vigorous exercise. These are facts based on research done using muscle biopsies. Let’s not forget that the heart itself is a muscle. Statin use has been shown to worsen the signs and symptoms of congestive heart failure, perhaps through this muscle wasting effect.

Cardiomyopathy is a known but under-reported side effect of statins, and is thought to be due to a combination of statin induced coenzyme Q10 deficiency and the gene activation of muscle damage. Unfortunately, we cannot do biopsies as readily on the heart, so heart muscle damage caused by statins can only be proven at autopsy.

The nerve damaging effects of statins are also well documented. Memory and cognitive loss, neuropathy, anemia, cataracts, sexual dysfunction, liver dysfunction, fatigue, immune system weaknesses and mental depression side effects have often been reported. If you suffer from cancer and use statins, it’s time to rethink that statin prescription.

THE MANY BENEFITS OF CHOLESTEROL

Cholesterol has become synonymous with evil, disease and death, yet at least 85% of the cholesterol in your blood comes from your liver’s own manufacture of it. If you consume high cholesterol foods, your cholesterol blood levels do go higher temporarily, but the liver then manufactures less and eventually the blood levels go lower. Eliminate cholesterol entirely from your diet and the liver starts manufacturing more of it.

Cholesterol blood levels can change significantly from one time of the day to another. In northern latitudes especially, higher levels of cholesterol are seen in the winter than summer, possibly because of the cholesterol lowering effect of vitamin D from the sun. Cholesterol goes high after an injury, such as can occur with surgery. It can also go higher as a response to mental stress, an infection, as well as during and after a heart attack.

Why does the body go to such lengths to maintain cholesterol levels if it’s something that is so horrible? Are there good reasons to have adequate amounts of cholesterol in the body? Overwhelmingly, the answer is yes. Cholesterol is a healing or repair agent. The body makes more of it as a response to oxidant stress from numerous sources. For example, if you smoke cigarettes, your cholesterol level is likely to be high because the body needs protection against the toxins found in tobacco smoke.

We are all exposed to toxins from food, water and air on a regular basis. The greater the toxin exposure, the more the body needs to protect itself. One of the mechanisms by which this occurs is the production of more cholesterol by the liver. Suppress that function with a statin and you risk developing degenerative diseases more easily.

Half of all heart attacks occur even though cholesterol levels are well within the normal range. This “normal” range has changed frequently over the past 30 years, going lower and lower, thus accommodating the hypothesis that just about everyone has ‘too high’ cholesterol levels.

Cholesterol is an integral part of the structure of every cell in the body, including the cells of all our blood vessels, so life would cease to exist without cholesterol. It is used by the body to manufacture testosterone, estrogen, progesterone, cortisol and DHEA. Low levels of cholesterol can lead to deficiencies in these hormones and subsequent acceleration of aging.

Cholesterol insulates nerves and is responsible for healthy nervous system function. Many diseases of the brain and nervous system (such as Parkinson’s disease, depression and suicide, Alzheimer’s disease and multiple sclerosis) can be aggravated, if not caused by, low cholesterol levels.

Cholesterol deficiency can lead to numerous digestive system problems because bile salts are made in the liver from cholesterol and these salts are important for proper digestion.

The body also manufactures vitamin D from cholesterol, and if cholesterol levels are low a vitamin D deficiency could result. As we now know, low levels of vitamin D can increase the risk of cancer by as much as 60%. Could this be one of the mechanisms by which statin drugs increase cancer incidence? Low levels of vitamin D have been proven to weaken immunity.

The brain accounts for approximately a quarter of all the cholesterol in the body. The myelin sheath that covers every nerve in the body is made of at least one-fifth cholesterol. Communication between nerves and the integrity of messages between neurons is partially dependent on adequate cholesterol levels. The brain functions abnormally without adequate cholesterol because receptors for serotonin require cholesterol to work properly – so depression, violence, memory impairment and suicide are all more likely to occur.

It has never been conclusively shown that lowering cholesterol levels saves lives. Certainly, its efficacy in preventing a first heart attack is unproven. Lowering cholesterol can, in fact, be related to a greater death risk, especially from cancer.

Since the correlation between total cholesterol and heart disease is practically non-existent, a stronger correlation was sought many years ago. Hence the myth of a “good” (HDL or high density lipoprotein) and a “bad” (LDL or low density lipoprotein) cholesterol was created. The truth is that cholesterol is just cholesterol. In the blood, it combines with other things such as proteins, simply because fat and water do not mix well and proteins are good carriers of fat molecules.

The real cause of heart disease is inflammation – not the levels of any cholesterol sub fraction. There are many causes of inflammation triggered by environmental, dietary, emotional, and genetic influences. And there is growing evidence of an infectious disease source, amongst many other theories.

NATURAL ALTERNATIVES TO STATINS

We are now being told by Big Pharma and their puppets that statins are also anti-inflammatory, and the real reason they work in preventing heart disease is through their anti-inflammatory effect. Yet curcumin, omega-3 oils, vitamin E, vitamin C, digestive enzymes such as pancreatin and bromelain, and many other natural remedies are also anti-inflammatory – and at a significantly lower price. Further, none carry any of the outrageous side effects seen with the statins.

Abnormally high cholesterol levels are a response by the body to a variety of physical toxins and mental stress. Heredity also plays a part, but can be overcome naturally. The first thing to do is find out what is really going wrong in the body? Is there an infection? Is something causing inflammation? What are the toxins that could potentially be involved? Is there a low thyroid condition? Does the person smoke cigarettes? Is blood sugar control out of balance? Is there little or no physical activity? Is there obesity?

The next step is to understand that eating a diet rich in antioxidants and low in toxins can reduce high cholesterol levels naturally, without significant side effects. In 2003, a study by the University of Toronto showed that a vegetarian diet (Ape Man Diet) was every bit as good at lowering abnormally high cholesterol levels as any drug.

Also interesting is that most supplemental nutriceuticals, antioxidants and herbs shown to lower cholesterol do so by neutralizing the toxic agents that stimulate high cholesterol levels in the first place. Below is a list of strategies that can be used through diet and supplements to lower cholesterol naturally. A natural health care professional can help direct you in any changes you may want to make.

CHOLESTEROL LOWERING DIET

The so-called Ape Man Diet (primarily vegan, as demonstrated by what gorillas eat) has been shown to lower cholesterol as effectively as any statin. If you cannot fancy yourself as an ape, at least consume two or more servings of each of the following proven cholesterol lowering foods every day:

•  Organic fermented soy products such as tempeh and miso contain saponins, which prevent the absorption of excess cholesterol from the gastrointestinal tract.

•  High pectin fruits such as pears, apples, grapefruit and oranges also prevent cholesterol absorption. And drinking pomegranate juice lowers cholesterol because of its antioxidants and polyphenols.

•  Garlic, onions, carrots, walnuts, almonds, oat bran cereal, milled (ground) flax seed, and seaweed products such as kelp, dulse and kombu lower cholesterol via their content of fiber, antioxidants and trace minerals.

CHOLESTEROL LOWERING SUPPLEMENTS

Cholesterol lowering with most of these natural remedies can take three months or longer to achieve. But unlike drugs, side effects of such products are minimal.

Soluble fibers – such as psyllium, guar gum and pectin (15 grams or more daily).

Milled flax seed – 15 grams or more daily.

Curcumin – 1000 mg, 3 times daily – strongly anti-inflammatory and liver protective. It works to lower inflammation, tissue damage and ultimately high cholesterol levels.

Omega-3 oils – 2000 mg twice daily – prevent abnormal blood clotting and reduce the risk of heart disease. Higher doses may be required by some individuals.

Garlic – 1000 mg or more daily – eating real garlic cloves is preferred but social interactions may necessitate the alternative use of supplemental capsules.

Coenzyme Q10 – 200 mg twice daily – a strong multi-purpose antioxidant with especially good cardiovascular protective properties.

Niacin – 1000 – 3000 mgs daily (N.B. niacin can cause a red or flushing reaction, which is usually temporary and harmless and lessens with regular use; may cause liver irritation.)

Inositol hexaniacinate – 600  to 1800 mgs daily – a compound of niacin and inositol which does not produce flushing or liver toxicity but costs more than regular niacin.

Tocotrienols – 600 mgs or more daily – a form of vitamin E originating from rice bran oil which blocks the cholesterol synthesizing enzyme in the liver. Most vitamin E complex formulae include tocotrienols as part of the complex.

Vitamin C – 3000 to 6000 mgs – lowers cholesterol, regenerates and reactivates vitamin E. Vitamin C protects the body from oxidant stress, thereby lowering cholesterol.

Beta Sitosterol – (500 mg daily) More than 50 human and animal studies published in scientific journals since the 1960s show that beta-sitosterol has a powerful hypocholesterolemic effect in humans. It has a similar chemical structure to cholesterol. Beta-sitosterol interferes with cholesterol absorption, which prevents the rise in serum cholesterol. In one study (American Journal of Clinical Nutrition) there was a 42% decrease in cholesterol absorbed when taking beta-sitosterol before eating scrambled eggs. Beta-sitosterol is also believed to reduce serum cholesterol by inhibiting the intestinal re-absorption of circulating cholesterol, which is secreted in the bile.

Berberine – 1000 mg three times daily – an extract of several herbs used for their antibiotic properties, plus cholesterol- and triglyceride-lowering ability. It also has antioxidant benefits.

Artichoke leaf extract – 1000 mg three times daily – works to enhance bile acid production by the liver from cholesterol.

Guggulsterones – 1000 mg daily – a resin from the Guggul tree with antioxidant properties; also able to lower cholesterol by regulating bile metabolism.

Ferulic acid – 1000 mg daily – lowers cholesterol by an as yet unidentified mechanism; known to be a strong antioxidant.

Green tea extract (Theaflavin) – 500 mg three times daily – a polyphenol derived from catechins found in green tea that has both cholesterol-lowering and antioxidant effects.

Red Yeast Rice – 1000 mg twice daily – if you are between 50 and 75 years old and have proven coronary artery disease or have had a heart attack you may want to take this naturally occurring statin as an anti-inflammatory preventive remedy. Side effects are minimal according to a 2005 study.

References

• Krumholz HM and others. Lack of association between cholesterol and coronary heart disease mortality and morbidity and all-cause mortality in persons older than 70 years. Journal of the American Medical Association 272, 1335-1340, 1990.

•  Ravnskov U. High cholesterol may protect against infections and atherosclerosis. Quarterly Journal of Medicine 96, 927-934, 2003.

•  Rauchhaus M and others. The relationship between cholesterol and survival in patients with chronic heart failure. Journal of the American College of Cardiology 42, 1933-1940, 2003.

•  Horwich TB and others. Low serum total cholesterol is associated with marked increase in mortality in advanced heart failure. Journal of Cardiac Failure 8, 216-224, 2002.

•  Muldoon MF and others. Immune system differences in men with hypo- or hypercholesterolemia. Clinical Immunology and Immunopathology 84, 145-149, 1997.

•  Jun-ichi Hanai1, Peirang Cao1, Preeti Tanksale1, Shintaro Imamura2,3, Eriko Koshimizu3,4, Jinghui Zhao5, Shuji Kishi3, Michiaki Yamashita2, Paul S. Phillips6, Vikas P. Sukhatme1 and Stewart H. Lecker1 The muscle-specific ubiquitin ligase atrogin-1/MAFbx mediates statin-induced muscle toxicity J. Clin. Invest. 117(12): 3940-3951 (2007). doi:10.1172/JCI32741.

•  Jackson PR, Wallis EJ, Haq IU, Ramsay LE. Statins for primary prevention: at what coronary risk is safety assured? Br J Clin Pharmacol. 2001 Oct;52(4):439-46.

•  Vrecer M, Turk S, Drinovec J, Mrhar A. Use of statins in primary and secondary prevention of coronary heart disease and ischemic stroke. Meta-analysis of randomized trials. Int J Clin Pharmacol Ther. 2003 Dec;41(12):567-77.

•  Markus G. Mohaupt, MD, Richard H. Karas, MD PhD, Eduard B. Babiychuk, PhD, Verónica Sanchez-Freire, Katia Monastyrskaya, PhD, Lakshmanan Iyer, PhD, Hans Hoppeler, MD, Fabio Breil and Annette Draeger, MD. Association between statin-associated myopathy and skeletal muscle damage. CMAJ • July 7, 2009; 181 (1-2). http://www.ecmaj.ca/cgi/content/full/181/1-2/E11

•  Huang CF, Li TC, Lin CC, Liu CS, Shih HC, Lai M. Efficacy of Monascus purpureus Went rice on lowering lipid ratios in hypercholesterolemic patients. Eur J Cardiovasc Prev Rehabil. 2007 Jun;14(3):438-40.

•  Ziajka PE, Wehmeier T.  Peripheral neuropathy and lipid-lowering therapy. South Med J 1998;91:667-68. Gaist D, Jeppesen U, Andersen M, Garcia Rodriguez

•  LA, Hallas J, Sindrup SH. Statins and risk of polyneuropathy: a case-control study. Neurology 2002;58:1333-7.

•  Lin CC, Li TC, Lai MM. Efficacy and safety of Monascus purpureus Went rice in subjects with hyperlipidemia. D Eur J Endocrinol. 2005 Nov;153(5):679-86.

•  Ragi E. Neuropathy from statins. BMJ 2001 http://bmj.bmjjournals.com/cgi/eletters/322/7293/1019#17446

•  Golomb BA, Kane T, Dimsdale JE. Severe irritability associated with statin cholesterol lowering. QJM 2004;97:229-35.

•  Edison RJ, Muenke M. Central nervous system and limb anomalies in case reports of first-trimester statin exposure. N Engl J Med 2004;350:1579-82.

n Oliver MF. Doubts about preventing coronary heart disease. Multiple interventions in middle aged men may do more harm than good. British Medical Journal 1992;304:393-394.

•  Ardiansyah, Ohsaki Y, Shirakawa H, Koseki T, Komai M. Novel effects of a single administration of ferulic acid on the regulation of blood pressure and the hepatic lipid metabolic profile in stroke-prone spontaneously hypertensive rats. J Agric Food Chem. 2008 Apr 23; 56 (8):2825-30.

•  Englisch W, Beckers C, Unkauf M, Ruepp M, Zinserling V. Efficacy of artichoke dry extract in patientswith hyperlipoproteinemia. Arzneim.-Forsch. Drug Res. 2000; 50: 260-265.

•  Maron DJ, Lu GP, Cai NS, Wu ZG, Li YH, Chen H, Zhu JQ, Jin XJ, Wouters BC and Zhao J. Cholesterol-lowering effect of a theaflavin-enriched green tea: a randomized controlled trial. 2003. Arch Intern Med; 163(12): 1448

•  Urizar NL and Moore DD. Gugulipid: a natural cholesterol lowering agent. 2003. Annu Rev Nutr; 23: 303-313.
Yin J, Xing H and Ye J. Efficacy of berberine in patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus. Metabolism. 2008; 57(5): 712-717.

•  Sinatra, Stephen, MD. Clearing Up the Cholesterol Confusion

http://www.townsendletter.com/June2009/clearingcholesterol0609.htm

•  Joseph Mecola.The Dangers of Statin Drugs (a 3-part article) http://www.mercola.com/2004/jul/28/statin_drugs.htm

•  Sally Fallon and Mary Enig. How Statins Work http://www.westonaprice.org/moderndiseases/statin.html

•  The International Network of Cholesterol Skeptics (THINCS) (links to papers)
http://www.thincs.org/

•  Cholesterol is not the cause of heart disease. Dr. Ron Rosedale. http://www.drrosedale.com/resources/pdf/Cholesterol%20is%20NOT%20the%20cause%20of%20heart%20disease.pdf

•  Can drinking pomegranate juice help lower my cholesterol?

http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/pomegranate-juice/AN01227

•  Curcumin's cholesterol-lowering mechanism proposed

http://www.foodnavigator.com/Science-Nutrition/Curcumin-s-cholesterol-lowering-mechanism-proposed

Article Tags: vitality, vitality magazine, supplements, cholesterol, statin drugs, benefits of cholesterol, cholesterol lowering diet, natural alternatives to statins, side effects of cholesterol lowering drugs

About the Author

More Articles by Dr. Zoltan P. Rona, MD, M.Sc.

Dr. Zoltan P. Rona, MD, M.Sc.

Dr. Zoltan P. Rona practises Complementary Medicine in Toronto and is the medical editor of The Encyclopedia of Natural Healing. He has also published several Canadian best-selling books, including Vitamin D, The Sunshine Vitamin. Visit his website at: http://www.highlevelwellness.ca  For appointments, call (905) 764-8700; Office: 390 Steeles Ave. W. Unit 19, Thornhill, ON