I had a discussion with a patient the other day about her cholesterol. This patient, an active, fun, smart lady in her 60’s stated that she was forgetting to take the arthritis formula supplement that I had given her…which was likely why her knees had started to ache again in the past few days. I asked her how I could help her to remember to take it and offered a few suggestions such as putting the bottle next to her tooth brush. She then offered that she just hates taking pills and would like to get off of some medications. This prompted a review of her medications for high cholesterol and high blood pressure. (She also takes a fish oil supplement and vit D – Hooray!) I said to her, “Well let’s talk about that cholesterol medication first.” It turns out, high cholesterol levels run in her family and she was put on this medication back in the 90’s. I asked her if the medication did what it was prescribed to do…”did it lower your cholesterol”? Her answer was a firm and “NO”. So… this lady has been taking a statin drug for 20 years. It has a long list of negative side effects, one of which is liver damage and failure…for which she gets tested 4 times per year. Additionally, since the medication did nothing to lower her cholesterol, her doctor also recommended a fish oil supplement (a good suggestion)…but never took her off the statin drug.
Let me pause and just say WOW! In the age of Evidence Based Medicine, this is a prime example of what is NOT evidence based. Not only is the prescribed treatment not working the way it is meant to, the side effects are very hazardous to her health. Everyone taking a statin drug needs to do their research, because this classifications of drugs should fall under the heading, “When the treatment risks outweigh the benefits”.
We continued our discussion along these lines discussing risks and benefits, and began discussing this false and fabled link between elevated cholesterol and cardiac risk. Cholesterol is the human version of duct tape. It travels to areas of arterial damage and patches up lesions. Higher serum levels of cholesterol may serve as a message that “something needs to change” – it is simply an indicator, nothing more.
Using a statin drug to stamp out cholesterol is the equivalent of blaming and shooting the firemen that arrive to put out a fire. Elevated glucose and/or insulin levels, for instance, damage arterial walls and lead to an increased need for cholesterol to repair them. The majority (80%) of what actually clogs arteries is not composted of cholesterol or saturated fat but of oxidized/rancid unsaturated fat. Cholesterol is no more a cause of heart disease than gray hair is the cause of old age.
Furthermore, lowering your Cholesterol doesn’t guarantee you that you won’t have a heart attack or stroke. Did you know that just as many people with normal or even low cholesterol levels have heart attacks and strokes as those with high cholesterol levels? It doesn’t seem to matter if you medically treat the high cholesterol and lower it – your risks of heart attack or stroke remain the same as persons with normal levels which have always been normal without treatment or those with untreated high cholesterol levels. But, treatment with statin drugs does guarantee that you will NOT BE as HEALTHY as the person who has never been treated due to the damaging effects these drugs have on your liver.
So, how important is Cholesterol? Without cholesterol you and I would be DEAD! Every cell of your body contains enzymes specifically ready to manufacture cholesterol.
Every day millions of cells are dying and millions are re-growing, those cells need cholesterol for healing. Cholesterol shows up when healing has to happen, which means cholesterol rises when there is damage already there! It acts as the duct tape to save you from a blow-out (aneurysm) in your arteries when they are damaged.
Your body requires cholesterol to make every hormone in your body. That’s why as you age and you begin to lose testosterone and progesterone and estrogen, your liver has to make more cholesterol in order for you to make more hormones.
Your brain and nerves need cholesterol to transmit electrical messages and function properly. When you lower your cholesterol and you increase your risk of alzheimer’s, dementia and many other brain and neurological issues. Did you know that one of the major side effects of taking cholesterol lowering drugs is neuropathy (pain and numbness along nerve pathways and damage to nerves)?
If you’re wondering why your cholesterol is high and you want to address issues that are causing your cholesterol to rise, you should be checking these indicators instead:
1. CRP (measures inflammation)
2. Hemoglobin A1c (measures the amount of sugar in your blood over weeks)
3. Erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR)
4. Plasma viscosity (PV)
Elevation in these tests is a sure sign of inflammation and high blood sugar, which are negative causes of high cholesterol. If I see elevations here, then I know I likely have a dietary issue (too much sugar, not enough fresh fruit and veggies) that needs to be addressed. If I help my patients clean up their diets and reduce inflammation, I know that these inflammatory indicators will fall back into normal levels and lower cholesterol levels will follow naturally.
The bottom line…you can’t effectively treat a dietary and lifestyle problem with a drug or chemical.