With heart disease being a leading cause of death in the United States, Cholesterol and cholesterol lowering drugs have been in the spotlight more than ever. This natural product produced in the body has become the black sheep of the heart disease debate. As there is no doubt that medications are necessary in certain life savings situations; Currently, approximately 1 in 4 Americans over the age of 45 are taking a statin drug to lower cholesterol, a number equal to the population of Florida and Illinois combined (1). To understand why this is occurring, we need to look at the current medical treatment models.
Currently, normal range total cholesterol falls under 200, with LDL under 100 and HDL over 60 being the optimal numbers. These numbers have been lowered over the years as a total level of 300 was considered normal only decades ago. Any level above 200 is considered high and falls into the time when cholesterol lowering medications are considered as a treatment, especially if LDL levels are elevated over 100 as these levels are thought to be inciting factors for heart attacks. Because of this theory, statin drug use has become an epidemic in the U.S. But, there may be a problem with this theory.
How Statins work and why they’re given:
These statin drugs are designed as HMG-CoA reductase inhibitors. This means that they block the enzyme in the liver that allows it to produce cholesterol. The theory is that by decreasing the cholesterol produced by the body, it will decrease the serum cholesterol and avoid the problems that cause heart disease.
Statin Drugs = Big Money:
This family of drugs combined for over 20 BILLION dollars in revenue in 2010 alone with Lipitor being at the top of the class with sales estimated at10.7 billion. Another, obviously less popular (only 5.69 billion in sales), Crestor made the largest jump in use of any drug on the market at a 26% increase from 2009 sales. (2) These numbers are staggering alone and represent a huge ideological problem in our healthcare system, that a small pill equals a magic cure.
What they don’t want you to know is that this drug can also be found in a natural state. Red Yeast Rice is a naturally occurring fungus that grows on rice that produces a substance called Lovastatin from which all of these statin drugs are based. In its natural form, the Red Yeast Rice was so effective in lowering serum cholesterol that there were debates over whether to classify it as a drug or leave it as a supplement. (3) In 2007, the drug companies pushed to have this product removed from the market (because you cannot patent a naturally occurring process, therefore no profits from it). Today, Red Yeast Rice is still widely available and still has beneficial effects but few, if any versions, contain the natural components as manufacturers were forced to remove them. This is mentioned not to push Red Yeast Rice, but to make a point. Every external chemical put into the body causes a reaction and has some kind of side effect, so you must do the leg work and educate yourself on all things put into your body, homeopathic or not.
What research has shown?
In 2009, a nationwide study conducted by UCLA found that “Almost 75 percent of heart attack patients fell within recommended targets for LDL cholesterol, demonstrating that the current guidelines may not be low enough to cut heart attack risk in most who could benefit,” said Dr. Gregg C. Fonarow, Eliot Corday Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine and Science at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and the study’s principal investigator.(4) Numerous studies have been conducted over the years and around the world showing that the risk of heart attacks have not been affected by lowering cholesterol (5). Time Magazine produced an article on statin drugs including Lipitor that found that this statin drug was shown decrease your risk of heart attack by 0%. Yes, you read that correct, that taking this drug had no effect on heart attacks. Even the original study that started the fat-and-cholesterol-is-bad-for-you era was done by feeding brain matter and egg yolks (high sources of animal fats and cholesterol) to RABBITS!!! The rabbits got sick and started to have heart issues and plaquing, therefore the study concluded that these foods caused heart disease. It left out the fact that rabbits lack the proper enzymes to breakdown and process cholesterol and red meat so they are more sensitive to it. As well, think about this, were rabbits designed and intended to eat meat? A rabbit’s natural diet of vegetables and grass is essentially cholesterol free as their bodies are intended to process.
Are the side effects worth it?
Even though the research is very suspect on whether or not these drugs work as intended, the side effects are not. The common side effects of these drugs are muscle wasting, joint pain, stomach issues, depression, and lowered immunity (6, 7). These issues are so severe that some cases result in kidney failure and liver damage or muscle wasting to the point of becoming dysfunctional. Secondly, the effects of low cholesterol have been researched and shown that too little cholesterol in the body may be just as bad as too much. This includes increased risk of cancer, hormonal imbalance, memory loss, Parkinson’s disease, depression, suicide, and heart problems (8)! Of course, the ultimate side effect is death. Some statin drugs like Baycol were actually pulled from the market because of the mortalities associated with their usage (9).
Side Note: So let’s think about this, isn’t the heart a muscle, if the number one side effect of the statin drug is muscle wasting, is this really working for your heart, a large, hardworking muscle? The fact is that these drugs just may be among the groups where the side effects of the drug far outweigh the benefit that they have been proven (or not) to show.
CoQ10 and Statin’s
CoQ10 is a natural, potent antioxidant and enzyme that is used by muscle to create and attach to ATP, which muscles use for energy. Since the heart is all muscle and continually beating, it requires a much higher supply and is reliant on this enzyme. Statin drugs have been found to lower CoQ10 levels therefore causing heart atrophy and muscle wasting making the heart weaker. If you are going to take a statin, you must take CoQ10 with it. This is the only way to prevent this side effect.
Children and Statin’s
Pfizer, the pharmaceutical company responsible for Lipitor, has a new target in mind since their patent on Lipitor expires very soon. They are now targeting children (8, 10). Yes! Can you imagine your elementary school child on a chewable cholesterol medication? There have been no long term studies on this, but as you can imagine, with the side effects present in adults, this only opens our children up to a whole new list of self inflicted problems later in life.
Regardless of the information and citations presented here, statin drugs have been proven to reduce cholesterol numbers. Sometimes, in severe and life threatening cases, these drugs may be necessary to save a life. As a healthcare practitioner, this makes my skin crawl as the few that absolutely need this are overshadowed by the millions that are placed on these medications when what they need isn’t another pill, they need a lifestyle change. The answer is to get educated on the condition and learn how the body works and what you can do to work with it to achieve optimum health.
Continue Reading Cholesterol II: How it Truly Works and Lowering it Naturally