It is known, though not well known, that one of the reasons your liver makes and sends additional cholesterol to accumulate in your arteries is because there is potential arterial damage afoot. Cholesterol acts like a bandage on an area of arterial inflammation. Removing cholesterol without addressing the cause of inflammation is like removing the bandage from an open wound leaving it vulnerable. (By the way, typically, you ingest 20% or less of your cholesterol from food. If your cholesterol is high, one of the reasons could be because your liver is working to protect your arteries. Statin drugs subvert the normal, natural function of your liver as it works to protect your arteries.)
Here, briefly, is how statin drugs work. The following paragraph was taken from an interview posted at the Mayo Clinic website: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/statin-drugs/CL00035 with Mayo Clinic cardiologist Gerald Gau, M.D.
"Dr. Gau: Statins work directly in the liver. There is a system in our liver that produces cholesterol. Cholesterol is necessary in our body, and the statin mechanism, it creates bile — it's one of the mechanisms of bile creation — and bile is necessary in our digestion and absorption. So the liver makes cholesterol to make this happen. It can also remove cholesterol from the blood for this purpose. Statins work by attacking in the liver the enzyme system that produces the cholesterol in the liver. And that forces the liver cells to pull it from the blood and thereby lowers your cholesterol. And so our cholesterol comes down because we stop the production in the liver."
I ask you, Is this what God and Nature intended? Sure isn't holistic, and sure hasn't addressed the reason for the high cholesterol in the first place, and sure has not admitted that high cholesterol really is not a marker for heart disease anyway (see information from the Framingham Study http://bewellwithmichelle.blogspot.com/2009/03/high-cholesterol-from-your-food-not.html ), and that the side-effects of the drugs can be worse than having high cholesterol.
There is an enormous mound of misinformation on the high-cholesterol vs statin-drug topic, and I hope that the article below will help clear up some of those points. Enjoy!
Statin Crazy: Don't Be Duped by Their Newest "Benefit"
Reprinted from Bottom Line Secrets newsletter of March 26, 2010
By Mark A. Stengler, NMD
La Jolla Whole Health Clinic
Statins have gotten a lot of press. Researchers made headlines when they found that rosuvastatin (Crestor), a cholesterol-lowering drug, reduced the risk for heart attack and stroke in people who had normal cholesterol and high levels of C-reactive protein (CRP), a sign of inflammation. The recent JUPITER trial (which stands for Justification for the Use of Statins in Primary Prevention: An Intervention Trial Evaluating Rosuvastatin) was lauded as a breakthrough. The findings were found to be so positive that the trial was cut short -- to allow even the placebo group to receive the purported cardiovascular benefits of the drug. We are accustomed to thinking about statins in terms of lowering cholesterol, but this study caused some cardiologists to think statins -- already a best-selling class of drugs -- should be prescribed even more widely.
Ready to get a prescription? Hold on. In my opinion, the researchers duped other doctors and their patients. In terms of statistics, Crestor did reduce the risk for a heart attack or stroke by half, but in terms of real-world risk, only one person out of 120 actually would benefit from the drug as the trial indicated. Worse, 25% more patients taking Crestor developed type 2 diabetes compared with the placebo group, a fact that was not widely reported.
If there is anything useful resulting from this study, it is that mainstream medicine recognized the importance of CRP and the role of inflammation in heart disease. This is a topic that holistic physicians have been talking about for years. I wrote about inflammation and heart disease in the very first issue of Bottom Line Natural Healing back in 2005.
Statins may reduce symptoms of heart disease by lowering cholesterol and inflammation, but they do not address the source of the inflammation, as natural therapies do. Although statins have a place in the conventional treatment of patients, including those with a history of heart attack or very high CRP levels, they are expensive -- costing hundreds of dollars a year -- and can cause serious side effects, such as muscle pain and damage, fatigue, liver and kidney damage, diabetes and memory impairment. They may even increase cancer risk.
Important: Most of us can lower CRP levels naturally by losing weight if we need to and by exercising if we don’t already do so. But perhaps the most powerful factor influencing inflammation is what we eat. We also can supplement with specific nutrients to further reduce inflammation.
The Inflammation Connection
About 10 years ago, Harvard University physicians demonstrated that chronic low-grade inflammation throughout the body could damage blood vessels and was a better indicator of risk for cardiovascular disease than cholesterol. The researchers developed a laboratory test for CRP to measure low-grade inflammation in the body. An elevated CRP level doesn’t just affect the heart. It hurts the whole body. Several years ago, a health author whom I know and respect, Jack Challem, wrote The Inflammation Syndrome. He described how "every disease, every ache and every pain... revolves around inflammation... " and how many inflammatory diseases are related to one another. For example, having periodontal disease (which inflames the gums) or rheumatoid arthritis or psoriasis increases heart disease risk. Similarly, being overweight or having type 2 diabetes increases CRP levels and heart disease risk.
Diet Comes first
To reduce inflammation, it’s best to start with what you eat. Your body makes both inflammation-promoting and inflammation-fighting substances called eicosanoids, compounds derived mostly from the fats you eat. Consuming a lot of sweets and unhealthful oils, such as corn, safflower and soybean oils, and trans fats found in partially hydrogenated vegetable oils ramps up the body’s inflammatory eicosanoids. In other words, junk food increases inflammation.
However, if you consume fish (the best choices are cold-water types, including salmon, trout and sardines), free-range meats and health-promoting cooking oils (such as extra-virgin olive oil, macadamia nut oil and avocado oil), you can increase your body’s production of anti-inflammatory eicosanoids. Eating a lot of vegetables, such as romaine lettuce, broccoli and cauliflower, and fruits, such as blueberries, raspberries and kiwifruit, also helps maintain normal CRP levels. These foods are high in fiber and rich in antioxidants, nutrients that neutralize harmful molecules called free radicals.
Make sure that the vast majority of foods you eat are fresh -- not out of a box, can or jar. You’ll be avoiding packaged foods, most of which have been adulterated with added sugars, salt, refined carbohydrates and unhealthful fats.
Supplements THAT HELP
For many people, healthful eating habits are not enough to lower CRP levels. Some of my patients have greater needs for specific anti-inflammatory nutrients.
First step: Insist that your doctor measure your CRP level annually. Ask for the high-sensitivity CRP (hsCRP) test, the newest form of the test. It’s a simple blood test and relatively inexpensive (about $25 to $50). Some insurers will cover the test.
Multivitamin. Several studies have found that taking a multivitamin can lead to impressive reductions in CRP. One study conducted at the Cooper Institute in Dallas showed that a daily multivitamin lowered CRP by 14% after six months.
Many individual vitamins, including vitamins C and E, have been shown to reduce CRP. Niacin (a form of vitamin B-3) also lowers CRP.
Important: While many individual vitamins are beneficial, I recommend a multivitamin because it contains numerous vitamins that can reduce inflammation.
Omega-3 fish oils. The omega-3s form the biochemical basis of some of the body’s anti-inflammatory eicosanoids. They benefit cardiovascular health in a number of ways, including mildly thinning the blood, slowing the heart rate, lowering levels of triglycerides and improving blood vessel flexibility. Look for fish oil that contains both eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).
One good choice: Krill oil, a type of fish oil made from shrimplike crustaceans. Krill oil contains the antioxidant astaxanthin, which also is good for the heart.
Gamma-linolenic acid (GLA). This essential fatty acid in plant oil is the principal anti-inflammatory compound in the omega-6 family of fats. It works by shifting a major part of the omega-6 biochemistry from inflammatory to anti-inflammatory activity. In the process, it increases production of anti-inflammatory eicosanoids. GLA and fish oils are synergistic -- they work better together than either on its own.
Curcumin. This extract of the spice turmeric, common in South Asian cuisines, blocks inflammation. More than 2,000 studies have documented the benefits of curcumin for such inflammatory diseases as rheumatoid arthritis and psoriasis. It also may prevent cardiac hypertrophy, a type of enlarged heart. Given the anti-inflammatory nature of curcumin, research is likely to uncover more heart-healthy benefits.
Pycnogenol. This proprietary ingredient, extracted from the bark of French maritime pine trees, has powerful anti-inflammatory effects. It has been shown to improve circulation, to work as a mild blood thinner and to reduce the need for angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitor drugs that are used to treat high blood pressure and congestive heart failure.
Vitamin D. Half of Americans are deficient in vitamin D. A recent study in Archives of Internal Medicine found that men with low vitamin D levels were two and one-half times more likely to die during the next eight years than those with the highest levels.
Red yeast rice extract. This is one of my favorite supplements because it can lower levels of CRP and LDL (bad) cholesterol. It is sold at most health-food stores and contains trace levels of a naturally occurring statin compound. In these small quantities -- a fraction of what’s in drugs -- statins are safe. Studies have found that red yeast rice extract can lower CRP levels by up to 50%. Statins (perhaps even natural ones, such as red yeast rice extract) are known to deplete coenzyme Q10, an antioxidant necessary for heart health. If you take red yeast rice extract, supplement daily with 100 mg of coenzyme Q10.
About the author:Mark A. Stengler, NMD, a naturopathic medical doctor and leading authority on the practice of alternative and integrated medicine. He is editor of Bottom Line’s Natural Healing newsletter, author of The Natural Physician’s Healing Therapies (Bottom Line Books), director of the La Jolla Whole Health Clinic in La Jolla, California, and adjunct clinical professor at the National College of Natural Medicine in Portland, Oregon. To learn more about his work, visit www.drstengler.com and www.lajollawholehealth.com.