By Dr. Mercola
Tens of millions of Americans are taking cholesterol-lowering drugs - mostly statins - and some "experts" claim that many millions more should be taking them, including children as young as eight.
I couldn't disagree more.
Statins are HMG-CoA reductase inhibitors, that is, they act by blocking the enzyme in your liver that is responsible for making cholesterol (HMG-CoA reductase).
The enzyme that these drugs block is actually responsible for far more than making cholesterol.
It also makes CoQ10 which is vital for your mitochondrial health.
The fact that statin drugs cause side effects is well established - there are now 900 studies proving their adverse effects, which run the gamut from muscle problems to diabetes, to birth defects and increased cancer risk.
Now you can add exercise-related muscle damage to the ever growing list of harmful side effects.
Statins Can Make Exercise Harmful to Your Health
A recent study examined the effects of statin drugs on the likelihood of exercise-related injury. The researchers measured myoglobin and creatine kinase levels in subjects who were running the Boston marathon. Elevated creatine kinase is a sign of damage to muscles.
Subjects being treated with statins, along with a similar number of nonstatin-treated controls, were examined the day before the race, immediately afterwards, and the day following. The researchers found that the exercise-related increase in creatine kinase 24 hours after exercise was greater in the statin users.
According to the study, published in The American Journal of Cardiology:
"In conclusion, our results show that statins increase exercise-related muscle injury."
The authors also state that their findings suggest susceptibility to exercise-induced muscle injury from statin use increases with age. This is tragic, to say the least, as exercise is imperative for optimal health, especially as you get older. I'm not surprised by this finding however, as we've long known about the harm these drugs do to muscles. They can even cause life-threatening muscle degeneration, a condition known as rhabdomyolysis.
Related to this latest finding are the revelations that statin drugs decrease heart muscle function, and increase your risk of stroke. I wrote about that this past summer. It should be quite clear that if you're running marathons, decreased heart function and increased risk of muscle injury is far from a desired combination. But as I mentioned earlier, the detrimental effects of this drug do not stop there. Other side effects may be even more troubling.
Statin-Induced Diabetes: A Hidden Epidemic?
Earlier this year, I published an article by Suzy Cohen, R.Ph., (widely recognized as "America's most trusted pharmacist") in which she discussed the hidden link between statins and diabetes.
A pattern has appeared where many who start taking a statin drug end up being diagnosed with diabetes several months later. Cohen's research into this hidden connection prompted her to write a book on the subject called "Diabetes Without Drugs." However, this diagnosis is incorrect. What many of these patients have is actually hyperglycemia (high blood sugar), caused by the medication. In essence, it is not genuine diabetes, and can be reversed simply by discontinuing the drug.
A recent meta-analysis confirmed that statin drugs are indeed associated with increased risk of developing diabetes.
The researchers evaluated five different clinical trials that together examined more than 32,000 people. They found that the higher the dosage of statin drugs being taken, the greater the diabetes risk. The "number needed to harm" for intensive-dose statin therapy was 498 for new-onset diabetes - that's the number of people who need to take the drug in order for one person to develop diabetes.
In even simpler terms, one out of every 498 people who are on a high-dose statin regimen will develop diabetes. (The lower the "number needed to harm," the greater the risk factor is.)
(As a side note, the "number needed to treat" per year for intensive-dose statins was 155 for cardiovascular events. This means that 155 people have to take the drug in order to prevent one person from having a cardiovascular event.) The following scientific reviews also reached the conclusion that statin use is associated with increased incidence of new-onset diabetes:
• A 2010 meta-analysis of 13 statin trials, consisting of 91,140 participants, found that statin therapy was associated with a 9 percent increased risk for incident diabetes. Here, the number needed to harm was 255 over four years, meaning for every 255 people on the drug, one developed diabetes as a result of the drug in that period of time.
• In this 2009 study, statin use was associated with a rise of fasting plasma glucose in patients with and without diabetes, independently of other factors such as age, and use of aspirin, β-blockers, or angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors. The study included data from more than 345,400 patients over a period of two years.
On average, statins increased fasting plasma glucose in non-diabetic statin users by 7 mg/dL, and in diabetics, statins increased glucose levels by 39 mg/dL.
How Do Statins Cause Diabetes?
Statins appear to provoke diabetes through a few different mechanisms. The primary mechanism is by increasing your insulin levels, which can be extremely harmful to your health. Chronically elevated insulin levels cause inflammation in your body, which is the hallmark of most chronic disease. In fact, elevated insulin levels lead to heart disease, which, ironically, is the primary reason for taking a statin drug in the first place!
It can also promote belly fat, high blood pressure, heart attacks, chronic fatigue, thyroid disruption, and diseases like Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, and cancer.
Secondly, statins increase your diabetes risk by raising your blood sugar. When you eat a meal that contains starches and sugar, some of the excess sugar goes to your liver, which then stores it away as cholesterol and triglycerides. Statins work by preventing your liver from making cholesterol. As a result, your liver returns the sugar to your bloodstream, which raises your blood sugar levels.
These drugs also rob your body of certain valuable nutrients, which can also impact your blood sugar levels. Two nutrients in particular, vitamin D and CoQ10, are both needed to maintain ideal blood glucose levels.
If You Take Statins, You MUST Take CoQ10
It's extremely important to understand that taking a statin drug without also taking CoQ10 puts your health in serious jeopardy. Unfortunately, this describes the majority of people who take them in the United States.
CoQ10 is a cofactor (co-enzyme) that is essential for the creation of ATP molecules, primarily in your mitochondria, which you need for cellular energy production. Organs such as your heart have higher energy requirements, and therefore require more CoQ10 to function properly. Statins deplete your body of CoQ10, which can have devastating results.
As your body gets more and more depleted of CoQ10, you may suffer from fatigue, muscle weakness and soreness, and eventually heart failure. Interestingly, heart failure, not heart attacks, are now the leading cause of death due to cardiovascular diseases. Coenzyme Q10 is also very important in the process of neutralizing free radicals. So when your CoQ10 is depleted, you enter a vicious cycle of increased free radicals, loss of cellular energy, and damaged mitochondrial DNA.
If you decide to take a CoQ10 supplement and are over the age of 40, it's important to choose the reduced version, called ubiquinol. Ubiquinol is a FAR more effective form - I personally take 1-3 a day since it has such far ranging benefits, including compelling studies suggesting improvement in lifespan.
Did You Know? Statins are FORBIDDEN in Pregnancy?
Like thalidomide and Accutane, statin drugs are a class X drug with regard to pregnancy, meaning they are contraindicated and should NOT be taken by pregnant women. They can cause significant damage to the nervous system of a developing embryo, and are associated with miscarriages and birth defects. A class X rating also indicates that the potential risks always outweigh the benefits, so pregnant women should never be on a statin drug.
This issue is particularly important as currently one in four Americans over 45 take statins, but there is a MAJOR push to start prescribing them to younger individuals under the pretext of "prevention. This is the very age group that is most likely to get pregnant.
Part of the problem is likely related to the fact that the drug reduces cholesterol, which is essential for proper fetal development. This is discussed in my interview with Dr. Stephanie Seneff (embedded below).
Babies also need cholesterol sulfate in utero, which is significantly reduced when you take a statin.
According to Dr. Seneff, a woman has about 1.5 units of cholesterol sulfate normally in her blood. When she gets pregnant, her blood levels of cholesterol sulfate steadily rise, and it also begins to accumulate in the villi in the placenta - which is where nutrients are transferred from the placenta to the baby. At the end of pregnancy the cholesterol sulfate in the villi rises to levels of about 24 units. Both cholesterol and cholesterol sulfate are needed for proper brain- and heart development and function.
Other Health Hazards Associated with Statin Drugs
GreenMedInfo.com has a list of 71 diseases that may be associated with statin drugs, and this is only the tip of the iceberg. There are actually over 900 studies showing the risks of statin drugs, which include:
✓ Cognitive loss
✓ Frequent fevers
✓ Sexual dysfunction
✓ An increase in cancer risk
✓ Pancreatic dysfunction
✓ Immune system suppression
✓ Muscle problems, polyneuropathy (nerve damage in the hands and feet), and rhabdomyolysis, a serious degenerative muscle tissue condition
✓ Hepatic dysfunction. (Due to the potential increase in liver enzymes, patients must be monitored for normal liver function)
Oftentimes statins do not have any immediate side effects, and they are quite effective, capable of lowering cholesterol levels by 50 points or more. This makes it appear as though they're benefiting your health, and health problems that develop later on are frequently misinterpreted as brand new, separate health problems.
It's also worth noting that, according to a review published in the American Journal of Cardiovascular Drugs, adverse effects are dose dependent (the higher your dose, the greater your risk of harmful side effects), and your health risks are also amplified by a number of factors, such as:
Vast Majority do Not Need Statin Drugs
That these drugs have proliferated the market the way they have is a testimony to the power of marketing, corruption and corporate greed, because the odds are very high - greater than 100 to 1 - that if you're taking a statin, you don't really need it.
To understand why you don't need a statin drug, you first need to realize that cholesterol is NOT the cause of heart disease.
If your physician is urging you to check your total cholesterol, then you should know that this test will tell you virtually nothing about your risk of heart disease, unless it is 330 or higher. HDL percentage is a far more potent indicator for heart disease risk. Here are the two ratios you should pay attention to:
- HDL/Total Cholesterol Ratio: Should ideally be above 24 percent. If below 10 percent, you have a significantly elevated risk for heart disease.
- Triglyceride/HDL Ratio: Should be below 2.
Your body NEEDS cholesterol - it is important in the production of cell membranes, hormones, vitamin D and bile acids that help you to digest fat. Cholesterol also helps your brain form memories and is vital to your neurological function. For more information about cholesterol, and why conventional advice to reduce your cholesterol to ridiculously low levels is foolhardy, please listen to this interview with Dr. Stephanie Seneff.
How to Optimize Your Cholesterol Levels, Naturally
There's no doubt that statin drugs can wreak havoc with your health, and there's compelling evidence that most people who currently take them simply do not need them. The fact is that 75 percent of your cholesterol is produced by your liver, which is influenced by your insulin levels. Therefore, if you optimize your insulin level, you will automatically optimize your cholesterol!
By modifying your diet and lifestyle in the following ways, you can safely modify your cholesterol:
- Reduce, with the plan of eliminating, grains and sugars in your diet, replacing them with mostly whole, fresh vegetable carbs. Also try to consume a good portion of your food raw.
- Make sure you are getting enough high quality, animal-based omega 3 fats, such as krill oil.
- Other heart-healthy foods include olive oil, coconut and coconut oil, organic raw dairy products and eggs, avocados, raw nuts and seeds, and organic grass-fed meats as appropriate for your nutritional type.
- Exercise daily.
- Avoid smoking or drinking alcohol excessively.
- Be sure to get plenty of good, restorative sleep.
Unlike statin drugs, which lower your cholesterol at the expense of your health, these lifestyle strategies represent a holistic approach that will benefit your overall health - which includes a healthy cardiovascular system.