By Dr. Mercola
There's serious confusion about cholesterol; whether high cholesterol levels are responsible for heart disease, and whether statins — which are cholesterol drugs — are really the appropriate solution to reduce heart disease risk.
The documentary above, Statin Nation — The Great Cholesterol Cover-Up, sheds much needed light on this topic. The film is available for free viewing for only seven days, so please share it widely as soon as possible.
As noted in the film, heart disease is the leading cause of death worldwide, the most common form of which is coronary heart disease (CHD). CHD affects the blood vessels supplying blood to your heart, causing them to narrow, thereby restricting the amount of oxygen supplied to your heart.
The conventional view is that high cholesterol is a major risk factor for this condition — even children "know" that cholesterol forms plaque and is bad for your heart.
The focus on cholesterol has created an enormous market for statins; drugs that act by blocking the enzyme in your liver that is responsible for making cholesterol.
Statins are now among the most widely prescribed drugs on the market, and are the number one profit-maker for the pharmaceutical industry, largely due to relentless and highly successful direct-to-consumer advertising campaigns.
Meanwhile, as of 2010, there were no less than 900 studies proving their adverse effects, which run the gamut from muscle problems to increased cancer risk! Besides the fact that statins are dangerous to your health, they also do not reduce your risk for heart disease, because high cholesterol does NOT increase heart disease risk...
Where Did the High Cholesterol-Heart Disease Myth Originate?
The idea that high cholesterol causes heart disease can be traced back to Rudolph Virchow (1821-1902), a German pathologist who found thickening in the arteries in people he autopsied, which he ascribed to a collection of cholesterol.
Later, Ancel Keys (1904-2004), a well-known physiologist, published his seminal paper known as the "Seven Countries Study1," which served as the basis for nearly all of the initial scientific support for the Cholesterol Theory.
The study linked the consumption of saturated fat to coronary heart disease. However, what many don't know is that Keys selectively analyzed information from only seven countries to prove his correlation, rather than comparing all the data available at the time -- from 22 countries.
As you might suspect, the studies he excluded were those that did not fit with his hypothesis, namely those that showed a low percentage fat in their diet and a high incidence of death from CHD as well as those with a high-fat diet and low incidence of CHD. When all 22 countries are analyzed, no correlation at all can be found.
And that is what mounting research now confirms. There really is NO correlation between high cholesterol and plaque formation that leads to heart disease.
Why Do You Need Cholesterol?
Missing from the cholesterol-CHD hypothesis is the holistic understanding of how cholesterol operates inside your body, and why arterial plaques form in the first place, which is clearly described in the film. Cholesterol is actually a critical part of your body's foundational building materials and is absolutely essential for optimal health. It's so important that your body produces it both in your liver and in your brain.
There's no doubt that your body needs cholesterol. In fact, we now have evidence showing that cholesterol deficiency has a detrimental impact on virtually every aspect of your health. One of the primary reasons is because cholesterol plays a critical role within your cell membranes.
Your body is composed of trillions of cells that need to interact with each other and cholesterol is one of the molecules that allow for these interactions to take place. For example, cholesterol is the precursor to bile acids, so without sufficient amounts of cholesterol, your digestive system can be adversely affected.
Cholesterol also plays an essential role in your brain, which contains about 25 percent of the cholesterol in your body. It is critical for synapse formation, i.e. the connections between your neurons, which allow you to think, learn new things, and form memories. In fact, there's reason to believe that low-fat diets and/or cholesterol-lowering drugs may cause or contribute to Alzheimer's disease. Low cholesterol levels have also been linked to violent behavior, due to adverse changes in brain chemistry.
Furthermore, you need cholesterol to produce steroid hormones, including your sex hormones. Vitamin D is also synthesized from a close relative of cholesterol: 7-dehydrocholesterol.
To further reinforce the importance of cholesterol, I want to remind you of the work of Dr. Stephanie Seneff, who works with the Weston A. Price Foundation. One of her theories is that cholesterol combines with sulfur to form cholesterol sulfate, and that this cholesterol sulfate helps thin your blood by serving as a reservoir for the electron donations you receive when walking barefoot on the earth (also called grounding). She believes that, via this blood-thinning mechanism, cholesterol sulfate may provide natural protection against heart disease. In fact, she goes so far as to hypothesize that heart disease is likely the result of cholesterol deficiency — which of course is the complete opposite of the conventional view.
Identifying Risk Factors for Heart Disease
As mentioned in the film, if you want to understand what causes heart disease, you have to look at what causes damage to your artery walls, interferes in disease processes, and causes blood clotting. When the endothelial wall is damaged, repair mechanisms are set into motion, creating a "scab." To prevent this scab from dislodging, the endothelial wall grows over it, causing the area to become thickened. This is what is called atherosclerosis. There's no fat (cholesterol) "clogging the pipe" at all; rather the arterial wall is thickened as a result of your body's natural repair process. So what causes damage to your arteries?
One of the primary culprits is sugar and fructose in particular. So eating a high sugar diet is a sure-fire way to put heart disease on your list of potential health problems. Meanwhile, total cholesterol will tell you virtually nothing about your disease risk, unless it's exceptionally elevated (above 330 or so, which would be suggestive of familial hypercholesterolemia, which, in my view, would be about the only time a cholesterol-reducing drug would be appropriate).
Two ratios that are far better indicators of heart disease risk are:
- Your HDL/total cholesterol ratio: HDL percentage is a very potent heart disease risk factor. Just divide your HDL level by your total cholesterol. This percentage should ideally be above 24 percent. Below 10 percent, it's a significant indicator of risk for heart disease
- Your triglyceride/HDL ratios: This ratio should ideally be below 2
Additional risk factors for heart disease include:
- Your fasting insulin level: Any meal or snack high in carbohydrates like fructose and refined grains generates a rapid rise in blood glucose and then insulin to compensate for the rise in blood sugar. The insulin released from eating too many carbs promotes fat and makes it more difficult for your body to shed excess weight, and excess fat, particularly around your belly, is one of the major contributors to heart disease
- Your fasting blood sugar level: Studies have shown that people with a fasting blood sugar level of 100-125 mg/dl had a nearly 300 percent increase higher risk of having coronary heart disease than people with a level below 79 mg/dl
- Your iron level: Iron can be a very potent oxidative stress, so if you have excess iron levels you can damage your blood vessels and increase your risk of heart disease. Ideally, you should monitor your ferritin levels and make sure they are not much above 80 ng/ml. The simplest way to lower them if they are elevated is to donate your blood. If that is not possible you can have a therapeutic phlebotomy and that will effectively eliminate the excess iron from your body
Statin Drugs Place Millions of Americans at Risk of Serious Health Problems
It's important to note that statins are classified as a "pregnancy Category X medication" meaning, it causes serious birth defects, and should NEVER be used by a woman who is pregnant or planning a pregnancy. If it is prescribed it is simply gross negligence and malpractice as many doctors are ignorant of this important piece of information as it is relatively recently identified.
Statins have also been shown to increase your risk of diabetes, via a number of different mechanisms. The most important one is that they increase insulin resistance, which can be extremely harmful to your health. Increased insulin resistance contributes to chronic inflammation in your body, and inflammation is the hallmark of most diseases. In fact, increased insulin resistance can lead to heart disease, which, ironically, is the primary reason for taking a cholesterol-reducing 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 actually 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.
Drug-induced diabetes and genuine type 2 diabetes are not necessarily identical. If you're on a statin drug and find that your blood glucose is elevated, it's possible that what you have is just hyperglycemia — a side effect, and the result of your medication. Unfortunately, many doctors will at that point mistakenly diagnose you with "type 2 diabetes," and possibly prescribe another drug, when all you may need to do is simply discontinue the statin in order for your blood glucose levels to revert back to normal.
Statin drugs also interfere with other biological functions. Of utmost importance, statins deplete your body of CoQ10, which accounts for many of its devastating results. Therefore, if you take a statin, you MUST take supplemental CoQ10, or better, the reduced form called ubiquinol. A recent study in the European Journal of Pharmacology2 showed that ubiquinol effectively rescued cells from the damage caused by the statin drug simvastatin, thereby protecting muscle cells from myopathies. Another study3 evaluated the benefits of CoQ10 and selenium supplementation for patients with statin-associated myopathy. Compared to those given a placebo, the treatment group experienced significantly less pain, decreased muscle weakness and cramps, and less fatigue.
Statins also interfere with the mevalonate pathway, which is the central pathway for the steroid management in your body.
How to Optimize Your Cholesterol Levels Naturally
The most effective way to optimize your cholesterol profile and prevent heart disease is via diet and exercise. Remember 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 and reduce your risk of both diabetes and heart disease.
There is NO drug to cure heart disease, as the underlying cause is insulin resistance and arterial wall damage — both of which are caused by eating too many sugars, grains, and especially fructose. So, my primary recommendations for safely regulating your cholesterol and reducing your risk of heart disease include:
- Reduce, with the plan of eliminating grains and fructose from your diet. This is one of the best ways to optimize your insulin levels, which will have a positive effect on not just your cholesterol, but also reduces your risk of diabetes and heart disease, and most other chronic diseases. Use my Nutrition Plan to help you determine the ideal diet for you, and consume a good portion of your food raw.
- Get plenty of high-quality, animal-based omega-3 fats, such as krill oil, and reduce your consumption of damaged omega-6 fats (trans fats, vegetable oils) to balance out your omega-3 to omega-6 ratio.
- Include heart-healthy foods in your diet, such as olive oil, coconut and coconut oil, organic raw dairy products and eggs, avocados, raw nuts and seeds, and organic grass-fed meats.
- Optimize your vitamin D levels by getting proper sun exposure or using a safe tanning bed.
- Optimize your gut flora, as recent research suggests the bacterial balance in your intestines may play a role in your susceptibility to heart disease as well
- Exercise daily. Make sure you incorporate Peak Fitness exercises, which also optimizes your human growth hormone (HGH) production.
- Walk barefoot to ground yourself to the earth. Lack of grounding has a lot to do with the rise of modern diseases as it affects inflammatory processes in your body. Grounding thins your blood, making it less viscous. Virtually every aspect of cardiovascular disease has been correlated with elevated blood viscosity. When you ground to the earth, your zeta potential quickly rises, which means your red blood cells have more charge on their surface, which forces them apart from each other. This action causes your blood to thin and flow easier. By repelling each other, your red blood cells are also less inclined to stick together and form a clot.
- Avoid smoking or drinking alcohol excessively.
- Be sure to get plenty of good, restorative sleep.
Ninety-Nine Out of 100 People Do Not Need Statin Drugs
The odds are very high — greater than 100 to 1 — that if you're taking a statin, you don't really need it. From my review, the ONLY subgroup that might benefit are those born with a genetic defect called familial hypercholesterolemia, as this makes them resistant to traditional measures of normalizing cholesterol.
Remember, your body NEEDS cholesterol for 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. There is also strong evidence that having too little cholesterol INCREASES your risk for cancer, memory loss, Parkinson's disease, hormonal imbalances, stroke, depression, suicide, and violent behavior.
Statins really have nothing to do with reducing your heart disease risk. In fact, this class of drugs can increase your heart disease risk — especially if you do not take Ubiquinol (CoQ10) along with it to mitigate the depletion of CoQ10 caused by the drug.
Knowing that high cholesterol is NOT the cause of heart disease finally frees you to take a serious look at what does cause this potentially lethal condition. And as described above, poor lifestyle choices are primarily to blame, such as too much sugar, too little exercise, lack of sun exposure and never grounding to the earth. These are all things that are within your control, and don't cost much (if any) money to address.