By Dr. Mercola
Statins are HMG-CoA reductase inhibitors, that is, they act by blocking the enzyme in your liver that is responsible for making cholesterol. The fact that statin drugs cause side effects is well established -- there are 900 studies proving their adverse effects -- but if you or a family member takes one, you may have only been informed of their potential to cause muscle problems, as this is the best known statin side effect.
But given that millions of Americans take statin drugs, often unnecessarily, it's important that you're aware of the full gamut of risks involved, which include the potential to seriously damage your liver.
Statin Drugs Linked to Severe Liver Injury
Of all the adverse drug reactions (ADRs) suspected to be due to statins received by the Swedish Adverse Drug Reactions Advisory Committee from 1988-2010, the most common was drug-induced liver injury. Such cases accounted for 57 percent of all the statin-related ADRs and included potentially severe, and in some cases deadly, consequences, including:
- Deaths from acute liver failure
- Liver transplantation
The link to liver damage was quite strong, and in several cases after patients recovered from the initial liver damage and then started taking statins again, a similar pattern of liver injury occurred. If someone you love is currently taking a statin, please do alert them to this potential danger, as it can occur quickly. Most patients experienced liver injury just three to four months after the start of therapy.
This is not the first time liver damage has been linked to these drugs; last year data from more than 2 million 30-84 year-old statin users from England and Wales identified increased risks of moderate or serious liver dysfunction as well, among other serious effects.
Do Statins Actually Increase Your Risk of Heart Failure Too?
So we've got an increased risk of liver damage, and potential liver failure, linked with statin drugs, but what about their effect on your heart? The majority of people who use statin cholesterol-lowering drugs are doing so because they believe lowering their cholesterol will prevent heart attacks and strokes. How many of these people do you think would continue to take them if they knew these very same drugs have been linked to decreased heart muscle function and increased risk of stroke?
Not very many, right? Well, you may need to reconsider your use of statins, as this study in Clinical Cardiology found that heart muscle function was "significantly better" in the control group than in those taking statin drugs! The researchers concluded:
"Statin therapy is associated with decreased myocardial [heart muscle] function."
What's often the end result when your heart muscle function is weakened or decreased? Heart failure! It's also widely known that statins lower your CoQ10 levels by blocking the pathway involved in cholesterol production -- the same pathway by which Q10 is produced. Statins also reduce the blood cholesterol that transports CoQ10 and other fat-soluble antioxidants.
The loss of CoQ10 leads to loss of cell energy and increased free radicals which, in turn, can further damage your mitochondrial DNA, effectively setting into motion an evil circle of increasing free radicals and mitochondrial damage.
There are no official warnings in the U.S. regarding CoQ10 depletion from taking statin drugs, and many physicians fail to inform their patients about this problem as well.
Labeling in Canada, however, clearly warns of CoQ10 depletion and even notes that this nutrient deficiency "could lead to impaired cardiac function in patients with borderline congestive heart failure." As your body gets more and more depleted of CoQ10, you may suffer from fatigue, muscle weakness and soreness, and eventually heart failure, so it is imperative if you take statin drugs that you take CoQ10 or, if you are over the age of 40, the reduced version called ubiquinol.
Statins May Also Contribute to Heart Failure Through Cholesterol Deficiency
Conventional medicine is seriously confused about cholesterol, which is closely interrelated with sulfur. Sulfur deficiency is pervasive and may be a contributing factor in heart disease that is also related to your levels of cholesterol, but not in the way you might think. Considering the fact that conventional medicine has been telling us that heart disease is due to elevated cholesterol and recommends lowering cholesterol levels as much as possible, the stance of Dr. Stephanie Seneff, a senior scientist at MIT, may come as a complete shock. As you can hear in my recent interview with her, she explains:
"Heart disease, I think, is a cholesterol deficiency problem, and in particular a cholesterol sulfate deficiency problem..."
Total Video Length: 1:29:57
Download Interview Transcript
Through her research, she believes that the mechanism we call "cardiovascular disease," of which arterial plaque is a hallmark, is actually your body's way of compensating for not having enough cholesterol sulfate.
"The macrophages in the plaque take up LDL, the small dense LDL particles that have been damaged by sugar... The liver cannot take them back because the receptor can't receive them, because they are gummed with sugar basically. So they're stuck floating in your body... Those macrophages in the plaque do a heroic job in taking that gummed up LDL out of the blood circulation, carefully extracting the cholesterol from it to save it – the cholesterol is important – and then exporting the cholesterol into HDL – HDL A1 in particular... That's the good guy, HDL.
The platelets in the plaque take in HDL A1 cholesterol and they won't take anything else... They take in sulfate, and they produce cholesterol sulfate in the plaque.
The sulfate actually comes from homocysteine. Elevated homocysteine is another risk factor for heart disease. Homocysteine is a source of sulfate. It also involves hemoglobin. You have to consume energy to produce a sulfate from homocysteine, and the red blood cells actually supply the ATP to the plaque.
So everything is there and the intent is to produce cholesterol sulfate and it's done in the arteries feeding the heart, because it's the heart that needs the cholesterol sulfate. If [cholesterol sulfate is not produced]... you end up with heart failure."See Dr. Stephanie Seneff
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So, in a nutshell, high LDL appears to be a sign of cholesterol sulfate deficiency—it's your body's way of trying to maintain the correct balance by taking damaged LDL and turning it into plaque, within which the blood platelets produce the cholesterol sulfate your heart and brain need for optimal function ... What this also means is that when you artificially lower your cholesterol with a statin drug, which effectively reduces that plaque but doesn't address the root problem, your body is not able to compensate any longer, and as a result of lack of cholesterol sulfate you may end up with heart failure.
Interestingly, Dr. Seneff believes that high serum cholesterol and low serum cholesterol sulfate go hand-in-hand, and that the ideal way to bring down your LDL (so-called "bad" cholesterol, which is associated with cardiovascular disease) is to get appropriate amounts of sunlight exposure on your skin. You can learn more about this important connection by listening to our interview.
Can Higher Cholesterol Dramatically Lower Your Risk of Dying From Cancer?
The truth is, every single one of your cells needs cholesterol to thrive, and when your levels get too low, it can wreak havoc on your health, even increasing your risk of cancer. In 2007 a meta-analysis of over 41,000 patient records found that people who take statin drugs to lower their cholesterol as much as possible may have a higher risk of cancer, and just this year new research confirmed the significant association between low cholesterol and cancer mortality.
All kinds of other problems can occur as well when your cholesterol levels get too low, including episodes of violent behavior, depressive symptoms, hormonal imbalances, memory loss, stroke and even Parkinson's disease, which is why keeping your cholesterol levels higher may actually help you to prevent disease. This is also why you need to think very carefully before opting to take a cholesterol-lowering drug.
Most People do Not Need Statins
Interestingly, Dr. Seneff disagrees with this and believe statins should never be given to anyone, but being generous one might justify the only two subgroups of people that might benefit from statins as::
- Those at very high risk of heart attack (based NOT on your cholesterol levels but on your heart attack risk factors)
- Those born with a genetic defect called familial hypercholesterolemia, as this makes you resistant to traditional measures of normalizing cholesterol
If you are not in one of those two categories, statin drugs are an unnecessary health risk you're better off avoiding -- and you definitely want to avoid the trap of taking them to lower your cholesterol when your cholesterol is actually well within a healthy range.
I have seen a number of people with total cholesterol levels over 250 who were actually at low risk for heart disease due to their elevated HDL levels. Conversely, I have seen many people with cholesterol levels under 200 who had a very high risk of heart disease, based on their low HDL. If you need help making sense of your cholesterol numbers, be sure to read my past article where I discuss total cholesterol and cholesterol ratios and how to use them to determine your heart disease risk.
In a nutshell, the following ratios are FAR more potent indicators for heart disease than total cholesterol, and are the ones you want to keep an eye on:
- 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.
Optimizing Your Cholesterol Without Statins is Easy
The most effective way to optimize your cholesterol profile and prevent heart disease is via diet and exercise. It's actually quite simple too, as 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 lower your risk of heart disease at the same time.
My primary recommendations for safely regulating your cholesterol, without the need for statin drugs that may damage your liver and your heart, include:
- Reduce, with the plan of eliminating grains and fructose from your diet. This is the number one way 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.
- Exercise daily. Make sure you incorporate peak fitness exercises, which also optimizes your human growth hormone (HGH) production.
- Avoid smoking or drinking alcohol excessively.
- Be sure to get plenty of good, restorative sleep.