By Dr. Mercola
Millions of people around the world take medications known as statins to lower their cholesterol.
The current value of the cholesterol-lowering drug industry is estimated at around $29 billion -- and this is clearly a conservative estimate considering spending on cholesterol drugs in the United States alone reached nearly $19 billion in 2010.
But have the facts about cholesterol and heart disease been distorted by drug companies eager to increase their profits?
A new documentary film project is underway to look for answers, and get the truth out about cholesterol once and for all…
Why Haven't You Heard the Truth About Cholesterol?
There may be $29 billion very good reasons why … and this is the premise behind the new documentary film $29 Billion Reasons to Lie About Cholesterol (based on a book by the same name, authored by Justin Smith). As the film's synopsis explains:
"So many resources are currently directed at cholesterol-lowering, however, a huge body of evidence suggests that this cholesterol-lowering is having little or no effect on people's health. In fact, it may even be doing more harm than good.
We want to present the facts about cholesterol to the general public. These facts are fully supported by published studies within the medical literature, but unfortunately they are hardly ever discussed.
The pharmaceutical industry spends hundreds of millions of dollars each year promoting the idea that high cholesterol causes heart disease. The other side of the story receives very little attention. As a result, even doctors may have been misled; since they have only been exposed to the pharmaceutical industry's viewpoint."
Could it be possible that nearly everything your doctor and the media is telling you about high cholesterol and how it relates to saturated fats, heart disease and strokes is wrong?
Could it also be possible that the makers of statin drugs are generating massive ill-gotten profits of this completely misguided and patently incorrect medical dogma -- while patients, maybe even you or someone you love, are risking poor health or even death as a result? Yes! And it's time the word got out.
Does Lower Cholesterol Really Lead to Better Health?
A major clue that something is very off with the notion that high cholesterol causes heart disease can be found in this: even as cholesterol levels have become lower, rates of heart disease deaths have not followed suit!
In a report by Smith, it's noted:
" … between 1994 and 2006 the percentage of men aged 65 to 74 with 'high' cholesterol decreased from 87% to 54% … Despite this, the rate of coronary heart disease for this age group stayed about the same … Other age groups have experienced an increase in the rate of heart disease as the number of people with 'high' cholesterol has decreased."
Now here's something you might find surprising: it turns out evidence linking high cholesterol to heart disease is actually weak, including the results of the Framingham Heart Study, which is often cited as proof of the lipid hypothesis (the notion that dietary fat leads to high cholesterol and causes heart disease).
The Framingham Heart Study began in 1948 and involved some 6,000 people from the town of Framingham, Massachusetts who filled out detailed questionnaires about their lifestyle habits and diets. The study is credited with identifying heart disease risk factors, such as smoking, high blood pressure, lack of exercise and, yes, high cholesterol.
Despite being widely publicized, the cholesterol link was weak, as researchers noted those who weighed more and had abnormally high blood cholesterol levels were slightly more at risk for future heart disease. What you don't hear about is the fact that the more cholesterol and saturated fat people ate, the lower their cholesterol levels. In a 1992 editorial published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, Dr. William Castelli, a former director of the Framingham Heart study, stated:
"In Framingham, Mass., the more saturated fat one ate, the more cholesterol one ate, the more calories one ate, the lower the person's serum cholesterol … We found that the people who ate the most cholesterol, ate the most saturated fat, ate the most calories, weighed the least and were the most physically active."
Cholesterol is simply not the main perpetrator causing heart disease. Dr. Stephen Sinatra, a board certified cardiologist and a prominent expert in the field of natural cardiology, explained in a recent interview:
"Let's face it, cholesterol is something your body needs. If you look at the MRFIT study [Multiple Risk Factor Intervention Trial] where they looked at 180,000 men over a period of… 13 years (1973-80); men with cholesterol of 330 had less hemorrhagic stroke than men with cholesterol less than 180. If you look at cholesterol numbers, the higher cholesterol number would give you protection from hemorrhagic stroke. (I'm not talking about ischemic stroke now but hemorrhagic stroke.)
… [W]e need cholesterol in our skin to activate vitamin D3 from sunlight. We need cholesterol to make our sex hormones… to make our adrenal hormones. We need it for lubrication. We need it for neurotransmitter function in the brain. When LDL is driven too low, it's no wonder that a lot of patients develop memory problems or pre-Alzheimer's, or even total global amnesia, which is really losing one's memory. It's very frightful and I have seen several cases.… There are so many other aspects that in my mind play a much bigger role that I put cholesterol down at the low end of the spectrum."
Most of Your Body's Cholesterol is Made by Your Liver, Not "Ingested" Via Your Diet
If high cholesterol and high-fat diets are really NOT the cause of heart disease, then how did this massive misinformation campaign start? It actually started more than 100 years ago when the lipid hypothesis was developed by a German pathologist named Rudolph Virchow. After studying arterial plaques from corpses, he theorized that cholesterol in your blood led to the development of plaques in your arteries.
Meanwhile, in 1913 in St. Petersburg, Russia, Nikolaj Nikolajewitsch Anitschkow fed rabbits cholesterol and determined that it led to atherosclerotic changes (apparently no one questioned the fact that rabbits are herbivores and do not naturally consume cholesterol!).
This started the notion that eating cholesterol leads to plaque deposits in your arteries, and at that time it was believed that all cholesterol in your blood was due to dietary sources. This, however, is not true, as it's now known that your liver makes about 75 percent of your body's cholesterol. That's right! Even if you didn't eat any cholesterol, you would still have cholesterol in your body, which is a good thing considering it's needed by every one of your cells to produce cell membranes.
Your diet is actually an afterthought when it comes to what your cholesterol levels will be, but this simple truth is largely ignored or unrealized even by many physicians. In fact, statins are actually HMG-CoA reductase inhibitors, that is, they act by blocking the enzyme in your liver that is responsible for making cholesterol (HMG-CoA reductase).
How Low Should Your Cholesterol Go? Official Guidelines Unsupported by Research, Influenced by Drug Company Dollars
The other interesting point to the cholesterol myth has to do with how low your levels should actually go; this, too, is a product of misinformation. In 2004, the U.S. government's National Cholesterol Education Program panel advised those at risk for heart disease to attempt to reduce their LDL cholesterol to new specific, very low, levels.
Before 2004, a 130-milligram LDL cholesterol level was considered healthy.
The updated guidelines, however, recommended levels of less than 100, or even less than 70 for patients at very high risk -- levels that often require multiple cholesterol-lowering drugs to achieve. In 2006, a review in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that there is insufficient evidence to support the target numbers outlined by the panel. The authors of the review were unable to find research providing evidence that achieving a specific LDL target level was important in and of itself, and found that the studies attempting to do so suffered from major flaws.
Several of the scientists who helped develop the guidelines even admitted that the scientific evidence supporting the less-than-70 recommendation was not very strong! So how did these excessively low cholesterol guidelines come about? Eight of the nine doctors on the panel that developed the new cholesterol guidelines had been making money from the drug companies that manufacture statin cholesterol-lowering drugs -- wouldn't you know it, the same drugs the new guidelines suddenly created a dramatically larger market for in the United States.
"The extent of the connections was stunning: Of the nine members of the panel that wrote the guidelines, six had each received research grants, speaking honoraria or consulting fees from at least three and in some cases all five of the manufacturers of statins; only one had no financial links at all. If all the members with conflicts had recused themselves, in fact, only two would have been left."
Did You Know Statins Can Actually Harm Your Heart?
While statin drugs do lower cholesterol very effectively, if cholesterol is not the culprit in heart disease, what purpose does this serve? A new look at statin cholesterol-lowering drugs from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology claims that no study has ever proven that statins improve all-cause mortality -- in other words, they don't prolong your life any longer than if you'd not taken them at all. And rather than improving your life, they actually contribute to a deterioration in the quality of your life, destroying muscles and endangering liver, kidney and even heart function.
According to Stephanie Seneff, author of this stunning revelation:
"Statin drugs inhibit the action of an enzyme, HMG coenzyme A reductase, that catalyses an early step in the 25-step process that produces cholesterol. This step is also an early step in the synthesis of a number of other powerful biological substances that are involved in cellular regulation processes and antioxidant effects.
One of these is coenzyme Q10, present in the greatest concentration in the heart, which plays an important role in mitochondrial energy production and acts as a potent antioxidant …
Statins also interfere with cell-signaling mechanisms mediated by so-called G-proteins, which orchestrate complex metabolic responses to stressed conditions. Another crucial substance whose synthesis is blocked is dolichol, which plays a crucial role in the endoplasmic reticulum. We can't begin to imagine what diverse effects all of this disruption, due to interference with HMG coenzyme A reductase, might have on the cell's ability to function … There can be no doubt that statins will make your remaining days on earth a lot less pleasant than they would otherwise be … "
Take one study in Clinical Cardiology, which found 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! The study did not address causes, but it's 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. 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 Increase Your Risk of Chronic Disease
Statins appear to provoke serious risks of chronic disease, including diabetes, through a few different mechanisms. One 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. These drugs have also been directly linked to over 300 side effects, which include:
Cognitive loss Neuropathy Anemia Acidosis Frequent fevers Cataracts 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)
Did You Know?
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Are You Ready to Stop Buying Into the Cholesterol Lie?
The bottom line is this: 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. Further, 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.
If your physician is urging you to check your total cholesterol, then you should also 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.
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 optimize your cholesterol and lower your risk of heart disease at the same time:
- 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.
- Exercise daily.
- Avoid smoking or drinking alcohol excessively.
- Be sure to get plenty of good, restorative sleep.
One final point to chew on, Dr. Seneff actually believes it's difficult to get "too much" cholesterol in your diet, particularly in the standard American diet. But you may very well be getting too little, and that can cause problems.
Foods that are very high in cholesterol, like caviar, liver, and the adrenal glands of bears, were highly valued in some cultures that also had very low rates of heart disease and other modern diseases. Likewise, many foods that are today shunned because they are high in saturated fat, such as grass-fed beef, egg yolks, coconut oil and butter, and therefore "bad" for your cholesterol are actually among the healthiest fats you can eat!