By Dr. Mercola
In 2004, the US government's National Cholesterol Education Program panel advised those at risk for heart disease to attempt to reduce their LDL cholesterol to less than 100, or even less than 70, if you're very high risk. Prior to this, a 130-milligram LDL cholesterol level was considered healthy.
In order to obtain the incredibly low LDL levels now recommended, you typically have to take a cholesterol-lowering statin drug, and sometimes two or three of them in combination.
Now, a new class of cholesterol drugs known as PCSK9 inhibitors promises to reduce LDL cholesterol levels to previously unheard of lows. Indeed, this type of drug can drop your level below 50!
My prediction? These drugs will absolutely kill people—not just some, but MANY. I cannot warn you against this terrible idea enough. While many worry that their cholesterol is too high, few give any thought at all to the damage that can result if your cholesterol is too low.
This is a topic near and dear to my heart, as I drove (without drugs) my own total cholesterol levels down to a risky 75 when I was a naive young doctor. Alas, when it comes to cholesterol, lower is not always better. In fact, when your cholesterol levels go too low, a host of negative things happen in your body.
Unfortunately, lowering cholesterol levels has become so common in the US that nearly every American reading this either knows someone struggling to do so, or has struggled to do so themselves.
This despite the fact that there is no evidence to support the notion that having an extremely low cholesterol level is beneficial, and increasing numbers of studies point to significant risks associated with cholesterol-lowering drugs.
For example, a 2008 paper published in the American Journal of Cardiovascular Drugs1 cites nearly 900 studies on the adverse effects of HMG-CoA reductase inhibitors (statins), which run the gamut from muscle problems to increased cancer risk.
How Do PCSK9 Inhibitors Work?
Whereas statins (HMG-CoA reductase inhibitors) reduce your cholesterol by blocking an enzyme in your liver that is responsible for making cholesterol, these newer drugs, PCSK9 inhibitors, target and suppress a particular gene involved in the regulation of how much cholesterol your liver can actually filter out.
Researchers discovered that people with underactive PCSK9 genes had low levels of LDL. They also had low levels of cardiovascular disease. Since high cholesterol has long been mistaken as a primary cause of cardiovascular disease, these findings were akin to striking scientific gold... As reported in the featured article2:
"It's this discovery that has Sanofi and two other major drug companies, Amgen and Pfizer, racing to develop a drug that mimics the gene's effects. The best approach, experts say, will be through monoclonal antibodies: antibodies that are created in a lab and help your immune system fight a disease or, in this case, fight cholesterol...
'This is not to replace statin therapy,' said Joe Miletich, senior vice president of research and development at Amgen. 'This is actually to get patients to (their) goal who can't get there.'... 'With a statin medication, you can often get somebody's cholesterol between 70 and 100 mg/dL,' said Dr. Elliott Antman, president-elect of the American Heart Association and a dean at Harvard Medical School. 'If you use these monoclonal antibodies, you could see a number way less than 50.'"
I've told you before that 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.
In my view, this warning is just as applicable when it comes to PCSK9 inhibitors. Your body needs cholesterol and it doesn't matter how you lower it: statins, PCSK inhibitors, or diet and exercise like I did. If your cholesterol drops too low, you will suffer health problems that I review in the next section.
The Health Hazards of Having Too Little Cholesterol
Your body needs cholesterol for the production of cell membranes, hormones, vitamin D, and bile acids that help you to digest fat. It's not hard to see then why too little cholesterol can have such detrimental effects on your body—especially your brain, where it helps your brain form memories and is vital to your neurological function.
For example, research published in 20083 showed that low HDL is associated with poor memory and decline in memory in middle-aged adults. If you value your brain and want to keep it functioning into your senior years, you'd be well advised to pay attention to what it needs, and that includes cholesterol, along with healthful fats like omega-3. But impaired memory and dementia are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to low cholesterol's impact on your brain. If your levels get too low, you also increase your risk of:
Even more importantly, heart disease may in fact be a sign of cholesterol deficiency, according to MIT researcher, Dr. Stephanie Seneff. 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, Dr. Seneff's claims may come as a complete shock to some.
"Heart disease, I think, is a cholesterol deficiency problem, and in particular a cholesterol sulfate deficiency problem..."
She points out that all of this information is available in the research literature, but it requires putting all the pieces together to see the full picture. 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 to compensate for not having enough cholesterol sulfate. 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 needs 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.
Have High Cholesterol? Address the Cause!
Contrary to popular belief, high cholesterol is not a disease in and of itself. It is actually a response to something gone awry in your body. Cholesterol is produced whenever your cells become damaged, as it's a necessary component in making new, healthy cells, so if you have a lot of damaged cells, you're also going to have a lot of cholesterol in your bloodstream. This is a sign that your cells need, and are, being repaired. While most conventional doctors do not recognize this sign for what it is and put you on toxic cholesterol-lowering drugs, a more knowledgeable doctor will address the root problem, which is typically related to chronic inflammation brought on by:
- A diet too high in sugar/fructose and grains
- Too many processed, overcooked foods
- Lack of exercise
- Emotional stress
The remedy involves, of course, addressing these factors by making simple lifestyle changes that are outlined in my optimized nutrition and lifestyle plan. Whatever you do, don't fall for the mistaken belief that the lower your cholesterol goes, the better. If you lower your cholesterol through artificial means without addressing the underlying causes for your elevated cholesterol levels, your body will continue to degenerate. Leave the decision of how much cholesterol your body needs up to your body, and make the right lifestyle choices to keep your cells in their top condition. This way you get the best of both worlds: the right amount of cholesterol and a body in tip-top shape.
The Many Well-Known Health Hazards of Statin Drugs
First, if you are a woman, it's critical for you to know that statins are classified as a "pregnancy Category X medication" meaning, it causes serious birth defects, and should NEVER be used if you're pregnant or planning a pregnancy. Last year, the US Food and Drug Administration5 (FDA) also announced it's considering additional warning labels for statin drugs. Among them are warnings that statins may increase your risk of:
- Liver damage
- Memory loss and confusion
- Type 2 diabetes
- Muscle weakness (for certain statins)
In all, statin drugs have been directly linked to over 300 side effects6, including:
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)
Statins Cause Hallmark Symptoms of Heart Disease and Diabetes
Sadly, while millions of people are told to use statin drugs as a form of "preventive medicine" to protect their heart health, research shows that these drugs actually can have significantly detrimental effects on your heart! How is that preventive medicine? For example, a study published just last year in the journal Atherosclerosis7 showed that statin use is associated with a 52 percent increased prevalence and extent of calcified coronary plaque compared to non-users. And coronary artery calcification is the hallmark of potentially lethal heart disease!
Statins can also:
- Deplete your body of CoQ10, which accounts for many of its devastating health effects. CoQ10 is used by every cell in your body, but especially your heart cells. Cardiac muscle cells have up to 200 times more mitochondria, and hence 200 times higher CoQ10 requirements than skeletal muscle. 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 Pharmacology8 showed that ubiquinol effectively rescued cells from the damage caused by the statin drug simvastatin, thereby protecting muscle cells from myopathies. Again demonstrating the necessity of CoQ10 supplementation during statin therapy, a recent study9 evaluating the benefits of CoQ10 and selenium supplementation for patients with statin-associated myopathy found that, compared to those given a placebo, the treatment group experienced significantly less pain, decreased muscle weakness and cramps, and less fatigue.
- Interfere with the mevalonate pathway, which is the central pathway for the steroid management in your body. Products of this pathway that are negatively affected by statins include sex hormones, cortisone, the dolichols (which are involved in keeping the membranes inside your cells healthy), and all sterols, including cholesterol and vitamin D (which is similar to cholesterol and is produced from cholesterol in your skin).
- Increase your insulin resistance, which contributes to chronic inflammation in your body. 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.
- Increase your risk of diabetes 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.
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.
Beware: Statins Can Also Completely Negate Your Fitness Efforts
One of the major benefits of exercise is the beneficial impact it has on your heart health, and exercise is a primary strategy to naturally maintain healthy cholesterol levels. Alas, researchers recently discovered that if you take a statin drug, you're likely to forfeit most if not all health benefits of your exercise. In fact, the study, published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology10, discovered that statin use led to dramatically reduced fitness benefits from exercise, in some cases actually making the volunteer LESS fit than before!
The key to understanding why statins prevent your body from reaping the normal benefits from exercise lies in understanding what these drugs do to your mitochondria—the energy chamber of your cells, responsible for the utilization of energy for all metabolic functions. As mentioned above, the primary fuel for your mitochondria is Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10), and one of the primary mechanisms of harm from statins in general appears to be related to CoQ10 depletion.
A 2011 review published in Applied Physiology, Nutrition and Metabolism11 pointed out that exercise actually induces changes in mitochondrial enzyme content and activity, which can increase your cellular energy production and in so doing decrease your risk of chronic disease. The fact that statin drugs deplete your body of the primary fuel for your mitochondria helps explain why certain statin users in the trial ended up with worse aerobic fitness after a steady fitness regimen. There simply wasn't enough mitochondrial fuel in their system.
To Evaluate Your Heart Disease Risk, Get the Right Tests Done
If your physician is urging you to check your total cholesterol, then you need to be aware that this test will tell you virtually nothing about your risk of heart disease, unless it is 330 or higher.
One of the most important tests you can get to determine your real heart disease risk is the NMR LipoProfile, which measures your LDL particle number. This test also has other markers that can help determine if you have insulin resistance, which is a primary cause of elevated LDL particle number and increased heart disease risk. The NMR LipoProfile test easy to get and all major labs offer it. Most insurance policies cover the test as well. Best of all, even if your doctor were to refuse to order it, you can order it yourself via third-party intermediaries like Direct Labs, or you can order the test online, and get blood drawn locally. Two other ratios you should pay attention to are your:
- HDL/Total Cholesterol Ratio: (i.e. take your HDL number and divide it by your total cholesterol number.) This 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.
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. For four additional risk factors for heart disease that do not involve your cholesterol levels, please see my recent article: Side Effects of Statins.
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. Seventy-five 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 that can cure heart disease, as the underlying cause is insulin and leptin resistance and arterial wall damage—both of which are caused by eating excessive amounts of sugars, grains, and especially fructose. So, in addition to regular exercise, 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.
- Start intermittent fasting, which will radically improve your ability to burn fat as your primary fuel and thus help improve your insulin and leptin signaling.
- 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.
- 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.
Take Control of Your Health
The odds are very high that if you're taking cholesterol-lowering medication, you're wasting your money and taking unnecessary risks with your health. From my review, the ONLY subgroup that might benefit from statins are those born with a genetic defect called familial hypercholesterolemia, as this makes them resistant to traditional measures of normalizing cholesterol, which I reviewed above.
Remember, your body needs cholesterol for the production of cell membranes, hormones, and vitamin D, just to mention a few. Cholesterol is also vital to your neurological function. And there's 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.
Taking a drug that can reduce your cholesterol levels down to 50 or below is absolutely a recipe for disaster, when you consider all your biological functions that need cholesterol!
Also keep in mind that contrary to what you've been told by pharmaceutical PR firms, statins 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. So please, carefully weigh the risks and benefits!
Poor lifestyle choices are primarily to blame for elevated cholesterol levels, 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. If you have a genetic defect, medication may be needed. If you don't, you may be surprised at how quickly and easily your cholesterol levels will normalize when you start implementing the required lifestyle changes.
If you're currently taking a statin drug and are worried about the excessive side effects they cause, please consult with a knowledgeable health care practitioner who can help you to optimize your heart health naturally, without the use of these dangerous drugs. To learn more about statins, please see my special report: "Do YOU Take Any of These 11 Dangerous Cholesterol Drugs"?