By Dr. Mercola
Tens of millions of people are taking drugs to lower their cholesterol levels. Most of those medications are in a drug class known as statins. Some doctors are even starting to recommend children use statin drugs to control their cholesterol levels.1 I couldn't disagree more.
The challenge with statin drugs is that they address surface issues with cholesterol in a simplistic manner. But your body is a complex organism that uses cholesterol every day to build new cell walls, in the formation of vitamin D and in the production of hormones.
Statin drugs are HMG-CoA reductase inhibitors. They function by blocking the enzyme in your liver that naturally produces cholesterol for your bodily functions.
The drug essentially reduces your total cholesterol number, without addressing your high-density lipoproteins (HDL), low-density lipoproteins (LDL), very low-density lipoproteins (VLDL) or triglyceride levels.
While your total cholesterol number gives you a general overview, it isn't the information needed to evaluate your risk of cardiovascular disease. Instead, you'll need to compare your HDL, LDL, VLDL and triglyceride numbers against your total cholesterol.
Statins May Trigger Neuromuscular Disease
Statin drugs are notorious for causing side effects like muscle damage and weakness. What has been less publicized is a potential link between statins and a progression of muscle wasting that may lead to a diagnosis of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig's disease.
The World Health Organization (WHO) Foundation Collaborating Centre for International Drug Monitoring receives safety reports associated with statin medications and has noted a disproportionately high number of patients with upper motor neuron lesions among those taking statin medications.2
The lead researcher, Ivor Ralph Edwards, is an expert in toxicology, acute and chronic poisoning and adverse drug reactions.3 He also is the senior adviser at the WHO Uppsala Monitoring Centre in Sweden, and he says:4
"We do advocate that trial discontinuation of a statin should be considered in patients with serious neuromuscular disease such as the ALS-like syndrome, given the poor prognosis and a possibility that progression of the disease may be halted or even reversed."
Researchers from Johns Hopkins Medical School cautioned patients that although they discovered a link between taking statins and the development of a rare neuromuscular autoimmune disease, this condition could be treated with steroids and other immunosuppressive drugs.5
The researchers stated there was no need to fear this popular "fantastic medication."6
Dr. Andrew L. Mammen, a neurologist who treats patients with statin-associated myopathies at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, is quoted in a Johns Hopkins press release saying, "Statins save a huge number of lives. They dramatically reduce the risk of strokes and heart attacks."
The implication is you need statins in order to reduce your risk of heart attacks and strokes, and you should take them despite the risk for developing a degenerative neurological disease for which you will require medication to suppress your immune system.
This despite the knowledge that total cholesterol numbers are not indicative of your overall risk for cardiovascular disease. I would advise you to seriously evaluate the risks and benefits and consider your alternatives before you start taking a statin drug.
More Adverse Effects of Statins
In the video above, Dr. Beatrice Golomb7 talks with me about the manipulation of "scientific evidence" and other well-publicized misinformation about medications.
In 2012 Golomb was recognized for a study she led on muscle and tendon adverse events linked to statins, which showed that muscle problems were related to the strength of the statin being taken.8
Research from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine suggests that research results have been "cherry-picked" so the results presented the best possible light for the drug company.10 According to Pacific Standard:11
"Sometimes the negative side effects of statins are downplayed, and conclusions can be skewed by the limited parameters of the trials. As a 2007 Scripps Mercy Hospital study noted:
'The incidence of statin-induced rhabdomyolysis (acute breakdown of skeletal muscles) is higher in practice than in controlled trials because of the exclusion of potentially susceptible subjects.'"
Another study found 17 percent of patients suffered side effects that included muscle pain, nervous system problems and nausea.12 Two-thirds who reported side effects stopped taking the drugs and approximately half stopped at least temporarily.
A review of the literature, published in the American Journal of Cardiovascular Drugs, evaluated 900 previous studies looking at the adverse effects of statin drugs.13
Adverse effects are dose-dependent, and your health risks can be amplified by a number of factors, such as taking other drugs (which may increase statin potency), metabolic syndrome or thyroid disease. Some of the consequences of taking statin drugs in strong doses or for a lengthy amount of time include:14,15,16
✓ Difficulty sleeping
✓ High blood sugar (type 2 diabetes)
✓ Vision changes
✓ Bladder pain
✓ Difficulty breathing
✓ Dry mouth
✓ Lower back or side pain
✓ Loss of consciousness
✓ Swollen joints
✓ Blistering or peeling skin
✓ Weight changes
✓ Cognitive loss
✓ Frequent fevers
✓ Sexual dysfunction
✓ Pancreatic dysfunction
✓ Immune system suppression
✓ Polyneuropathy (nerve damage in hands and feet)
✓ Liver dysfunction
✓ Increased risk of cancer
✓ Degenerative muscle tissue (rhabdomyolysis)
If You Feel You Must Take Statins You Need to Take Ubiquinol or CoQ10
Statins work by inhibiting the enzyme your liver uses to produce cholesterol. However, the same pathway may promote the suppression of the precursor to coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10), an antioxidant your mitochondria uses to produce energy. In theory, when your body is deficient in CoQ10, mitochondrial energy production is depressed, which may trigger or accelerate neuropathies like ALS.17
If you take statin drugs without taking CoQ10 or the reduced form, ubiquinol, your health may be at serious risk. Unfortunately, this describes the majority of people who take statins in the United States. The loss of energy at the cellular level can damage your mitochondrial DNA and set into motion a vicious cycle of rising free radicals and mitochondrial damage.
CoQ10 is an effective adjunct treatment for heart failure, an important piece of information as statins may decrease the function of your heart muscle.18 In this study researchers found the control group, those who were not taking statin drugs to protect their cardiovascular health, fared better.19 They concluded, "Statin therapy is associated with decreased myocardial function as evaluated with SI (strain imaging)."
The importance of your mitochondrial energy function can't be overstated. Statin Study Group, led by Golomb, concluded the malfunction of mitochondrial energy production due to the interference of statin medications was the underlying causative factor in all of the adverse effects associated with the medication.
After reviewing the evidence, if you choose to take a CoQ10 supplement it's important to take the form your body can easily assimilate.20 CoQ10 can typically be used by people 30 and younger. However, if you are over 30 you'll want to consider ubiquinol, the reduced version of CoQ10, as it is far more effective.
LDL Particle Number More Important Than Total Cholesterol
It is likely the focus on lowering cholesterol has missed the boat completely, as high total cholesterol is not the cause of heart disease, unless it's over 300. Other risk factors are much more powerful. One of the more important tests you may consider to determine your real risk of heart disease is the NMR LipoProfile, which measures your LDL particle number.
This particular test also includes markers to determine if you are insulin resistant, a primary cause of an elevated LDL particle number. When your insulin secretion rises, so does your cholesterol production. Elevated insulin levels, or a decrease in insulin sensitivity, is related to the foods you eat and your exercise. Two other blood test ratios that will tell you more about your cardiovascular disease risk are:
- HDL to total cholesterol ratio. This is a fasting test and should be higher than 25 percent. It measures the amount of HDL you have against your total cholesterol number.
- Triglyceride to HDL ratio, which should be below 2.
Health officials in the United States urge everyone over the age of 20 to have their cholesterol tested once every five years. Part of this test is your total cholesterol, or the sum of your blood's cholesterol content, including HDL, LDLs and VLDLs.
Keep in mind these are still simply guidelines, and there's a lot more that goes into your risk of heart disease than any one number can tell you. It was only after researchers found total cholesterol was a poor predictor of heart disease that HDL and LDL cholesterol were measured. They give you a closer idea of what's going on, but they still do not show you everything.
Naturally Improve Your Cholesterol Levels
The only time there is a real reason to take medications to control your cholesterol level may be if you suffer from familial hypercholesterolemia. This is a genetic condition, passed down through your family. It begins at birth and affects your LDL levels, sometimes causing heart attacks at an early age.21
In other instances, your cholesterol can be controlled by making different lifestyle and nutritional choices. The fact is that 75 percent of your cholesterol is produced by your liver, which is influenced by your insulin levels.22,23 This means if you optimize your insulin levels you will also be optimizing your cholesterol levels. In order to safely regulate your blood sugar, insulin sensitivity and cholesterol levels it is important to modify your diet and lifestyle choices.
✓ Optimize Your Vitamin D Levels
Sensible sun exposure will help normalize your cholesterol levels and prevent heart disease.24 For a full explanation of the process see my previous article titled, "Could THIS Be the Hidden Factor Behind Obesity, Heart Disease and Chronic Fatigue?"
✓ Normalize Your Weight and Reduce Carbohydrates, Especially Fructose
Normalize your weight using a plan of eliminating grains and sugars in your diet. Take special care to get no more than 25 grams of fructose each day. These products spike your insulin level and trigger the development of cholesterol. Ideally, you'll also want to consume a good portion of your food raw.
✓ Include Heart Healthy Foods
Make sure you are getting plenty of high-quality, animal-based omega-3 fats. 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.
✓ Increase Your Daily Movement and Exercise Regularly
While I strongly recommend incorporating Peak Fitness exercises, which also optimize your human growth hormone (HGH) production, non-exercise movement may be even more important. Ideally, stay active as much as you can each day. I recommend standing up at work, and try to get as much walking in as possible. Then, in addition to that, aim for a comprehensive fitness program that includes strength training and high intensity exercises.
✓ Reduce Your Stress Levels
Each of us experience stress in a fast-paced life. You may consider addressing your emotional challenges using my favorite technique for stress management, Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT). You can easily learn to use these techniques at home and incorporate them even when you're out and about.
✓ Improve Your Sleep Quality
High quality sleep helps reduce your stress levels, normalize your insulin levels and function optimally through the day. If you have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep you may want to try some of the strategies in my previous article titled, "Want a Good Night's Sleep? Then Never Do These Things Before Bed."
✓ Avoid Excessive Alcohol or Tobacco
Alcohol is high in net carbohydrates, which affect your insulin levels. Tobacco has an effect on your arterial system, temporarily raising your blood pressure.
✓ Replace Vegetable Oils
Replace harmful vegetable oils and synthetic trans fats with healthy fats, such as olive oil, butter and coconut oil (remember olive oil should be used cold only; use coconut oil for cooking and baking).
✓ Include Fermented Foods
Include fermented foods in your daily diet. These will not only optimize your intestinal microflora, which will boost your overall immunity, but will also introduce beneficial bacteria into your mouth. Poor oral health is another powerful indicator of increased heart disease risk.