Cholesterol & Statins: Trick or Treat?

Pills: trick or treat?

We just celebrated Halloween recently by taking the toddler to an annual trick-or-treat event at a local mall. There were a few costumes that proved to be quite frightening for our 2-year old. Upon noticing them, she immediately asked for “appu-appu” which, in toddler-speak translates to, “If you would be so kind, please pick me up and carry me so I may feel safe and secure.”

So what scares you?

I know of a single word that can illicit fear in many: Cholesterol.

Somehow we have been conditioned to fear it, to hate it, to demonize it. It’s as if there were a multi-million dollar PR campaign trying to stamp it out (which isn’t far from the truth).

The fable goes something like this: Eat a lot of cholesterol and your blood cholesterol levels increase. Elevated blood cholesterol leads to heart disease, heart attack, and a severe case of the “appu-appus.”

So let’s take a quick look at this supposedly monstrous substance.

Cholester-All Good

Fact #1: Cholesterol is necessary for all animal life, including humans. It is a necessary component to synthesize hormones, maintain cell membranes, and other things that keep us from croaking. Our liver is the primary producer of the cholesterol our body requires to survive.

Fact #2: Dietary cholesterol has essentially no impact on blood cholesterol levels. None. So egg yolks should no longer give you the heebie-jeebies. But this fact is moot when you consider…

Fact #3: There is no correlation between blood cholesterol levels and heart disease! In fact, total mortality increases as cholesterol levels fall!

Big Pharma & Statins: The Real Monsters

So if cholesterol is essential to life and is not a factor in heart disease, why are doctors prescribing cholesterol-lowering drugs (commonly known as statins) in record numbers?

It’s no surprise that the pharmaceutical-health care complex in the US is in the twilight zone. It isn’t concerned with disease-prevention because there’s no money in it for them. But pushing expensive drugs through disease-management? Cha-ching!

Pharmaceutical companies (and their co-conspirators, including the government and mainstream media) continue to disseminate misinformation to keep the average person misinformed and on prescription pills.

This Businessweek article says:

What the shrewd marketing people at Pfizer [makers of the leading statin drug on the market, Lipitor] and the other companies did was spin it to make everyone with high cholesterol think they really need to reduce it,” says Dr. Bryan A. Liang, director of the Institute of Health Law Studies at the California Western School of Law and co-director of the San Diego Center for Patient Safety. “It was pseudo-science, never telling you the bottom-line truth, [which is] that the drugs don’t help unless you have pre-existing cardiovascular disease. [Emphasis added]

Make no mistake, statins are the darlings of Big Pharma. They are the most profitable, bestselling class of drug of all time. Which wouldn’t be a problem except for the fact that the business model of Big Pharma depends largely on a sick and unhealthy population which they themselves help define. (See this article and scroll down to “Healthy Today – Sick Tomorrow” for the con game of constantly lowering the threshold of what is considered “safe” levels of cholesterol with the intent on getting more healthy people on their drugs.)

Did I mention statins don’t really work?

More from Businessweek about the overstated benefits of statins:

[The data shows] no benefit in people over the age of 65, no matter how much their cholesterol declines, and no benefit in women of any age.” […] Most important, the statin trials of people without existing heart disease showed no reduction in deaths or serious health events, despite the small drop in heart attacks. “We should tell patients that the reduced cardiovascular risk will be replaced by other serious illnesses,” says Dr. John Abramson, clinical instructor at Harvard Medical School and author of Overdosed America.

Um, wow? Paging Dr. Eades

But this decrease in deaths from heart disease is compensated for by an increase in deaths from cancer and other causes, so there really isn’t a gain. You’re still dead. […] Are you going to spend $200 per month for the rest of your life and stay on medications that may make you feel lousy and lose your memory just so you can die of something other than heart disease?

Go on, doc….

The only improvement in all-cause mortality has been in men under 65 who have been diagnosed with heart disease, and even that benefit is so small that many people question if the extra cost and side effects of the statins are worth it.

Would You Like A Side Of Diabetes With That?

Statin side effects resemble a witches brew of awful conditions: fatigue, muscle pain, and sexual dysfunction… mixed with liver dysfunction, kidney failure, and cataracts… and a dash of memory loss for good measure.

Oh, and heaping spoonful of diabetes:

In the Jan 9, 2012 issue of Archives of Internal Medicine in the Online First section an article appeared showing that women studied as part of the Women’s Health Initiative who were on statin drugs during the study developed diabetes at greater rates than those who were not on these drugs. According to the statistical analysis of the authors, being on a statin increased the relative risk of developing diabetes by 48 percent! […] These were observational studies and, as such, can’t be used to determine causality. But they are interesting nonetheless because according to one of the authors there have been other clinical trials showing the same thing.

So statins can cost you your sanity, your health and your life.

What about other costs? More from Businessweek:

And the widespread use of statins comes at the cost of billions of dollars a year, not just for the drugs but also for doctors’ visits, cholesterol screening, and other tests. Since health-care dollars are finite, “resources are not going to interventions that might be of benefit,” says Dr. Beatrice A. Golomb, associate professor of medicine at the University of California at San Diego School of Medicine.

Natural Alternatives To Statins

Instead of relying on the health care industry or government to take care of you, be proactive and take control of your own health. In terms of costs, benefits, and side effects, simple lifestyle changes and cheap supplements will outdo statins any day.

I’m a big believer in using food as medicine. Transitioning to a Paleo diet would be the best place to start. We’ve already discussed how systemic inflammation is the likely culprit behind many diseases, including heart disease, and how dietary changes can drastically mitigate such inflammation.

Beyond switching to a Paleo diet, also potentially helpful in maintaining heart health are:

  • Eating fish twice a week or taking daily fish oil supplements may also help to lower the risk of heart disease by reducing inflammation. Several studies suggest this may decrease the risk of heart attack even more than statins.

  • Getting adequate sleep will help prevent the stress hormone cortisol from becoming chronically elevated. This can reduce the risk of heart disease as well as a host of other nasty conditions. Aim for at least 8 hours a night.

  • Dietary supplements like CoQ10 and vitamin C may be more effective than statins. And here are more studies showing the effectiveness of vitamin C in reducing heart disease risk (scroll down to Disease Prevention).

  • Exercise. It doesn’t have to be long or strenuous to be effective. As far as the output-to-benefit ratio, walking is the best exercise in the world. Thirty minutes a day would be a great start.

So there you have it. Cholesterol is not the bogeyman that Big Pharma shall have you believe. But if you’re looking for a scare, the mere thought of statins should send chills up your spine.

I researched and wrote this article out of concern for some loved ones that are on statins. Do you know someone taking cholesterol-lowering drugs? Show them you care by passing this article along to them.

(Photo by: Steven Depolo)

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