Cholesterol bad for you?

An interesting article appeared on the Functional Medicine University website entitled “The Benefits of High Cholesterol“.  Written by an MD, PhD, the article gives a brief but powerful overview about the use of statin drugs, especially in the older population.  It states, in part:

Yet the fact that people with high cholesterol live the longest emerges clearly from many scientific papers. Consider the finding of Dr. Harlan Krumholz of the Department of Cardiovascular Medicine at Yale University, who reported in 1994 that old people with low cholesterol died twice as often from a heart attack as did old people with a high cholesterol. Supporters of the cholesterol campaign consistently ignore his observation, or consider it as a rare exception, produced by chance among a huge number of studies finding the opposite.

I’m truly surprised when I see so many of my senior patients taking statin (anti-cholesterol) drugs, especially when articles such as this in the New York Times, which also quotes Dr. Krumholz (above):

“The evidence is weaker for older patients — practically none at that age — but it is not unreasonable to expect similar effects as in younger patients,” Dr. Harlan Krumholz, a cardiologist at Yale School of Medicine, said in an e-mail. “I believe that this is a decision that ought to be personalized for each individual,” Dr. Krumholz added. “What are their risks? What do they value? What is the presumed benefit?”

The article also goes on to say:

Seniors who took the medications had fewer heart attacks (a 39.4 percent reduction) and strokes (a 23.8 percent reduction) than those who did not, but they didn’t live longer.

Yet the absolute risk of these events was small. In the control group, 3.9 percent of seniors suffered heart attacks over the course of three-and-a-half years; that declined to 2.7 percent in the group taking statins. Similarly, 2.8 percent of seniors in the control group suffered strokes, compared with 2.1 percent of statin users.

So, whether one takes statins or not, they should be aware of a condition where statins block the production of an important chemical called “Co-enzyme Q10”, as mentioned in the paper entitled “Coenzyme Q10 and Statin-Induced Mitochondrial Dysfunction“.  The abstract says this:

Coenzyme Q10 is an important factor in mitochondrial respiration. Primary and secondary deficiencies of coenzyme Q10 result in a number of neurologic and myopathic syndromes. Hydroxyl-methylglutaryl coenzyme A reductase inhibitors or statins interfere with the production of mevalonic acid, which is a precursor in the synthesis of coenzyme Q10. The statin medications routinely result in lower coenzyme Q10 levels in the serum. Some studies have also shown reduction of coenzyme Q10 in muscle tissue. Such coenzyme Q10 deficiency may be one mechanism for statin-induced myopathies. However, coenzyme Q10 supplements have not been shown to routinely improve muscle function. Additional research in this area is warranted and discussed in this review.

(ed: “mitochondria” are the energy-producing parts of each and every cell in your body, and “myopathies” refer to muscle pathologies)

Speaking of myopathies, isn’t the heart a muscle?  And one that uses a lot of energy?  And although statins might reduce the incidence of “heart attacks”, I have not read anywhere where it makes the heart stronger.  As a matter of fact, there is some evidence to believe the opposite.

Also this article from Medscape entitled “CoQ10 and L-carnitine for Statin Myalgia?” mentions the additional use of a protein called “L-carnitine”.

I have to tell you a personal story about these two substances:

Before the days of statins, my mother had congestive heart failure.  One day she was having chest pain and my father called the paramedics, who took her to the local hospital.  By the time I arrived, she was in ICU with about 80 medications being pumped into her.  She was on a slippery slope going downhill.

Not accustomed to being helpless (which I was at the time), I called a friend of mine in Florida — a world-famous nutritionist — who recommended I slip my mother a little brew of vitamins and amino acids (including CoQ10 and L-carnitine) twice a day, which I did.  Within three days she started perking up, and the doctors — who had no knowledge I was giving her this cocktail — thought, with great surprise, the drugs were working.  End of the story:  she completely recovered within a couple of weeks.

The bottom line mentioned in this article in the Washington Post entitled: “Statins keep cholesterol in check but they can affect memory and strength“:

But these drugs are not without risks. Golomb has amassed thousands of reports at her Web site Statineffects.com, detailing adverse reactions from statins. She says that cognitive problems are the second-most-common side effect reported in her database, after muscle pain. In a 2009 report in the journal Pharmacotherapy, Golomb described 171 patients who’d reported cognitive problems after taking statins.

So, if you’re a senior willing to trade cognitive problems and potential muscle pain for a few extra months of life, then go for it.  Otherwise, there are natural substances you can use to lower your cholesterol levels without the down-side.

Just for starters, here are some things that can reduce cholesterol naturally: B3 (NADPH or Niasafe), Vitamin C, Copper, O2 (B12, Folate, Iron), Vitamin B5, Taurine, Glycine, Phosphatidylcholine, Omega Oils, Iodine, Selenium Cysteine, Guggul, Polycosinol, Plant Sterols, Cayenne Pepper, Garlic. Of course, you need to know what specifically will do the job.  That’s where I come in to help.

As an addendum, an article on Medscape.com entitled “Statins and Diabetes:  Should We Be Worried?” commented on a study called the “Navigator” study were this statistic came out:

The results: After adjusting for baseline characteristics and confounders, the link was clear. Both statins and diuretics were linked to new-onset diabetes, a 23% increased risk. In this study, use of beta-blockers and calcium channel blockers was not linked to diabetes.

The study urged that people taking statins should be checked more frequently for blood sugar issues.

If you’d like more information on statins, see my friend’s newsletter here.


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