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Are you concerned about your cholesterol levels? You probably are since high cholesterol levels is linked to the Number 1 killer in the U.S.--cardiovascular disease, posing a 50% chance that a person will die from it. But is it really the cholesterol that poses such a threat to your life?
When I saw my cholesterol levels for the first time, I was startled. They were pretty high. I was taught that high cholesterol can clog arteries in the heart and brain thus depriving them from their blood supply. This causes the tissue to die, resulting in either partial or total brain or heart failure. A scary thought, isn?t it?
So, I decided to cut down on foods that are rich in cholesterol such as eggs, saturated animal fats like butter, fatty meats, etc. Despite my efforts, my cholesterol remained above recommended levels. The next logical step would be to start taking prescription medications. I looked into it and discovered that taking the statin drug Lipitor could lower my cholesterol by 29% to 45% (1)!
From the beginning it seemed great. Just one pill a day and you?re done. No more risk of heart disease. I was thinking about how long I was going to live: 100 years? 120? I wanted to learn more about these miracle drugs called statins, used for high cholesterol. One of my first questions was, ?Are they natural??
Statins?a brief history
Back in 1858, German pathologist Rudolph Virchow theorized that cholesterol is the cause of clogged heart arteries. In 1960, a Framingham Heart Study found a link between high cholesterol and heart disease. Once the link between cholesterol and heart disease was made, scientists began to look for a solution.
In 1970, Japanese microbiologist Akiro Endo came up with an interesting hypothesis while studying fungi and cholesterol: Fungi have chemicals that kill bacteria. Would one of those fungi have chemicals that could halt the synthesis of cholesterol? (2).
In 1973 he found his answer in the fungus Penicillium Citrinum, the first statin that was able to bring cholesterol production down by inhibiting its production. (That?s right?statins get their start as a fungus!)
High cholesterol level means high profits.
And then statin drugs started their march to financial victory. The statin drug Lipitor, with annual sales figures of 12.4 billion dollars in 2008 became the top selling brand in pharmaceutical history. So since statins are almost natural, as they came from fungi, they sounded like perfect drugs. I was about to start taking them but I did more research. And three things astonished me.
Is a cholesterol problem even a problem?
In 1970, the cholesterol hypothesis was not widely accepted by the medical society. In fact, that same year, the famous medical British journal Lancet published the Greenland Eskimo Diet Danish study (3), which concluded the exact opposite. Eskimos from Greenland had almost no heart attacks despite eating fatty food and having high cholesterol. The first large study to show marginal benefits of lowering cholesterol with the resin drug Cholestiramine - not a statin -in primary hypercholesterolemia did not come out until 1984 (4), which was 14 years after they began looking for a cholesterol-lowering drug.
So there was no definitive evidence that the world needed statins.
Despite these findings, ?Big Pharma? continued not only to work on statins but also invested an unprecedented amount of money in not only marketing statins but also in convincing the medical community, as well as the general public, of the dangers of cholesterol. So the question is: how did the drug come out before cholesterol was even recognized as a problem by the majority of medical society? Could they have simply created a problem because they had a drug to sell?
Lower cholesterol doesn?t always mean lower death rates
Secondly, when cholesterol levels were checked in patients with acute heart attacks, only about half of them had elevated cholesterol levels (12). Moreover, the chances of dying of a heart attack were higher in patients with lower cholesterol than in those without (13). Also, cholesterol consumption did not increase significantly since 1990 but heart disease soared (11). Does that fit with the idea that cholesterol causes heart disease?
Third, even the studies financed by ?Big Pharma? failed to prove that lowering cholesterol with statins increased survival. (5, 6) They did, however, show that this approach may decrease mortality in men with heart disease but not overall mortality. What that means is that even if they were taking statins, they had less of a chance to die from a heart attack but more of a chance to die from other causes. So did it matter if they had low cholesterol from taking statins or not?
Do statins destroy more than cholesterol?
Why did Japanese scientist Akira Endo come up with the idea to find a compound that stops cholesterol synthesis in bacteria? He knew that cells need cholesterol to form their walls. No cholesterol means no cell walls, and the cell will die. So the best way for fungi to kill a cell is to bring down its cholesterol. What about our body cells being low in cholesterol? Are these cells going to die too?
When the inventor of statins, Akira Endo, was prescribed statin for his high cholesterol, guess what he did? He didn?t take it. (2) Was it because he (maybe better than we) knew that statins are poisonous? Was it because he also knew that the cholesterol, which we need to keep our body?s cells alive, is our friend, not our enemy?
And what about the side effects from statins? I looked at the website for the most powerful statin drug, Lipitor. What I found was this: statins can cause muscle and joint pain, upset stomach, and some changes in blood tests. In fact, these changes are an elevation in liver enzymes and creatine kinase elevation due to muscular breakdown. I still remember a patient of mine who started complaining about a plunging s.e.x. drive. The reason was a new statin drug that brought his cholesterol (and hence the s.e.x. hormone testosterone) down.
Looking at all the evidence, I decided statins were not for me.
The real skinny on saturated fats.
What about saturated fats, which were declared enemies together with cholesterol? According to the government, they clog our arteries and eventually kill us. If saturated fat eventually kills us, then getting rid of it means we will live longer, right? To cut down my intake of saturated fats, I looked into which foods had too much of it. It was salmon, beef, eggs, cashews, etc.--foods I love very much. Before getting rid of them, I needed to find out if saturated fats really were bad. I decided to look for studies that proved the government?s point of view without a shadow of a doubt.
Usually a search brings some new research results that give us a clue to what?s going on. In this case, the important clue was what I did not find -- the proof that less saturated fat prolongs life (7,8,9,10,11)! I decided not to give up my favorite foods.
But why saturated fats, why not something else? Is it because fats suppress appetite much more effectively than carbohydrates, so if you get rid of fats, you?ll want to eat more? But if that were true, who would benefit--you or the food industry?
Is there some good in bad cholesterol?
So is cholesterol a good or a bad thing? There isn?t a yes-or-no answer to the question because only 30% of cholesterol we use a day actually comes from food. The rest (70%) is made by us in our liver. That?s why if you have high cholesterol, it doesn?t necessarily mean that you?re eating the wrong things. Your body uses cholesterol as a cell membrane?s building block, as a basis for making vitally important hormones, etc. It produces cholesterol as much as it needs it. Therefore, if you have high cholesterol, it may mean that your body is performing a lot of repairs in your body on a regular basis. Chronic inflammation may be the reason. So bringing down your cholesterol to below 200 with drugs may not be such a great idea because your body may not be able to build hormones or cells, or repair your damaged cell membranes.
But not all cholesterol is created equal. It?s the oxidized form of cholesterol called Lipoprotein A that causes damage to the vessels - causing heart attack and stroke. By the way, statins like Lipitor, while bringing cholesterol down, may also bring Lipoprotein A up. This might be an explanation as to why statins are so ineffective. On the other hand, according to the Jupiter study, statins worked if the level of inflammation was high. Could statins have something to do with inflammation? If so, where is this inflammation coming from?
Could it be obesity? Or maybe it?s your inflamed gums or root canal. Could it be a swollen stomach due to food allergies and/or gluten sensitivity? Or maybe it?s the lack of vitamin C that makes holes in your blood vessels, and this damages your body?s needs to patch itself with cholesterol? Could it be all of the above?
Of course, there are several types of hereditary diseases with dangerously causes high cholesterol levels, but these are conditions in which the body just cannot do it right. Then statins may be an option.
This draws us to our next conclusion: maybe instead of simply lowering cholesterol, we should look for the root cause of its elevation?
Practical tips to lower cholesterol levels without medication:
- Take care of your teeth and gums: clean your teeth regularly. See your dentist on a regular basis. Don?t forget to floss every day.
- Take enough vitamin C, provided that it is safe. You need to check your enzyme G6PD level to be sure that you have enough. Consult your doctor to see how much vitamin C you need to take.
- Stick to a Paleolithic diet: fresh organic fruits, vegetables and fish, provided that it is safe, and meats from naturally fed cattle and poultry.
- Eat as much raw food as possible provided it?s safe. Consult your doctor about what raw foods you can eat. Ideally, it should be about 70 to 80 % of the total food you eat.
- Stick to natural cholesterol and fat sources like olive oil, eggs, fish oil, avocado, nuts, etc. Avoid smoking, alcohol, caffeine, dairy, wheat products, soft drinks, artificial sweeteners and other processed foods.
5. Ray KK, Seshasai SR, Erqou S, et al. (June 2010). "Statins and all-cause mortality in high- risk primary prevention: a meta-analysis of 11 randomized controlled trials
involving 65,229 participants". Arch Intern Med 170 (12): 1024?31. doi:10.1001/ archinternmed.2010.182. PMID 20585067.
8. Reducing saturated fat in diets reduced the risk of having a cardiovascular event by 14 percent (no reduction in mortality) Reduced or modified dietary fat for preventing cardiovascular disease