Cholesterol and the “Statin” Drugs – What you Need to Know


We are in the midst of an epidemic.  It is thought by some that soon almost half the population will be on some sort of cholesterol lowering medication.  It used to be that only people with very high cholesterol and a history of heart disease were put on a drug like Lipitor.  Then, people with just moderately elevated numbers and no history were being recommended to use the drug.  Now, even people with completely normal levels are being told that they should think about it – “just to be safe”. 


Speaking of “safe” – just how safe, and necessary,  are these drugs?  And, how safe are very low cholesterol levels?  Some people taking these drugs have their total cholesterol lowered to 150 or lower.  New research sheds some light on both of these topics, and the results aren’t pretty. 


Low cholesterol levels have long been tied with mental and emotional symptoms.  Cholesterol levels are known to affect serotonin levels.  Serotonin is the brain chemical that is thought to be behind most cases of depression.  Low Cholesterol levels, under 170 or so, have been shown to cause low serotonin levels.  Low serotonin levels have been tied to depression, impulse violence, suicide, and aggressive behavior.  In fact, a French study in 1996 found low cholesterol to be linked to suicide.  A study in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine found that low cholesterol levels in men were linked with higher depression scores.


Even more scary is the recently presented report at the 24th American Heart Assoc. Conference on Stroke which found that cholesterol levels under 180 were linked with a 2x greater incidence of hemorrhagic stroke (stroke from a blood vessel bursting in your brain) compared to those who had levels around 220.  I think that this is just the tip of the iceberg.  Doctors are taking their patient’s cholesterol levels lower and lower, and there is a general feeling that “lower is better”  But what do we know about what happens to the body when cholesterol levels are held down for decades?  The answer is that we don’t know, but we’re going to find out soon.  Just as Vioxx, most recently, was ultimately found to increase the risk of death, I think that the same will be true of the inappropriate use of cholesterol-lowering medications once we have large amounts of people being on them for 15-20 years. 


Furthermore, it has been known for years that “statin” type drugs, such as Lipitor, interfere with the body’s ability to produce something called, CoQ-10.  CoQ-10 is an enzyme that acts like fuel for the cells of the body, especially the muscle cells, and most especially the muscle cells of the heart, where the highest concentration of CoQ-10 occurs in the body.  With insufficient amounts of CoQ-10, the heart muscle can not perform to its optimal level and eventually, degeneration is seen.  In fact, M.D.’s have already started to see cases of people where heart muscle has started to deteriorate from being on statin drugs.  The well-regarded researcher Peter Langsjoen, M.D. writes about this in medical journals.  Without a doubt, every single person on any type of statin drug needs to be taking 100-200mg of CoQ-10 per day to protect against heart muscle damage.


In light of these aforementioned findings, just how necessary and effective are these statin medications?  As it turns out, total cholesterol levels have very, very little to do with heart disease and risk of heart attack.  A study in the journal, Circulation, showed this to be so.  What is much more important are the way that your cholesterol breaks down.  The HDL/Total Cholesterol ratio is important.  Divide you Total cholesterol by your HDL and multiply by 100.  If the number is 25-35, you are in good shape.  If the number is 40 or above, that is fantastic.  If the number is 20 or lower, your risk of heart disease is significantly elevated.  Also important is to divide your Triglycerides by the HDL.  The value should be less than 2.  Also, we now know that inflammation and homocysteine levels are much more closely correlated with heart disease and heart attack than cholesterol, so you should have those number check as well.  We tend to look at inflammation by a blood test called C-reactive protein. 


If you do need to bring your cholesterol levels down, or improve your ratios, most people can achieve this though diet, exercise and maybe some natural supplements to help things along.  Policosanol, Red yeast rice, garlic and niacin are some of the more popular supplements for improving cholesterol.  I encourage you to look into this yourself and talk to your doctor about exactly why your are on your medication.  If your cholesterol is above 290 without medication, you may not be able to get around using these drugs.  Anything under that, however, should be first treated with diet, exercise and supplements first.  In my opinion, optimal total cholesterol levels should be around 190-220.  Good Luck!

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