Yet another dreaded diagnosis: high cholesterol. If you (or someone you know and love) has heard this one, then you’ve probably been exposed to statin drugs. You’ve maybe even been presented with them as an option to prevent high cholesterol in the future even if you don’t have it now.
Okay, okay. I’ll keep my sarcasm at bay for now. If you’ve been following along with me for any length of time, you probably already know how I feel about modern medicine’s approach to health and taking pharmaceuticals. On the whole, it’s anti-science and anti-health.
Don’t worry, I’ll prove it on the statin/cholesterol front in this article. Just keep reading.
High cholesterol is an epidemic in the US. According to the CDC, in 2015-2016, 39% (95 million) adults age 20+ had a total cholesterol over 200 mg/dL. More than 12% — 29 million adults — had a total cholesterol over 240 mg/dL. They estimate over 78 million adults could benefit from cholesterol medicine, even though only 55% (or 43 million) adults are taking it. What’s worse, 7% of children ages 6-19 also have high cholesterol.
In the same breath, they also claim that high cholesterol has no symptoms, so most people can’t tell it’s “too high” unless a blood test is run. (I’m not even going to get on that soapbox in this post. Stick around and you’ll probably hear it some other time in the future.)
What Is Cholesterol?
Before I can talk about statins, we need to discuss cholesterol. The NIH claims that high blood cholesterol is one of the major risk factors for heart disease. The medical industry had demonized cholesterol to seem like this scary molecule that runs around your body wreaking havoc and eventually killing you. But there’s so, so much more to the story.
Cholesterol is vital to health. It’s an important constituent of cell membranes, brain function, vitamin synthesis, and hormone production. A 2010 article entitled the Effects of Cholesterol on Learning and Memory reports, “Cholesterol is ubiquitous in the central nervous system (CNS) and vital to normal brain function including signaling, synaptic plasticity, and learning and memory.”
Cholesterol is so important, that your body carefully regulates its levels independent of what you eat. In fact, only 15% of the cholesterol in your body is due to dietary intake. The other 85% is produced by the liver. If your food provides an insufficient amount of cholesterol, the liver will produce more to make up for it.
When Cholesterol Is Harmful
Most people are taught to believe that there are 2 types of cholesterol: LDL and HDL. In reality, these aren’t types of cholesterol at all. These are lipoproteins (low and high-density, respectively) that transport cholesterol, among other things, throughout the body. Cholesterol can’t move through the bloodstream without transport because it’s hydrophobic.
In this system, we’re told that LDL is “bad” cholesterol and HDL is “good”. Again, this is not based on a complete understanding of biology, but rather a gross overgeneralization.
Cholesterol is only harmful to the body if it becomes oxidized. LDL is much easier to oxidize than HDL due to the structural differences, and therefore LDL is more likely to cause problems if in the presence of something that can oxidize it. Oxidized HDL is just as harmful as oxidized LDL.
Really, the conversation we need to be having is about what causes cholesterol to become oxidized. It’s really not complicated.
Toxic chemicals such as chlorine, fluoride, pesticides, and environmental pollutants can oxidize these lipoproteins. Processed and fast food contains cholesterol that’s already been oxidized so it’s introduced into your system that way.
Because cholesterol plays a critical role in cell membranes, brain function, and hormone health, among other things, damaged (oxidized) cholesterol affects each of these areas that are necessary for health. Poor heart function is an obvious repercussion of oxidized cholesterol.
However, oxidation doesn’t necessarily impact overall cholesterol levels. So to decide if there’s such a thing as “too much” cholesterol, we need to understand what roles it plays in the body.
What Does “High Cholesterol” Mean?
I’ve mentioned other ways the body uses cholesterol: cell structure, nervous system function, hormone and vitamin production. But another key function that cholesterol plays is healing inflammation.
When damage occurs in the body, cholesterol is dispatched to attend to the problem. Since cholesterol needs a transport vehicle to travel through the bloodstream to the site of inflammation, it uses lipoproteins to travel.
For this purpose, LDL is usually the preferred transport. The catch is that LDL is larger in size than HDL. So when cholesterol and other molecules are all bonded to an LDL, it can actually get bulky. If too many LDL + cholesterol groups are concentrated in one area to service the inflammation, unintended damage can occur to the surrounding tissue.
This happens when the inflammation is chronic and more and more cholesterol needs to be delivered to the area. No matter how much dietary cholesterol you consume, the body will produce what it needs in the liver. So cholesterol production in the liver can ramp up when inflammation exists.
Another reason for elevated cholesterol is increasing healthy fats in the diet, so looking at ratios in blood work is more important than the numbers alone if you’re using labs for insight.
What Are Statin Drugs?
Statin Drug: “Any one of a class of drugs that inhibit the action of an enzyme involved in the liver’s production of cholesterol.”
This class of drugs is an industry blockbuster for revenue. In 2019, Pfizer’s Lipitor made the company nearly $2 billion, just a fraction of their record-high revenue of $13 billion in 2006. They lost their patent in 2011 which significantly contributed to the drop in earnings.
In 2020, it’s estimated that the entire statin industry is worth $1 trillion.
Do Statin Drugs Work?
The purpose of a statin drug is to reduce cholesterol through inhibiting an enzyme in the liver that, among other things, produces cholesterol. So if you’re wondering whether statin drugs reduce cholesterol, the answer is “yes”.
So putting aside the previous discussion about why lowering cholesterol really isn’t a healthy goal, let’s break down what statin drugs actually do in the body and whether or not you should ever consider taking them.
The enzyme that statins inhibit is called MNG-CoA reductase. It’s involved in the synthesis of mevalonate, a precursor to sterols (such as cholesterol). In her book Death by Modern Medicine, Dr. Carolyn Dean explains, “That enzyme, however, does much more in the body than just make cholesterol, so when it is suppressed by statins there are far-ranging consequences.”
For example, this enzyme produces CoQ10, a powerful antioxidant. Without it, mitochondria take on a lot of oxidative damage which has a domino effect of implications on health in the rest of the body.
We also know that oxidized cholesterol is the real problem, and statins don’t address that at all. They only suppress the production of it in the first place. And since cholesterol is vital to so many other functions in the body, suppression of cholesterol production shows up directly in the side effects of taking statins.
Serious Side Effects
Statins were made popular due to a study done between 1968 and 1973 — dubbed the Minnesota Coronary Experiment — where one group of participants ate vegetable oils rich in linoleic acid instead of saturated fat. While the study was never published, they concluded that this group had reduced serum levels of cholesterol which they assumed was beneficial.
This data was collected, re-analyzed, and published in the BMJ in an April 2016 article entitled entitled Re-evaluation Of The Traditional Diet-Heart Hypothesis where the authors concluded, “In meta-analyses, these cholesterol lowering interventions showed no evidence of benefit on mortality from coronary heart disease.” They go on to say that the evidence, “…suggests the possibility of an increased risk of death for the intervention group…”.
The exact opposite findings that were originally reported in the 70s.
Dr. Carolyn Dean also points out in Death by Modern Medicine,
“Since the brain has the highest concentration of cholesterol in the body, it’s no wonder that the constant demand for lower and lower cholesterol counts is going to impinge on brain function. Previous studies have shown that statins can result in polyneuropathy, which causes numbness, tingling, and burning pain. Researchers showed that people taking statins were 4 to 14 times more likely to develop polyneuropathy than those who did not take statins.”
People who take statins are 4-14x more likely to develop polyneuropathy. Is this a surprise? No, because the CNS takes a massive and direct hit when your body isn’t allowed to deliver the appropriate amounts of cholesterol to it.
A study published in the American Journal of Cardiology in December 2015 entitled Statin Use and the Risk of Kidney Disease with Long-Term Follow-Up (8.4-Year Study) makes it apparent that there have been few studies on the long-term use of statins, stating, “These findings are cautionary and suggest that long-term effects of statins in real-life patients may differ from shorter term effects in selected clinical trial populations.” They go on to conclude, “…statin use is associated with increased incidence of acute and chronic kidney disease.”
The Natural Approach
It should be clear to you by now that addressing inflammation is the key to staying healthy, not cutting off your supply of cholesterol with statin drugs or avoiding eggs.
First and foremost, that means cutting out foods that come preloaded with oxidized cholesterol including fast and processed foods. The junk has to go!
From there, it’s a long-term lifestyle of keeping inflammation to a minimum and increasing antioxidants to clean up free radicals. For cholesterol, supporting the liver is also important because that’s the factory involved in producing it. A clean diet, low stress levels, and toxin free environment are the trifecta to making it happen.