If you haven't guessed by now, the class of drugs I'm talking about is statins. I covered the considerable health risks posed by statin drugs, as well as detailed statistics (including sources and research studies) on their lack of effectiveness, in a previous post - feel free to check that out for more information.
However, none of these many concerns comprise my biggest problem with statin drugs.
My biggest problem with them is the same one that I have with most other drugs prescribed today, and for that matter, with the entire modern medicine machine...
If you've done any reading about cholesterol at all, you probably know by now that cholesterol is produced by your body for a number of important reasons. One is that it makes up the bulk of your brain tissue, as well as the lenses of your eyes, and the walls of virtually all the cells in your body! (This is why many studies are now linking increased use of statin drugs with our startling increase in the incidence of degenerative brain diseases like Alzheimer's, ALS, and MS. )
You may have heard that cholesterol molecules are "sticky." Your doctor may have told you this is why they are clogging up your arteries - but this is only part of the truth. Besides the reasons listed above, cholesterol is also produced by your liver in order to repair damaged cells within your body. Think of cholesterol as your body's form of "spackle." When there are weak areas in your arteries or cell walls, your body sends extra cholesterol into your blood to go and patch them up. Cholesterol sticks to these abrasions to help them heal. The problem occurs when there are so many damaged areas that your body keeps producing more and more cholesterol, and the cholesterol molecules start to stick to each other and "pile up" inside your arteries.
Before you know it, you're visiting the doctor and he's telling you that you have a blocked artery in your heart and you need bypass surgery. He puts in a stent, and sends you home to recover. But 2 years later, you're back on the operating table, because now the stent itself is plugged with cholesterol! To keep this from happening again (hopefully), the doctor puts you on a statin drug for the rest of your life.
And guess what? It works! Well, at least, it lowers the amount of cholesterol circulating in your blood.... What it doesn't do is fix the problem.
Remember, your body produces cholesterol for a reason - to fix the damage that was occurring! Now your body has less "spackle" available to patch the holes. And remember your brain and cell walls all need adequate cholesterol to function properly. So your body must allocate the remaining cholesterol to what it sees as the most important areas. When resources are scarce, some of your bodily systems that depend on cholesterol to function properly will start to suffer.
Perhaps your vision starts to go, as the lenses of your eyes are deprived of the cholesterol they need, and begin to stiffen or develop cataracts. Or maybe your memory starts to get foggy, as your brain begins to slowly deteriorate.
Not to mention, you are still just as much at risk of dying from a stroke or heart attack as ever! (But at least you don't have high cholesterol anymore, right??)
So if statin drugs are not the solution, then what is? How can you lower your cholesterol without resorting to popping these dangerous (and largely ineffective) pills?
Any doctor worth his or her salt will tell you there are numerous ways to get your cholesterol under control without taking a statin drug (if they don't, find a new doctor)! High cholesterol, after all, like high blood pressure and diabetes, is what's called a "lifestyle disease." And yes, that does mean if you want to change your health, you will have to change your lifestyle. (Apparently this is not something most Americans are willing to do, and we are seeing the results of this in the out-of-control increase in these types of diseases over the past few decades.)
But before we discuss how to effectively accomplish this, first we need to look at what is causing the problem to begin with. The bottom line is, your body is producing cholesterol in an attempt to solve a problem. So what is causing the problem that it's trying to fix?
In fact, it has been a recognized scientific fact for at least a decade now that inflammation is the culprit behind many - if not most - of today's diseases. Inflammation occurs when your immune system fires up to combat a threat. Due to either an injury, or an invading pathogen, your body releases waves of various types of cells designed to overwhelm the invaders, or provide extra blood flow and heat to heal and repair damaged areas, and remove waste products.
In a healthy body, this is a good thing! This is how cuts and infections heal. But the problem occurs when this becomes a chronic condition. When there are so many toxins, waste products, and damaged cells in your body that it feels it's under constant attack, and the immune response begins firing all the time, this is when chronic inflammation begins. And chronic inflammation is no joke. Not only does it stress all of your bodily systems, but it can even begin to break down your organs and cells.
Does this process sound familiar? If so, it is. Chronic inflammation is similar to high cholesterol in the fact that both initially begin as proper functions of the body in order to take care of itself and heal problems before they spiral out of control. Both then become their own problems, as our bodies are overwhelmed by the harmful things we do to them daily. And one leads to the other. As ongoing inflammation begins to take its toll, cholesterol comes along to patch up the damage - and as described above, if the damage is ongoing, the excess cholesterol only adds to the problem.
So what is the solution? Just as blowing the smoke out of a burning house isn't going to solve the real problem, just trying to lower your cholesterol levels won't really help your health either. You've got to start with the fire.
Inflammation is caused by a lot of things, but there are some causes that are easy to both recognize and control. Here are just a few of the most common causes of chronic inflammation:
- Drinking alcohol
- Eating inflammatory foods (refined carbohydrates, sugar, processed vegetable oils and artificial trans fats, or anything you have an allergy or sensitivity to - gluten and pasteurized dairy are two of the most common culprits)
- Not exercising enough (exercise increases blood flow and removes inflammatory toxins from the body)
- Exposure to chemicals (MANY chemicals have a very inflammatory effect on the body; while it's impossible to avoid them all in today's modern world, choosing all-natural and organic products to use on your body and around the home is a good start)
- Stress (again, while it's probably not possible to avoid stress entirely, stress management techniques such as meditation, prayer, deep breathing exercises, and physical exercise can work wonders at reducing the negative effects of stress on your body)
If you make better choices in all of the areas above (where applicable) for at least 6 months (a year will be better, especially if you have had chronic ongoing health issues), you should see a positive difference in both your overall health, and your cholesterol levels.
Lastly, I suggest that if your doctor ever prescribes you a statin drug without recommending you address the points above for at least 6 months first, find a new doctor! There are some great doctors out there; unfortunately, far too many resort to prescribing pills instead of addressing the underlying causes of your health problems. Do your homework, educate yourself, and find a doctor who is focused on prevention first, and who will help you to explore your options for better health, instead of just sticking a band-aid over it and ignoring the real issue.
To your good health!
* Please note: I am not a doctor nor a healthcare provider of any kind, nor do I play one on TV. You should not stop taking a drug without first discussing it with your doctor or other qualified healthcare professional. Use this as a starting point to begin educating yourself about the topic, but please don't take this blog post as medical advice.