Heart Disease And The Cholesterol Myth

It has been thought that elevated cholesterol causes death from heart attacks and strokes. Once cholesterol was identified as the enemy, a full scale war was launched to reduce cholesterol levels no matter the cost. Some drug companies have even gone so far as to suggest that statin (cholesterol lowering) drugs should be added to our water supply like fluoride!

Cholesterol

High Cholesterol? (Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

Cholesterol Does Not Cause Heart Disease

But is cholesterol actually the CAUSE of heart disease? Real medical research (not just research funded by the pharmaceutical industry) suggests otherwise.  So what should you do if you have heart disease, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, or simply want to avoid this life threatening disease?

This is well known by the medical industry, as demonstrated by this video from from a recent CBS This Morning Broadcast:

Some cholesterol drugs may not lower heart attack risk, study says

Interestingly, while the medical doctor interviewed in this video confirmed that statin drugs do not lower risk of heart attacks, he did not have an answer to the question of: ‘what does lower the risk?

Cholesterol Lowering Drugs Are Useless!

Cholesterol lowering drugs, such as statins, are among the best-selling drugs in history. Statin drugs are also quite effective at lowering cholesterol. But does that mean that they are beneficial?  Do statin drugs actually prevent heart attacks, strokes, and death?  This Businessweek article (found here) reports on the research of Dr. James M. Wright:

He found no benefit in people over the age of 65, no matter how much their cholesterol declines, and no benefit in women of any age.”(1)

No benefit in women of any age – meaning that there is no scientific support for prescribing cholesterol lowering drugs to women of any age!

Continuing, the article states:

He did see a small reduction in the number of heart attacks for middle-aged men taking statins in clinical trials. But even for these men, there was no overall reduction in total deaths or illnesses requiring hospitalization—despite big reductions in “bad” cholesterol.”(1)

So, even while these drugs do what they are supposed to do chemically – lower cholesterol – they have little to no clinical benefit in reducing heart attacks and deaths.  In fact, independent research shows that, at best, 1 in 250 people are likely to benefit from taking statin drugs – 0.4%!  So why are these statistics not reported?

Manipulating The Data

The actual effectiveness of a drug is often reported in scientific literature using a factor called NNT(2), which stands for ‘number needed to treat’ (for one person to benefit).  The NNT is calculated by dividing the number of people treated by the number of people who benefited.

For example, if a particular drug was given to 100 people and 90 of those people experienced a clinical benefit, that drugs NNT would be 1.1 (100 divided by 90).  A very good NNT, demonstrating strong clinical benefit of that drug.  Conversely, if a drug had an NNT of 11.1, that would indicate that only 9 people out of 100 showed a clinical benefit. That would be horrible!  So, the lower the NNT, the more beneficial the drug, the higher the NNT, the less beneficial the drug.

Most consumers might expect NNT close to 1 or 2. But, to put things into perspective, most commonly prescribed drugs, considered effective and beneficial have NNTs in the 20s and higher.

A recent Lipitor newspaper ad claimed 36% fewer heart attacks in patients taking Lipitor versus those taking a placebo (sugar pill).  While that doesn’t even sound very good to me, diving into the actual study results shows very dismal benefits.  What the study actually showed, is that over a period of 3 ½ years, there was 1 fewer heart attack out of every 100 people taking Lipitor versus the placebo (2% versus 3%).  This translates into an NNT of 100!

In other words, in Pfizer’s own study, they showed that 100 people would have to be treated with Lipitor for at least 3 ½ years to prevent 1 heart attack!

The Real Research Results

Independent research showed even worse results with NNTs ranging from 250 to nearly infinite. This indicates no clinical benefit at all. So, statin drugs, in general, do not prevent heart attacks and strokes, despite their ability to lower cholesterol and triglycerides. Drug industry critic and professor of clinical medicine at UCLA, Dr. Jerome R. Homan put it this way:

What if you put 250 people in a room and told them they would each pay $1,000 a year for a drug they would have to take every day, that many would get diarrhea and muscle pain, and that 249 would have no benefit? And that they could do just as well by exercising? How many would take that?”(1)

Are Statin Drugs Safe?

Some drug companies have proposed that, despite the ridiculously high NNTs, people with elevated cholesterol levels should continue to take cholesterol lowering drugs for the rest of their lives anyway.  Is this even a safe idea?

Cholesterol lowering drugs come with many side effects that most people will experience due to the fact that they are prescribed for the rest of your life.  Mild side effects of statins, as reported by WebMD (3), include: headaches,difficulty sleeping, flushing of the skin ,muscle aches, tenderness, or weakness (myalgia), drowsiness, dizziness, nausea and/or vomiting, abdominal cramping and/or pain, bloating and/or gas, diarrhea, constipation, and rash.

However, statins also cause liver damage, neuropathy, severe joint pain, ligament and tendon rupture, muscle wasting, depression and even heart failure. Yes, that’s right, statin drugs, rather than preventing heart disease, may stop your heart altogether!

Statin drugs work by inhibiting a vital enzyme that manufactures cholesterol in the liver. This process also stops your body’s production of CoQ10.  CoQ10 is also called ubiquinol because it is ubiquitous – it is found and used everywhere in your body. CoQ10 is a biochemical needed to transfer energy from food to our cells to be used for the work of staying alive! It is also an antioxidant which helps to reduce inflammation and protects you from cancer and aging. CoQ10 is the primary building block for the cells of your brain and nervous system! The blocking of CoQ10 production is responsible for many of the damaging side effects of statin drugs.

Statin Drugs Increase Risk of Heart Attacks!

Cholesterol and Heart Disease

Image courtesy of ddpavumba at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Ironically cholesterol drugs actually increase risk of heart attacks. Researchers in Hull, UK followed 114 heart failure patients who began taking cholesterol lowering drugs.(6)

They found that for every point of decrease in serum cholesterol, there was a 36% increase in the risk of death within three years.”(7)

The bottom line is that regardless of how well a drug lowers your cholesterol levels, there is little to no evidence that lower cholesterol levels prevent heart attacks. Further, they come with some very serious and dangerous side effects.

Dr. John Abramson, clinical instructor at Harvard Medical School and author of Overdosed America said:

We should tell patients that the reduced cardiovascular risk will be replaced by other serious illnesses.”(1)

If Cholesterol Is Not The Enemy, What Is It?

Cholesterol is a soft, waxy, fat-like substance made by the liver and found in every cell of your body.(4)  Your body uses cholesterol to manufacture many hormones such as estrogen, testosterone, and cortisone. Cholesterol is also necessary for your body to make vitamin D and bile acid (used to digest fats).

Cholesterol travels through the blood vessels in several different forms.  The two most common are HDL (high-density lipoprotein) and LDL (low-density lipoprotein).  HDL is a more compact, smaller molecule that helps transport other fats – necessary for building healthy cells – through your arteries.  LDL gets the bad rap as “bad cholesterol” because it is a bigger molecule and doesn’t move as well through the arteries. Therefore, it is more likely to build-up in already-damaged arteries and cause plaquing.

60 percent of your brain and nerve tissue is made of cholesterol. If you lower cholesterol with drugs, the brain and nerve tissues begin to deteriorate. <–Tweet This!

As a result, this will deplete serotonin(5) uptake sites, decreasing serotonin and causing depression.

As you can see, cholesterol is a compound vital to many of your body’s functions.  In fact, it is impossible to express normal health and full wellness when cholesterol metabolism is interrupted.

Left With More Questions…

What raises your cholesterol levels?

What should you do about high cholesterol and triglycerides  without damaging your health in the process?

And, if cholesterol doesn’t cause heart disease, then what does?

I will address these questions in the next article.

 

References:

(1) http://www.businessweek.com/stories/2008-01-16/do-cholesterol-drugs-do-any-good

(2) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Number_needed_to_treat

(3) http://www.webmd.com/cholesterol-management/side-effects-of-statin-drugs

(4) http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/hbc/

(5) http://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/199505/the-cholesterol-conundrum

(6) Clark AL and others. J Am Coll Cardiol 2003;42:1933-1943.

(7) http://www.westonaprice.org/cardiovascular-disease/dangers-of-statin-drugs

Chiropractic Physician

My mission is to help you Achieve Wellness! I am a Chiropractic physician with a focus on delivering the principles of a wellness lifestyle to people of all ages through whole-person wellness education.