Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Blaming Cholesterol is Like Blaming the Police

Statin drugs are often prescribed to lower cholesterol levels and we frequently see patients who are currently taking them.  What people might not know is that one of the common effects of taking statins, among other things is myopathy, or muscle injury.  The FDA recently issued a warning about Zocor stating that patients with myopathy "generally have muscle pain, tenderness of weakness, and an elevation of a muscle enzyme in the blood (creatine kinase)".  They also state that the higher the dose, the greater the risk of developing myopathy.

I don't prescribe drugs, but I often see patients who come in complaining of muscle pain, tenderness of weakness, for which chiropractic, rehab, and some basic nutrition are often very effective at correcting.  But I've learned to comb through the patient's history and through their prescription drug history so that we don't end up chasing side effects from medication when they are not responding like they should.

For those whose concern is lowering cholesterol and improving their LDL and HDL levels, there are safer ways to do so, and when the focus is improving health through food choices and exercise, benefits go far beyond lowering a number on one's lab work.  Blaming cholesterol for heart disease is a lot like showing up to a crime scene and blaming the police for committing the crime because they are always on the scene.  

Cholesterol has been demonized but consider this: your liver makes 80-90% of the cholesterol in your body, and dietary consumption only accounts for 10-20%. So while one might ask "how can we lower cholesterol levels?", a better question would be "why is the body keeping cholesterol levels so high?".  To answer that question, consider this:

  • Cholesterol is a vital component of the cell wall of every cell in your body and helps modulate cell membrane fluidity in the proper range, among other things
  • It is the precursor (gotta have it) steroid hormone production (like testosterone, estrogen, etc., which means that if levels are too low, you are never going to grow, repair, or heal anything)
  • It is converted to Vitamin D in the skin by UV light

The real culprit robbing health is not cholesterol, but inflammation.  Remember?

And although statin drugs may alter the numbers on your blood work, they do not decrease inflammation, and in fact place a tremendous burden on your body's systems, including the liver.  That's why many times doctors want to monitor liver enzymes when they prescribe them.  They want to make sure the liver isn't shutting down!  That's also why every ad for lowering cholesterol with statin drugs has a statement like "dietary modifications and exercise, along with (the drug) can decrease your risk for heart disease..."  Well the truth is, you could do the same with diet and exercise alone, it's just going to take a little more determination.  And if that's not enough, in the Lipitor insert, it says that it "has NOT been shown to prevent heart disease or heart attacks" (emphasis added).  For more reading check out:

Cholesterol does NOT cause heart disease

Understand that the debate over cholesterol is not over, but to be fair you've probably never heard the other side so thoroughly articulated:

Cholesterol Myths

And the author of the above page is far from alone.

I have some good print and video resources as well.  This issue is definitely one of the biggest misconceptions about health today.

-Dr. D

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