Taking a statin in order to lower cholesterol may increase the risk of type 2 diabetes by almost 40 percent. This is according to a recent study of almost 9,000 people in their 60s. Statin use was also associated with a higher risk for elevated blood sugar and insulin resistance (pre-diabetes). It didn’t seem to matter which brand of statin the subjects took, however, for those who were overweight and obese, the risk was higher.
Other research shows that, for female users, statins can increase their risk of diabetes by 50 percent. Diabetes along with high blood sugar can lead to other chronic health disorders like dementia and Alzheimer’s.
Statins most commonly prescribed drugs
Statins are one of the most commonly prescribed drugs, accounting for more than $20 billion of spending a year. In the last 20 years, the number of Americans taking statins has increased by almost 80 percent. About 25 percent of Americans who are over 40 take statins. Side effects include muscle weakness and wasting, headaches, difficulty sleeping, and dizziness.
Statins do not address the underlying cause of high cholesterol
For most people inflammation is typically the root cause of high cholesterol. While statins do lower cholesterol, they do nothing to address the underlying inflammatory issue which can damage arteries and lead to heart attacks and strokes. The body actually uses cholesterol to repair arteries damaged by inflammation.
Consider the following facts about cholesterol and heart disease:
- 75 percent of people who have heart attacks have normal cholesterol.
- Older patients with low cholesterol have a higher risk of death than those with higher cholesterol.
- Populations in other countries with higher cholesterol than Americans have less heart disease.
More than 20 million Americans suffer from hypothyroidism, a condition which raises cholesterol. Since gluten is inflammatory for so many people, those who eliminate gluten from their diet may find they also lower their cholesterol as a result.
Research indicates that low-fat, high carb diets increase the “bad” form of LDL (there are two to look at) and decrease the protective HDL.
Lowering cholesterol through functional medicine
An effective and natural way to lower cholesterol is to apply the principles of functional medicine. Rather than using drugs to block symptoms, functional medicine identifies and manages the root cause of the problem.
Management strategies include an anti-inflammatory diet, exercise, nutritional support, and a thorough investigation of the causes of inflammation. Possible culprits could be low thyroid function, autoimmune disease, bacterial or viral infections, leaky gut, poor blood-sugar handling, or other chronic health issues.
In fact, high cholesterol is often linked to a diet that includes too many processed carbohydrates and sugar rather than fat. Sugar and refined carbs, including processed white foods, reduce cholesterol and increase triglycerides. It causes low density small particles that encourage the dangerous buildup of arterial plaque. This can lead to not only heart disease, it can also create insulin resistance or “pre-diabetes.” Most heart attacks are caused not by dietary fat, but by sugar.
You still need to pay attention to the type of fat you eat. Trans fats, or hydrogenated fats, promote dangerous types of cholesterol, while omega-3 fats and monounsaturated fats improve the healthy types of cholesterol.
Measuring cholesterol players
Cholesterol is found in every cell and helps produce cell membranes, vitamin D, and hormones. It’s also necessary for healthy neurological function.
When we measure cholesterol, we are measuring HDL and LDL. These are small packages of fat and protein that help transport cholesterol throughout the body.
High-density lipoprotein — HDL
Considered “good” cholesterol, HDL helps removes excess arterial plaque.
Low-density lipoprotein — LDL
LDL can form plaque that narrows the arteries and makes them less flexible (atherosclerosis) which is why it’s called “bad” cholesterol.
This is a dangerous fat that, at high levels, can contribute to heart disease and diabetes. A diet high in sugar and processed carbs, smoking, physical inactivity, excessive drinking and being overweight can all increase triglyceride levels.
Lipoprotein (a) or Lp(a)
Lp(a) is made up of an LDL part plus a protein (apoprotein a). Elevated Lp(a) levels are a strong risk for heart disease.
When testing cholesterol, practitioners pay attention to:
- Levels of HDL “good” cholesterol versus LDL “bad” cholesterol
- Triglyceride levels
- The ratio of triglycerides to HDL
- The ratio of total cholesterol to HDL
Inflammation promotes heart disease
Most chronic health disorders, including heart disease, can be traced back to systemic inflammation. A diet high in sugars and processed carbs, a sedentary lifestyle, smoking, excessive drinking, chronic stress, gut infections, unmanaged autoimmunity, and chronic infections can all cause chronic inflammation. People with elevated systemic inflammation, which is measured by a blood marker called C-reactive protein (CRP) have a higher risk for heart disease than those with high cholesterol. Even normal cholesterol does not protect those with high CRP from the risks of heart disease.
Contact my office to learn how to address the underlying causes of high cholesterol and avoid the unpleasant side effects and dangerous risks of statins.