That was the conclusion of one of the researchers in a controversial new study which indicated that high cholesterol does not shorten life span. Previous studies have even shown a link between statins and an increased risk of diabetes.
Almost 70,000 people participated in the study with results showing that elevated levels of “bad cholesterol” did not correlate to an increased risk of early death from cardiovascular disease in people over 60.
The authors claimed that the benefits of taking statins are “exaggerated,” and the guidelines should be reviewed.
The study also found that people with high “bad” cholesterol (low-density lipoprotein, or LDL) actually had a longer life span with fewer incidences of heart disease.
According to the co-author, also a vascular surgeon, cholesterol is vital for preventing cancer, muscle pain, infection, and other health disorders in older people. He concluded that statins are a “waste of time” in terms of lowering cholesterol and asserted that lifestyle changes are far more effective at improving cardiovascular health.
The paper drew considerable criticism and its conclusions were dismissed by other experts in the field. This is understandable since statin use has increased by more than 80 percent in the last 20 years, with one in four Americans over the age of 40 taking the drug. That translates to more than $20 billion in spending each year.
Statins linked to higher risk of diabetes and other health disorders
Functional medicine practitioners recognize cholesterol as a vital compound in the body for multiple functions, including brain function and muscle strength. Overly low cholesterol can lead to an increased risk of several health disorders such as diabetes.
One study of almost 9,000 participants showed that people in their 60s who used statins had a nearly 40 percent higher risk of type 2 diabetes. They also had increased rates of high blood sugar and pre-diabetes, or insulin resistance. Other research discovered a 50 percent increased risk of diabetes for women who took statins.
High blood sugar disorders contribute to numerous chronic inflammatory conditions like Alzheimer’s and dementia.
In addition to raising the risk of high blood sugar and diabetes, statins also may cause such side effects as muscle weakness and wasting, headaches, difficulty sleeping, and dizziness.
Statins do not address the underlying cause of heart disease: Chronic inflammation
While statins may lower cholesterol, they do nothing to address the root cause of heart disease, which is typically chronic inflammation (some people are genetically predisposed to cardiovascular disease). The body uses cholesterol to repair arteries damaged by inflammation which is the primary cause of heart attacks and strokes.
In fact, the vast majority of heart attack victims show normal cholesterol levels. Low cholesterol in elderly patients has been linked to a higher risk of death compared to those with high cholesterol. And people in other countries who have higher cholesterol than Americans also have less heart disease.
Improving heart health through functional medicine instead of statins
Although the lifestyle changes necessary to improve cardiovascular health may require more effort than simply taking pills, they actually address the root causes of your disorder instead of just overriding the symptoms – without the potentially harmful side effects of drugs. This means you feel and function better overall.
Here is what a functional medicine approach to heart health looks like:
- An anti-inflammatory diet
- Releasing feel-good endorphins on a regular basis through exercise (endorphins are anti-inflammatory)
- Targeted nutritional support
- Identifying and addressing the root causes of your inflammation, which are different for everyone. Possibilities include high blood sugar, poor thyroid function, an undiagnosed autoimmune disorder, chronic bacterial, fungal, or viral infections, leaky gut, or a brain imbalance, such as from a past brain injury.
Addressing the physiology as a whole is much more helpful than merely targeting cholesterol as the problem, especially since cholesterol is vital to good health. It is found in every cell and helps produce cell membranes, vitamin D, and hormones. It’s also necessary for healthy brain function.
Inflammation promotes heart disease
Chronic inflammation is the real concerning factor in heart disease – not cholesterol. It can be identified by the blood marker C-reactive protein (CRP). High CRP increases the risk of heart disease even more than high cholesterol. However, normal cholesterol won’t protect you from heart disease if you have elevated CRP.
Following the principles of functional medicine lowers inflammation and improves heart health while avoiding the dangers and risks of using statins. Contact my office to learn more.
Here are some additional blog posts on cholesterol and cardiovascular disease: