Statins are pharmaceutical medications that are often prescribed to diminish the production of cholesterol in the liver to prevent coronary heart disease (heart attacks. angina, heart failure). The recent ACCELERATE trial showed that another lipid lowering medication, evacetrapib, can potentially lower LDL (bad cholesterol) significantly and raise high density lipoprotein cholesterol (good cholesterol). Despite the fact that it does lower bad cholesterol and raises good cholesterol, this medication did not show any protection from cardiovascular events in a high-risk population with coronary disease.[i] In other words, the premise that taking care of cholesterol alone would protect patients from heart disease is very limited.
The hypothesis that lowering cholesterol would help diminish atherosclerotic plaque in the arteries has been debated for many years since the nineties. [ii] Cholesterol molecules are partially what constitutes the plaque of the arteries. The idea is that if there is more cholesterol found in the plaque, it can potentially get larger which can compromise function, form and work of blood vessels. That is why cholesterol lowering medication, such as statins, have become a standard therapy for aging population to prevent cardiovascular events such as stroke and heart attacks. Thus, we blame cholesterol and fight to lower it with the help of medications.
Is cholesterol all that bad?
Cholesterol is essential for life as a key component of cell membranes, steroid hormones and bile acids. Also, when we interfere with production of some vital substance in the body, we are bound to cause long term side effects. In the case of statins, these include but are not limited to muscular pain, muscular damage, liver damage, increased blood sugar and development of type 2 diabetes.[iii]
As naturopaths, we always look at the whole person following one of our principles. Thus, with patients who are at risk for coronary heart conditions and cardiovascular events, other factors should always be taken into account: extra weight, diabetes, other health conditions, sedentary life style, work stressors, unhealthy food choices and relationship with food, interaction of other medications (so called polypharmacy), living situation, and emotional environment.
Taking into consideration Four Pillars of Healthy Living (Sleep, Nutrition, Movement and Mindfulness), a patient has a chance to diminish his or her chances of heart disease, heart attacks, heart failures and strokes.
There are a number of natural substances (herbs, nutritional supplements, diet, homeopathy) that help improve digestion, detoxification, diminish insulin resistance, bring body weight into balance which can all help to have a healthier heart and blood vessels.
[i] Nicholls SJ, Lincoff A, Barter P, et al. Late-Breaking Clinical Trials II. The ACCELERATE trial: impact of the cholesteryl ester transfer protein inhibitor evacetrapib on cardiovascular outcome. Presented at the 65th Annual Scientific Session and Expo of the American College of Cardiology; April 2–4, Chicago, IL. 2016.
[ii] Robert DuBroff, Cholesterol Paradox: A Correlate Does Not A Surrogate make, Evid Based Med. 2017;22(1):15-19.