Second, What You Can Do Instead of Taking Statins (February 23, 2016)
Allow me first to review a couple of points from last time. Then I will recite a list of items that have been found to effectively lower cholesterol naturally. Don’t skip this first part, because there might be a pop quiz at the end of today's newsletter.
Cholesterol in the blood is found in a number of different forms. The form known as “LDL-C” is just one of them. But, of all of them, LDL-C can be referred to childishly but accurately as “Bad Cholesterol” because it raises the risk of heart disease. And it is also the molecule targeted by statin drugs.
It happens that even if there is a lot of Bad Cholesterol in your blood, there are a couple of other substances there as well that act to mitigate its effects (like HDL, the function of which is to actually clean your blood and the walls of your arteries of LDL-C). If the numbers for said substances are in good enough shape, you are too. So make sure, before you start getting worked up about your Bad Cholesterol, that it's really that Bad.
If after all that you’re still being read the riot act about your cholesterol, it does not mean that you have to take statins. Because statins DO NOT EXTEND YOUR LIFE UNLESS YOU ALREADY HAVE CARDIOVASCULAR DISEASE. Before that comes upon you (and even after, but that’s another topic) there’s plenty else besides taking drugs that you can do to improve those numbers – and, not so incidentally, your overall health as well.
Some of these measures will be of more benefit to your health than others. Also, there are other supplements that target aspects of heart disease different from Bad Cholesterol. There are beneficial changes that can be made to the diet that affect things other than Bad Cholesterol -- and some of said "things" may be even more important in the development of heart disease than is Bad Cholesterol. But today all I want to do is list some natural options to lower Bad Cholesterol.
These options are not discussed in nearly enough detail for you to be able to put them into practice. Each of them, however, has solid evidence supporting it, which is why it is here. I just want to give you an idea of what else is out there that might work for you.
-- The Pritikin Program of diet and exercise will lower Bad Cholesterol up to 23%, and it can do it within three weeks. It lowers blood triglycerides and blood pressure and reduces the risk of heart disease and diabetes as well. As a matter of fact, it works well enough overall to reverse heart disease.
This particular lifestyle modification has been around since the 1950s. It is named after Nathan Pritikin, the American businessman and inventor who designed it. He and his adherents were mocked as food cultists for decades. Then Dr. Dean Ornish stole all his ideas, presented them as his own and was hailed as a genius. Go figure.
Regarding diet generally, trans fats definitely raise Bad Cholesterol and are unquestionably Evil. Saturated fats also raise blood cholesterol but are not demonized the way they used to because they also have upsides. Like I said, I don’t have nearly enough room to discuss the Pritikin and other cholesterol-lowering diets, or diets and fats in general, in any detail. I just want you to know how very effective addressing diet can be.
I do want to mention here that a diet that lowers cholesterol is NOT the same thing as a “low cholesterol diet” (meaning one in which you avoid eating foods with cholesterol in them). Your liver makes most of the cholesterol circulating in your body, and lowering the amount of cholesterol that you eat doesn’t matter for most people. So why are people still being put on low-cholesterol diets by their doctors? Again, go figure.
Exercise alone isn’t too swift at lowering cholesterol. It does help if you’re already on a beneficial diet, though.
-- Red yeast rice is not a myth. It does work to lower Bad Cholesterol, and by about 20% too, if you take 1200 to 3000 mg daily. It takes two to six months to really get going, but what’s the hurry? You haven’t got heart problems yet.
The trick is that most red yeast rice supplements have very little of the cholesterol-lowering compounds in them. ConsumerLab says that of the brands they tested, only Nature's Plus Herbal Actives Red Yeast Rice and Thorne Research Choleast had adequate amounts.
-- Niacin/vitamin B3 (but only in the form of nicotinic acid) lowers Bad Cholesterol 10% to 20%. It also raises good cholesterol, lowers triglycerides and reduces the risk of heart attacks. (Fun fact – niacin is what was used to lower blood cholesterol before statins came along.) 1500-2000 mg daily is the dose, which is huge and makes it no longer a supplement but a drug. You should have your blood tested every six months if you’re taking niacin in those kinds of doses. But if you take statins, you're going to have to do that anyway.
-- Losing 10 pounds will lower your Bad Cholesterol by about 10% if you’re overweight to begin with.
-- Phytosterols seem to be the cool new supplement to lower Bad Cholesterol. They are plant extracts and interestingly are thought to work by keeping cholesterol from being absorbed by the intestinal tract. (If eating cholesterol doesn’t raise blood cholesterol for most people, then, why would these work? Hell if I could find out.) Anyway, good research says that 2000 mg a day will lower Bad Cholesterol by about 8% and 3500 mg a day will lower it about 12%.
-- Garlic. A clove a day will lower Bad Cholesterol up to 9%. If you take the aged garlic, it doesn’t leave any lingering odor. Or you can take it in the evening to get around that little downside as well, and have your breath minty fresh by morning. After you brush your teeth, anyway.
-- Psyllium/Metamucil can lower Bad Cholesterol from 7% to 11%. It takes about ten grams per day for at least eight weeks to start getting the effect. Ten grams is a whole lot more Metamucil than it sounds like, by the way. But it works and I never heard of Metamucil getting anyone in any trouble.
-- Some foods have Bad Cholesterol-lowering effects, if you eat enough of them. For example, two ounces of nuts a day, or 25 grams of soy protein, will both lower Bad Cholesterol about 5%;
And Statins? Well, THEY lower Bad Cholesterol 40%-60%, which is mind blowing. It’s clear why doctors are so enamored of them. But they also cause serious muscle issues in about 10% of the people who take them, not to mention increasing the risk of liver disease and of diabetes. I don't know about you, but that ends my own romantic mood right there. I say stay away from the nasty things unless they are REALLY going to help you a LOT. In other words, don't take them just so you can keep eating Fat Mo’s Super Deluxe Burgers.
Here's today's quiz:
Question: What's going to happen to the doctors who condemned millions of their patients to heart attacks and strokes because they spent 30 years pooh-pooh’ing the Pritikin Program without ever bothering to find out whether or not it really worked?
Answer: Not a damned thing. So remember that you've got to look after your own health and not take any expert's advice for granted, ever.
Again, research any of these options further before you try it. And good luck to you!
--dr. diane holmes
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