All about cholesterol

Prescription of statins for lowering cholesterol has become more and more widespread, but latest recommendations are that healthy people should not routinely be taking them. NICE (The National Institute for Clinical Excellence) recommends them for people who have a 20 per cent greater chance of developing heart disease within 10 years.

The latest study published in The Cochrane Library claims that there wasn’t enough evidence to suggest that statins should be taken by those who aren’t at risk.  Statins bring a variety of side-effects with them which have been reported as headaches, dizziness, fatigue, swelling of the ankles,  liver problems, kidney failure and muscle weakness.

 Vinciane Ollington,  one of Healthy Soul’s experts, explains the role of cholesterol in the body:

‘There are many myths that portray fat and cholesterol as one of the worst foods you can consume. These myths are actually harming your health.’

What is cholesterol, and why do you need it?

Cholesterol is a lipoprotein – fats combined with proteins which is found in every cell in your body, where it helps to produce cell membranes, hormones, vitamin D and bile acids. It is also vital for neurological function. Your liver makes about 75 percent of your body’s cholesterol.

According to conventional medicine, there are two types of cholesterol:
1. High-density lipoprotein (HDL), the “good” cholesterol, removes excess cholesterol from your arteries.
2. Low-density lipoprotein (LDL), the “bad” cholesterol, circulates in your blood and may build up in your arteries, forming plaque that makes your arteries narrow and less flexible. If a clot forms in one of these narrowed arteries leading to your heart or brain, a heart attack or stroke may result.

When HDL, the “good” cholesterol, takes cholesterol from your body’s tissues and arteries, it brings it back to your liver. It goes back to your liver because your body is trying to make and conserve the cholesterol for the precise reason that it is so essential to life. If the purpose of this was to eliminate cholesterol from your body, it would make sense that the cholesterol would be shuttled back to your kidneys or intestines so that your body could remove it.

Cholesterol and inflammation – what’s the connection?

If your arteries are damaged, cholesterol is necessary in order to replace your damaged cells. This results in a “scar” forming in your artery which is known as plaque. This plaque, along with the thickening of your blood and constricting of your blood vessels that normally occur during any inflammatory process, can indeed increase your risk of high blood pressure and heart attacks.

It is sadly quite common for damage to occur in your body on a regular basis. In this case, you are in a dangerous state of chronic inflammation. Instead of looking at the cause of chronic inflammation, conventional medicine looks at the effect (the increased cholesterol circulating in your bloodstream to repair your arteries) and conclude that cholesterol is the cause of heart attacks.

Where is the wisdom in lowering cholesterol?

If you have increased levels of cholesterol, it is at least in part because of increased inflammation in your body. The cholesterol is there to do a job: help your body heal and repair. It does not seem very wise to merely lower the cholesterol and forget about why it is there in the first place. It would seem much smarter to reduce the extra need for the cholesterol, the reason for the chronic inflammation.

As cholesterol is essential for the good functioning of your body, all kind of nasty things can happen if your cholesterol is too low. These range from depressive symptoms and violent behaviour to higher risk of various chronic diseases. An optimum level of cholesterol would be around 200 mg/dL (5.12 mmol/L).

The adverse effects of statins
Statin drugs work by inhibiting an enzyme in your liver that is needed to manufacture cholesterol. Side effects of statins include an increased risk of polyneuropathy (nerve damage that causes pain in the hands and feet and trouble walking), dizziness, memory loss, decreased function of the immune system, depression and liver problems, including a potential increase in liver enzymes.

Statins also happen to deplete your body of Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10), beneficial to heart health and muscle function. This depletion can lead to fatigue, muscle weakness, soreness, and eventually heart failure.

It makes more sense to lower inflammation, and thereby the risk of heart disease, naturally by adopting a healthy diet and lifestyle. Sadly rather than educating their patients, doctors choose the easier option of prescribing a cholesterol lowering drug….. for life.    Vinciane Ollington, MSc, LCH, MARH

Supplements that lower cholesterol

Dr John Briffa in his book, Ultimate Health A-Z, and renowned nutritionist Patrick Holford suggest that  Niacin (a form of Vitamin B3) can be helpful in  lowering cholesterol, but you need the ‘no blush’ niacin or you can get a kind of ‘hot flush’ in your face when taking it.  Eskimos are very healthy despite their high cholesterol diet, so eating fish all the time is obviously good for your health –  Omega 3 fish oils can have the effect of lowering LDL cholesterol. Patrick Holford also claims in his book, New Optimum Nutrition Bible, that statins block the production in the body of COQ10 (Co-enzyme Q10) which is essential for the healthy functioning of the heart.  These books are available at Amazon (see below).

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See our article on Soya Good for Cholesterol

Further reading

– Trick and Treat by Barry Groves
– The Great Cholesterol Con: The Truth about what really causes heart disease and how to avoid it
by Malcolm Kendrick
– Put your heart in your mouth by Dr Natasha Campbell-McBride

Click on the Amazon carousel on the home page to order these books

A nation of pill poppers

tablets on spoon‘Too many medications and not enough health,’ says Professor Clare Gerada, GP and former chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP). No-one could deny that for many people medication is a life-saver, and there are genuine reasons to take drugs for specific conditions. However, the fact that 50 per cent of British women and 43 per cent of men are taking prescription drugs is quite shocking, and it has to be asked, are they really necessary?

The NHS is spending more than £15 billion a year on doling out drugs, according to the latest Health Survey for England, and as we know it is a cash-strapped service. This doesn’t even include the amount it costs to provide contraceptives and nicotine replacement therapy to help people to give up smoking.

The average number of prescriptions per person in the UK is around 19 a year, yet some people don’t take any drugs. The most heavily-prescribed drugs are statins to lower cholesterol, followed by aspirin and other painkillers, and drugs to reduce blood pressure. When people reach 65 the chances are that they are taking three lots of medication and when they get to 75 this doubles to six.

There are reports of older people being on so much medication that they need a large carrier bag to transport the tablets. When someone gets to this point they are taking medicines to counteract the side-effects of the others, and so it goes on.

One in nine British women takes anti-depressants, and the sad thing is that while many people would benefit from counselling or therapy, it takes so long to get an appointment on the NHS, that many are not getting the help they need.
According to Professor Clare Gerada, ‘We are over-treating and over-diagnosing. I’m being asked in the consulting room to medicate great swathes of the population. We know that almost everyone over 50 is being told to go on a statin.
‘The more medicines you take, the more contact you have with health services, the less well you feel. Do the things that make you feel better – lose weight, take exercise, don’t smoke and moderate drinking.’
Read our article:  Cholesterol – are statins the only answer?  and Coping with Depression.


Cholesterol – are statins the only answer?

StatinsRecent guidelines suggested that 4.5 million more people should be offered statins, in addition to the 13 million people who are already eligible. They stipulate that people who have a 10 per cent risk of a heart attack in the next 10 years should be offered statins, as opposed to current guidelines of a 20 per cent risk.

But there was recent furore when a group of eminent doctors complained that eight out of the panel of 12 at NICE (the National Institute for Clinical Excellence) who decides these matters, had links to the pharmaceutical industry.

So a recent debate, Bringing down cholesterol: are statins the only answer? run by the Guild of Health Writers and involving five medical professionals should prove interesting and enlightening. People are often confused about statins – some believe they’re a good thing and that everyone over 50 should take them. Others won’t take them for fear of side-effects and because they don’t believe that mass medication should be used as prevention. So if the public are confused what about the professionals?

Professor Darrel Francis, Professor of Cardiology at the Faculty of Medicine, National Heart & Lung Institute, Imperial College,  has claimed that for a 35 year old man taking a statin is more effective than wearing a seat belt. He didn’t claim to be an expert on cholesterol, however, but quoted the statistics that taking  statins can extend your life. When asked if he advised patients to change to a  healthy diet, he said he did not tend to give that kind of advice.

Dr Aseem Malhotra’s, Consultant Cardiologist and Consultant Clinical, Associate to the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges, claim to fame is that he said that junk food in hospitals should be banned – a fairly reasonable concept. He explained that 60 per cent of UK adults were either overweight or obese, and that the figure would be 90 per cent by 2050. He said that poor diet caused more deaths than smoking and inactivity combined.
He urges people to take up the Mediterranean diet, which means eating fruit and vegetables, wholegrains, beans, pulses and nuts, using olive oil instead of butter, lots of herbs and spices, not adding salt. Red meat should be only eaten once a week and fish and poultry should be at least twice a week, but you can drink red wine in moderation!

Dr Malhotra was one of the doctors who wrote an open letter to the Chairman of NICE and the Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt , about the new guidelines for statins. These doctors claimed that eight out of the 12 people on the NICE panel ‘had links to the pharmaceutical industry’.

The side-effects of statins quoted by Dr Malhotra were:

• Muscle symptoms
• Liver inflammation
• Increased risk of diabetes
• Inflammation of the nasal passage
• Allergic reactions
• Nausea, constipation, wind, indigestion, diarrhoea.

On the same theme, Dr Malcolm Kendrick, Scottish GP and  the author of The Great Cholesterol Con (see below) claims that it’s a myth that high cholesterol causes heart disease. He said that the Japanese eat saturated fat to reduce cholesterol, and he also claimed that high levels of cholesterol were protective against dementia.

Needless to say the eminent medical professionals did not agree with each other, and maybe this is why there is so much difference of opinion among the general public.

COQ10 counteracts statin side-effects

tablets on spoonCholesterol-lowering statins not only inhibit cholesterol, but also an important compound called coenzyme Q10, which is responsible for generating energy in the “powerhouses” (mitochondria) of cells, especially muscle cells. This is is what causes muscle pain and impaired glucose tolerance in some patients, according to the study.

When muscle cells are not able to produce enough energy to function properly, problems like pain and lowered exercise tolerance may occur. In fact, as much as 75 per cent of athletes who take statins may have aching muscles, obviously because they put more strain on their muscle mass.

Taking supplements of coenzyme Q10 together with the statin drugs can counteract the risk of these side effects, as was shown in a study from 2007. American scientists assigned pain-afflicted statin users to either a daily 100 mg supplement of coenzyme Q10 or identical “dummy” pills (placebo) for a one-month period. Those patients who got the coenzyme Q10 supplement with their medicine had a 40 per cent reduction in muscle pain and felt far less limited by their side effects than those in the control group who got the placebo.

Source: Simvastatin Effects on Skeletal Muscle Relation to Decreased Mitochondrial Function and Glucose Tolerance Journal of the American College of Cardiology, Vol. 61, No. 1, 2013

What is coenzyme Q10?

All cells require the presence of the vitamin-like nutrient coenzyme Q10 in order to produce the energy that keeps them alive and functioning. Coenzyme Q10 is provided by certain foods but also gets produced in the liver, just like cholesterol.  COQ10 is found in:

  • sardines
  • sesame seeds
  • soya oil
  • mackerel
  • peanuts
  • pork
  • spinach
  • walnuts

Statins effectively block the cholesterol synthesis but in doing so, they also block the liver’s synthesis of coenzyme Q10, as both cholesterol and coenzyme Q10 originate from the same biochemical process – something known as the mevalonate pathway. Statins are virtually like a “roadblock” that is put down right before the point where the pathway splits in different directions, one leading to cholesterol, the other to coenzyme Q10.

The only way to compensate for this sudden reduction is to take a supplement of coenzyme Q10. The substance is available without prescription and is widely used for other purposes such as:

– Improving cardiac output (increased contraction force)
– Increasing male fertility
– Preventing gum disease
– Increasing endurance (among athletes)
Pharma Nord Bio Quinone Q10, 30mg x 60 capsules, £15.95, or 30 capsules, £8.95

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