Should I be taking statins?
We get asked a lot of questions about our opinion on medications that patients have been prescribed by doctors. The one medication we get asked most about are statins. The reason we get asked about these the most is that they stir up a lot of controversy and conflicting opinions. Most people have heard about or experienced side-effects and are recommended to take them as a precautionary measure rather than as a treatment. Around 12 million people over the UK routinely take statins. Current guidelines recommend a doctor prescribes statins for anyone with a 10% risk of heart disease within 10 years, and there have been pushes in the past for everyone over 50 to take statins, regardless of their health. So, with so many people taking statins and the medical profession pushing for more to join them, do the benefits out-weight the side-effects? Recent research has found that the benefit of taking statins only helps people live 3 days longer.
Statins reduce the level of cholesterol in your blood. There are different types of cholesterol in your body, including “good cholesterol” (high-density lipoprotein) and “bad cholesterol” (low-density lipoprotein). Cholesterol is essential for your body, we need it for the health and structure of our cells among other benefits. High levels of cholesterol, especially “bad cholesterol”, is linked with thinning and blocking of arteries (atherosclerosis), which can cause heart attacks, strokes and coronary heart disease.
The main effect of statins is to stop your liver for producing cholesterol, therefore reducing the levels of cholesterol in your blood. Your liver produces around 70% of the cholesterol in your body, the rest comes from your diet.
What are the side-effects of statins?
This is the big one that you hear/read about, but what we also see first hand here in the centre. Statins have been linked with many severe and debilitating side-effects such as diabetes, muscle pain, liver dysfunction, fatigue, cataracts, memory loss and even, although very rare, death. Most people notice the change in their pain levels and energy levels quite quickly after starting on statins. For this reason, most people easily attribute their change in symptoms to the new drug that often they have been recommended as a precaution.
“Patients have been manipulated and misled over these drugs.” Dr Kendrick.
Alternatives to statins
Diet is an important factor in naturally lowering cholesterol, coupled with exercise. Certain foods contain high levels of cholesterol, which in turn raises the amount of cholesterol in your blood. The foods highest in cholesterol are animal products, like red meat, eggs, butter, shellfish and processed meats, like sausage and bacon. You can simply swap, for example, your cow’s milk with soy milk, and your meat with tofu, helping to significantly lower the “bad cholesterol” in your body. Vegetables and other plant based foods are great to eat as they contain no cholesterol. There are also foods that actively lower your cholesterol levels naturally. These include:
- Oats – They contain beta-glucan, which actively absorbs the “bad cholesterol”. Also a great way to start the day with slow releasing energy.
- Red wine – Yes really!! Certain wines made using the high-fibre Tempranillo red grapes, like Rioja, significantly lower your body’s level of “bad cholesterol”.
- Salmon and fatty fish – High in Omega 3, which has many huge health benefits, including lowering cholesterol.
- Nuts – Walnuts especially, followed by almonds and cashews.
- Tea – Black tea is fast acting and effective; it’s also full of anti-oxidants.
- Beans – They really are good for your heart… Black, pinto and Kidney beans are best due to their high fibre content.
- Chocolate – 🙂 Really raises the level of “good cholesterol”, however it needs to be dark chocolate.
- Garlic – Tasty, lowers cholesterol, reduces blood pressure and also boosts your immune system, but too much makes you unkissable.
- Spinach – Great, green goodness with many benefits.
- Avacado – Raises “good cholesterol”, whilst lowering “bad cholesterol”. They contain more cholesterol-smashing beta-sitosterol than any other fruit.
Exercise effectively reduces the levels of “bad cholesterol” and overall level of cholesterol in your body. This, along with being fitter and having a healthier heart, results in a decreased risk of cardiovascular disease. Not only this, exercise also raises the “good cholesterol” in your body, releases endorphins (the happy hormone) and increases energy levels, all without the risk of developing the long list of side effects.
Pros vs cons of statins
As mentioned earlier, statins produce conflicting and sometimes controversial arguments for and against. A recent piece of research has been highlighted by the Sunday Express (18/10/15) with the headline: “statins only add 3 days of life”. Any increase in life is a positive thing, but is that really the best option given the side-effects and great, natural alternatives available. The paper quoted Dr Malhotra, a London-based cardiologist, in response to this research saying: “the benefits of statins have been grossly exaggerated.” And Dr Kendrick, an expert on heart health, said: “Patients have been manipulated and misled over these drugs.” The research quoted potentially could have many holes in it, and the mere statement that the overall increase in life can be quantified begs belief. However, this is one of many similar pieces of research with an eye grabbing headline regarding statins, so it’s worth considering the alternatives.
You can patch over the problem with drugs or take the natural approach and address the issues that caused the problem in the first place
With the very commonly experienced side-effects, the very small benefit and the fact you are manipulating your body to stop doing what it’s designed to do, it’s vital to look to a more conclusive solution. If you remove the additional cholesterol being put into the body, by managing your diet and exercising, you can manage your cholesterol levels very effectively. Our bodies are innately designed to maintain homoeostasis, the balance necessary in all facets for your body to function correctly. With a balanced diet, without too much additional cholesterol and plenty of cholesterol busting foods, exercise and therefore a healthy weight and body size, your body can maintain your body’s cholesterol at a safe, healthy level. Statins are a short cut to lowering cholesterol that come with a list of side effects, at who-knows-what-cost to your health. Also it means that the essential cholesterol that your body is using for the health of your cells has a higher percentage from the food you are eating compared to the cholesterol your body makes; potentially your cells are more fast food than you. When it comes to our health we can patch over a problem, or we can look to the root of the problem (too much dietary cholesterol) and address that; this is representative of the philosophy of Chiropractic – to get to the root issue of a problem, rather than just treat the symptoms. Our bodies are amazing at keeping us healthy and alive if we provide them with the right environment and feed it what it needs to do its job properly. The modern message that we are brainwashed to believe is that there is a drug to fix everything and if there isn’t, it just hasn’t been found yet. It certainly isn’t the quickest route, but the natural approach is more effective, less detrimental and more healthy for your cholesterol levels and the rest of your health.
When it comes to your body, the vessel you spend your whole life in, don’t take short cuts and look after it properly.
Eat well, move lots and get adjusted – it’s as simple as that!
Sunday Express: 18/10/15
Rosenthal, R. L. (2000) ‘Effectiveness of altering serum cholesterol levels without drugs’ Baylor University Medical Center Proceedings 13(4): 351–355.