Despite its critical role in maintaining health, cholesterol has faced unwarranted vilification in recent decades. Misconceptions have led many to view cholesterol as an enemy, particularly in relation to heart disease. However, a closer examination reveals the nuanced nature of cholesterol and its impact on our well-being.
Cholesterol, a ubiquitous and often misunderstood substance, plays a vital role in the human body. Found in every cell, it is essential for creating cell membranes, synthesizing hormones and bile necessary for fat metabolism, and processing fat-soluble vitamins (A, E, D, and K). Cholesterol also determines cell membrane permeability, controls molecule passage into cells, and insulates nerve fibers, contributing significantly to neurological function and memory. While 75% of cholesterol is produced in the liver, the remaining 25% is obtained from our food.
Cholesterol as Inflammation Messenger
Cholesterol serves as an antioxidant, signaling systemic inflammation. Elevated levels indicate an ongoing inflammatory response, and artificially lowering cholesterol with statins exacerbates the situation by suppressing the body's natural inflammatory signals. It is like putting a Band-Aid on an infected splinter, neglecting the root cause.
Cholesterol's involvement in tissue repair explains its presence in damaged arteries. It is not the cause of heart disease; inflammation is the culprit.
The Myth of Good and Bad Cholesterol
Contrary to popular belief, cholesterol is not inherently good or bad. It comes in two primary forms: high-density lipoprotein (HDL) and low-density lipoprotein (LDL). HDL, often deemed “good cholesterol,” prevents cholesterol deposition in arteries by transporting it to the liver for excretion. In contrast, LDL, considered “bad cholesterol,” carries cholesterol to cells, including damaged artery cells needing repair. Both forms are essential for maintaining optimal health.
Understanding Lipid Panel Results
Assessing heart disease risk based solely on total cholesterol is inadequate. Instead, a comprehensive evaluation involves scrutinizing high-density lipoprotein (HDL), low-density lipoprotein (LDL), very-low-density lipoprotein (VLDL), and triglyceride levels. The key lies in ratios, such as the HDL/total cholesterol ratio (ideal at 3.5-1) and triglycerides/HDL ratio (ideal below 2). Differentiating between larger and small dense LDL particles is crucial, as the latter can penetrate artery walls, causing damage.
While LDL is often associated with risk, it serves an essential role in transporting cholesterol to cells for repair. Fasting insulin, blood sugar levels, blood pressure, and waist circumference are much more valuable indicators of heart disease risk, offering a more comprehensive understanding than total cholesterol alone.
Cholesterol levels vary with age, and the notion that lower levels are universally beneficial is misguided. Older people often have higher cholesterol levels, reflecting the body's increased need for this essential substance.
Why is Cholesterol Found in Arteries? The Role of Chronic Inflammation
Cholesterol's association with artery blockage stems from chronic inflammation. As the body's repair mechanism, cholesterol rushes to inflamed artery sites to repair damaged cells. If the root cause of inflammation is unaddressed, cholesterol accumulates, forming plaque. The root cause of inflammation is SAD (standard American diet) and harmful lifestyle habits, such as smoking, alcohol, pharmaceutical drug overuse, chronic stress, and even overexercising. Low fat, low cholesterol, high omega-6 oils, and high refined carbohydrate and sugar diet are part of the equation leading to inflammation.
Cholesterol is not the enemy; it is a crucial component of our survival. Without inflammation, cholesterol would not be elevated and flow freely in the blood, causing no harm. Addressing inflammation, rather than artificially lowering cholesterol with drugs, is the key to maintaining arterial health.
Cholesterol Lowering Drugs: Are They Necessary?
Cholesterol-lowering drugs, particularly statins, have long been heralded as saviors in the fight against heart disease. However, recent expert reviews suggest potential drawbacks, including accelerated coronary artery calcification with long-term use. These drugs pose various risks, from nerve damage and cognitive impairment to depression and weakened immune systems.
Furthermore, studies funded by drug companies may present a biased view, emphasizing favorable results while neglecting the broader context. Statins are not universally effective in preventing heart disease and lead to adverse effects. Addressing root causes, such as inflammation, proves more effective than relying solely on cholesterol-lowering medications.
The CoQ-10 Problem: Statins and Depletion
A critical aspect often overlooked in the discourse on statins is their impact on Coenzyme Q-10 (CoQ-10). Statins, while aimed at lowering cholesterol, inadvertently interfere with the production of CoQ-10, a vital compound essential for heart health. CoQ-10 plays a crucial role in cellular energy production and acts as a potent antioxidant, protecting cells from oxidative damage. Unfortunately, statins disrupt the synthesis of CoQ-10 by inhibiting the same pathway responsible for cholesterol production.
The consequences of CoQ-10 depletion can manifest in various health issues. CoQ-10 deficiency has been linked to an increased risk of nerve damage, cognitive impairment, depression, and weakened immune function. Moreover, CoQ-10 is an essential coenzyme for heart health, and its depletion may contribute to the muscle pain and weakness reported by some statin users.
The Vitamin K Dilemma: Statins and Depletion
Beyond their impact on Coenzyme Q-10, statins also influence vitamin K, another essential component crucial for various physiological functions. Vitamin K plays a pivotal role in blood clotting and bone health, facilitating the synthesis of proteins that regulate these processes. Unfortunately, statins have been associated with the depletion of vitamin K, compromising these critical functions.
The interference with vitamin K metabolism may lead to a higher risk of excessive bleeding and impact bone mineralization. Without this important vitamin, calcium is not directed to the bones but instead accumulates in the arteries, causing artery calcification and leading to heart disease.
In addition to Coenzyme Q-10 and vitamin K, statins have been associated with the depletion or interference with several other essential nutrients:
1. Vitamin D: Statins may impact the synthesis and metabolism of vitamin D. Vitamin D is essential for cardiovascular health as it helps regulate blood pressure, supports immune function, and may play a role in reducing inflammation. Vitamin D deficiency has been associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular diseases.
2. Magnesium: Some studies suggest that statins may lead to lower magnesium levels. Magnesium maintains normal heart rhythm, muscle function, and blood pressure regulation. It also supports the relaxation of blood vessels, which can contribute to lower blood pressure.
3. Selenium: Statins could affect selenium levels. Selenium is an antioxidant that helps protect cells from damage. Adequate selenium levels are associated with a reduced risk of heart disease, which may play a role in maintaining the integrity of blood vessels.
4. Zinc: Evidence suggests that statin use may be associated with reduced zinc levels. Zinc is vital for immune function and wound healing. It also contributes to maintaining the health of blood vessels and may help regulate blood pressure.
5. Folate (Vitamin B9): Statins may interfere with folate metabolism, affecting the levels of this critical B vitamin. Folate is crucial for cardiovascular health as it helps lower homocysteine levels, an amino acid associated with an increased risk of heart disease when elevated. Folate also supports the synthesis and repair of DNA.
6. Vitamin A: Some research indicates that statins might impact vitamin A levels. Vitamin A is involved in maintaining the health of the cardiovascular system, supporting vision, and promoting immune function. It contributes to the maintenance of the endothelial cells lining blood vessels.
All the same nutrients that are crucial in cardiovascular health, statin medication works to deplete. It sounds counterproductive. Please, now that you know, if you still choose to take statins, make sure to add high quality supplements to your diet that can help fill those nutrient deficiencies.
Side Effects of Cholesterol-lowering drugs
These drugs are not necessary for the majority of people. They are extremely dangerous for the following effects they create (most likely due to their impact of depleting essential nutrients in the body discussed above):
- increase risk of nerve damage
- cognitive impairment – early dementia
- weakening of the immune system
- liver problems
- double the risk of diabetes
- muscle pain and weakness
- increase the risk of heart attack
Contrary to the low-fat diet trend, dietary fat intake does not significantly impact cholesterol levels. A balanced diet that includes healthy animal fats is crucial for overall health. Vegetable oils, often labeled as “heart-healthy” by organizations like the American Heart Association, create inflammation and raise cholesterol levels in response to that inflammation.
Low-fat diets can lead to increased carbohydrate intake and cravings, raising blood sugar and insulin levels, creating more inflammation, and perpetuating the unhealthy cycle. Embracing a Wise Traditions diet, emphasizing nutrient-dense, whole foods and a balanced approach to fats, is essential to promote good health. Understanding the multifaceted nature of cholesterol and addressing its complexities is vital for achieving optimal cardiovascular health.
The complex interplay between cholesterol, essential nutrients, and overall cardiovascular health should not be overlooked in our pursuit of reducing cholesterol levels at any cost. As we delve into the intricate web of physiological processes, it becomes evident that the blanket use of cholesterol-lowering medications, particularly statins, may inadvertently deplete vital coenzymes and nutrients essential for heart health. The question that looms large is whether our relentless focus on artificially lowering cholesterol may be giving rise to other debilitating chronic diseases.
Are we doing more harm than good?
The delicate balance of nutrients such as Coenzyme Q-10, vitamin K, and others is critical in supporting the cardiovascular system. A holistic approach to heart health, one that considers the multifaceted nature of cholesterol and prioritizes lifestyle factors, nutritional support, and individualized care, may pave the way for a more comprehensive understanding of cardiovascular well-being, without inadvertently compromising other aspects of our health.
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Coenzyme Q10 and Statin-Induced Mitochondrial Dysfunction. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3096178/#:~:text=Hydroxyl%2Dmethylglutaryl%20coenzyme%20A%20reductase,Q10%20levels%20in%20the%20serum.
Reduced cardiac muscle power with low ATP simulating heart failure. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0006349522006026
Treatment of statin adverse effects with supplemental Coenzyme Q10 and statin drug discontinuation. https://iubmb.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/biof.5520250116
Highlighting The Substantial Body Of Evidence Confirming The Importance Of Vitamin K2 As A Cardio-Support Nutrient, And How The Right K2 Makes All The Difference. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7238900/
Statins, vascular calcification, and vitamin K-dependent proteins: Is there a relation?. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/kjm2.12373
Statins Disrupt Macrophage Rac1 Regulation Leading to Increased Atherosclerotic Plaque Calcification. https://www.ahajournals.org/doi/10.1161/ATVBAHA.119.313832#:~:text=Statins%20are%20capable%20of%20increasing,–IL%2D1β%20signaling%20axis.
Daiva Rizvi, NC, CCH works with people who’ve had enough of the sick-care system of symptom suppression and bandaids and are determined to claim their health back. She focuses on a results-based comprehensive approach to health by combining holistic nutrition and classical homeopathy to help her clients address the root cause of their long-term chronic conditions. Her goal is to empower people to take charge of their own health and live life to the fullest.