Statins – Saint or sinner?

July 2, 2008

Many of you will have heard of Patrick Holford, the UK’s leading nutrition expert, and I have known him for many years. Indeed I edited his Optimum Nutrition magazine for a while and always find what he has to say of interest.

The topic of statins has come up a lot recently, particularly when I have been giving talks on natural health, and there seems to be a lot of confusion. This is not surprising because every year there is always a ‘new’ wonder thing that will help us stay health without much willpower on our part, but will bring fairly large profits to the people manufacturing it.

Cynical? Maybe, but when you have written about health for as long as I have you see the cycle of celebration, doubt, debunking and then quietly disappearing for many so called ‘miracle’ cures.

New health guidelines issued recently say all adults aged 40 to 75 should be assessed for risks, including smoking, weight and blood pressure and those with at least a 20 per cent increased chance of a heart attack over the next 10 years should be offered treatment, usually statins. Patrick Holford takes a different view and completely disagrees with the routine prescribing of these drugs. I think what he has to say is important so I am quoting him directly here, and leaving you to make up your own mind.

“Statins work by blocking the production of cholesterol, which is a perfectly normal substance, and in the process, stops the body producing Co-Q10, a vital heart nutrient, causing harmful side effects. This was confirmed in research published last month in the journal Nature. As a consequence, statins are far from harmless.

The notion that cholesterol is linked with heart disease goes back over fifty years, along with the idea of bringing cholesterol levels down with a low fat diet to protect the heart. But both of these ideas have been strongly challenged. For example, plenty of studies show that only 50% of people who develop heart problems have high cholesterol, while a study in the BMJ in 2001 found no link between changing fat in the diet and heart disease.

The best known side-effect of statins involves muscles problems. The probable reason for this is that they stop the production of Co-Q10 which is found in all cells (especially those of the heart muscle) and is vital to energy production. In one study of 14 healthy people, 10 developed heart rhythm abnormalities when given statins. This, say some researchers, could explain the muscle weakness and also the memory loss some people experience.

Some practitioners recommend that anyone taking statins should also supplement with Co-Q10 and a warning on statin packets is now mandatory in Canada, saying that CoQ10 reduction ‘could lead to impaired cardiac function’.

In fact the closer you look, the more questionable the benefits become. You might assume that taking prophylactic statins would mean that you would live longer overall. But that isn’t what the studies show. The total number of heart attacks drops slightly but then the risk of dying from other things goes up slightly, so overall life expectancy stays the same.

How can you avoid statins? By doing everything you can to keep your heart healthy. You do that by the well- known – but little enough practiced – regime of eating well with plenty of fruit, vegetables and wholegrains in your everyday diet. Make sure you also include foods that are high in heart-protective Vitamin E, such as beans, olive oil and eggs and reduce the amount of sugary foods, refined carbohydrates and keep your stress levels as low as you can.

Instead of an expensive drug, try lowering your cholesterol levels and heart disease risk by raising your ‘good’ HDL cholesterol and lowering ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol. A simple, inexpensive way to do that is take a supplement of niacin (vitamin B3), and to further help prevent cardiovascular disease it is suggested that you include a CoQ10 supplement of around 90mg a day. The COQ10 will also help those who are already on statin drugs and wish to stay on them.

If you would like to know more about Patrick Holford’s work, his new book ‘Food is Better Medicine Than Drugs’ would be a good place to start. You can read about it here: Food Is Better Medicine Than Drugs: Your Prescription for Drug-free Health


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