The Great Statin Catalyst Controversy
The Real Story On Fats, Cholesterol and Your Health
Fat. It’s the three letter word that evokes fear in even the least disciplined of dieters.
Cholesterol and fat, the saturated variety in particular, have been vilified by the mainstream media, pharmaceutical companies and medical professionals for decades.
But how and why did these nutrients get such a bad rep?
Why do we need to see “99% fat free” or “cholesterol free” slogans on our food packaging before deeming it safe for consumption?
Catalyst on ABC TV recently challenged conventional knowledge and medical paradigms on cholesterol treatment and fats in the controversial documentary series, ‘The Heart of the Matter’.
Criticised by the mainstream media, conventional health professionals and organisations including the Australian Heart Foundation as sensational, irresponsible and biased, this documentary has certainly ruffled some feathers.
So, did Catalyst simply overstate the problem with the mainstream cholesterol treatment model or is this the greatest medical deception of our time?
Watch the first part here:
Statins – Facts, Figures and Untold Risks
Let’s first look at some figures on statins, the most common type of cholesterol lowering drugs.
The statin drug industry is worth tens of BILLIONS of dollars. It is the most profitable class of drugs and the most widely prescribed type of drug in Australia.
Currently, 1 in 4 Americans over 45 years takes statins. This number is predicted to skyrocket in the wake of new guidelines for anyone deemed to have 7.5% or higher risk of developing cardiovascular disease within the next 10 years to be medicated.
This change in treatment recommendations from the American Heart Association and College of Cardiology is estimated to triple the amount of Americans WITHOUT cardiovascular disease that will now be prescribed statins.
Understandably a number of cardiovascular health specialists and physicians are critical of these guidelines and have questioned their necessity.
The statin money train doesn’t end with the pharmaceutical companies either, as the stock market advisory headlines tell us, “Drug Stocks to Buy: New Statin Guidelines Are a Shot in the Arm for These Generics” (referring to generic statin drug brands).
Based on this information, it is no surprise that there were calls to ban the second part of the Catalyst series which showed statin medications in a negative light.
From a health perspective, taking statins can cause a huge range of side effects, some of which are incredibly debilitating like severe muscle injury and fatigue.
For a thorough look at statin side effects, read more here.
Statins work by blocking a critical step early on in the cholesterol production pathway to reduce the amount of cholesterol our bodies produce and lower LDL (bad) cholesterol levels.
This approach has been likened to ‘cutting the tree off at the root’ after deciding one of the tree branches is bad and means that statins will also block the production of other nutrients produced by this pathway.
CoEnzyme Q10 is one of these nutrients and ironically, it is an antioxidant nutrient which plays a vital role in maintaining cardiovascular health.
Are the cracks in the theory beginning to appear yet? If the painful side effects and depletion of our own cardio-protective nutrient isn’t enough, a new take on cardiovascular disease really brings this important message home.
Changing The Cholesterol Paradigm
It is becoming clear that high cholesterol is not the be all and end all in cardiovascular disease.
In fact, it may not even be a major cause of disease. Rather, it could be a symptom of underlying cardiovascular inflammation and often occurs secondary to other metabolic conditions such as insulin resistance.
Therefore, reducing blood cholesterol levels should not be viewed as the end game in cardiovascular disease prevention or treatment. Sure, your cholesterol levels will get lower but does that translate to risk reduction if your other risk factors are not addressed? Not likely.
And don’t forget – cholesterol, in the right amounts, is hugely important for our health.
Cholesterol exists in the outer layer of every cell in our body and has an important role in many functions like the building and maintenance of cell membranes, production of sex hormones and bile, conversion of sunshine into vitamin D, metabolism of fat soluble vitamins and the insulation of nerve fibres.
As research is now showing that inflammation is one of the most important contributors to cardiovascular disease risk, inflammatory blood markers such as C-Reactive Protein MUST be included in assessments of cardiovascular disease risk.
Inflammation should also be targeted as a first line treatment and preventative strategy for cardiovascular disease – this is something that can be done safely and effectively through lifestyle, diet and nutritional and herbal supplementation.
High homocysteine levels are another scientifically evidenced, independent risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Despite being linked with increased risk of blood clotting, stroke, heart attacks and high blood pressure, homocysteine screening is still not a standard testing procedure in mainstream medicine.
In summary, blood cholesterol and lipid testing should not be written off as a cardiovascular risk assessment, however it should not be used in isolation. Cholesterol ratios (ie. HDL:LDL) are now also being used as a more accurate risk assessment than LDL or HDL cholesterol levels alone.
Can You Have Your Bacon and Eat It Too?
As far as we are concerned, fat is not the dietary demon it is made out to be.
Different types of fat have different effects on the body and it is true – not all types of fat are good for you. However, many types of dietary fats are vital for good health and should be consumed in moderation.
As a general rule, any processed fats such as those found pastries, meat pies, margarine and deep fried foods should be avoided. These foods contain trans fats which are known to cause serious cell damage and disease.
Processed meats such as hot dogs and deli meats including ham and bacon should also be avoided due to harmful preservatives (nitrates) used – these have been linked to increased risk of heart disease too.
Sources of saturated fats and cholesterol that are more beneficial to health include coconut oil, organic eggs and dairy products including butter, grass-fed lean meats.
Polyunsaturated fatty acids (ie. omega 3s) are hugely beneficial for heart health and have been shown to assist with normalising blood cholesterol and fat levels. These fats are found in foods such as cold water fish and raw nuts and seeds.
Take Home Message
Our message is not to throw out your statin medications and go cold turkey right this second. For certain people such as those with hereditary hypercholesterolemia, statins may be justly indicated, but for the majority of people we recommend you:
- Educate yourself about statins and about the other cardiovascular risk factors that might be increasing your chances of developing serious cardiovascular disease.
- Have yourself screened for these factors in a comprehensive Cardiovascular Profile or ask your doctor to refer you for these tests.
- Discuss any concerns you have with your GP and explore alternative treatment options to statins.
- Take action! Make the dietary and lifestyle changes you need to make to reduce your risk of disease. Quit smoking, eat fresh, wholesome foods, ditch the fast food – you know the drill.
- Speak to a qualified Integrative Medicine Practitioner to find out which natural supplements you can take to improve your cardiovascular health. There are therapies available to support your health while you are taking statins as well as alternatives treatments for lowing cholesterol.
Watch the second part of the show here:
Pashkow, F.J. 2011, Oxidative Stress and Inflammation in Heart Disease: Do Antioxidants Have a Role in Treatment and/or Prevention? International Journal of Inflammation
Libby, P. et al. 2005, Clinical Cardiology: New Frontiers. Inflammation and Atherosclerosis, Circulation, Vol. 105