Cholesterol Myths & Facts

Myth #1:  Statin drugs like Lipitor, Zocor and Zetia help reduce the risk of heart attack.

Fact:  A 2006 study in The Archives of Internal Medicine looked at 7 trials of statin use in nearly 43,000 patients, mostly middle-aged men without heart disease.  In that review, statins didn’t lower mortality.  Nor did they in a study known as Prosper, published in The Lancet in 2002, which studied statin use in people 70 and older.  Nor did they in a 2004 review in The Journal of the American Medical Association, which looked at 13 studies of nearly 20,000 women, both healthy and with established heart disease.

Myth #2: Vytorin which is a combination of Zocor and Zetia is supposed to lower LDL cholesterol even farther than Lipitor, Zocor, and Zetia alone.  Vytorin did, in fact, reduce LDL cholesterol by a whopping 51% compared to 36% and 17% when taken alone.

Fact:  The two-year “Enhance” trial failed to prove that Vytorin is better than Zocor alone for slowing plaque accumulation; instead atherosclerosis worsened in those taking Vytorin.  Merck and Sclering-Plough suppressed this finding for 20 months.  It was not revealed until they were pressured into doing so by an article in the The New York Times and a Congressional inquiry. 

In addition to the many LDL cholesterol lowering drugs that have bitten the dust over the years, Pfizer’s trial of its drug, torcetrapib, which raised HDL (the good cholesterol) and lowered LDL (the bad cholesterol), had to be stopped in 2006 because the drug caused heart attacks and strokes.

Also, Estrogen replacement therapy, which is know to lower LDL cholesterol levels, failed to reduce the incidence of heart attack and stroke in clinical studies. 

Ok, if cholesterol lowering isn’t the answer for everyone, what do we do?  I have been telling my patients for years to have their homocysteine levels checked.  Homocysteine is a by-product of metabolism that causes inflammation especially in the heart and blood vessels.  When inflammation builds up, the vessels become irritated causing the body to send in cholesterol to cover up irritated tissues; thus plaque formation or atherosclerosis. 

How can we decrease homocysteine in our bodies?  Folic acid, B-6, and B-12 have a significant homocysteine lowering effect.  They are concentrated in foods like dark-green leafy vegetables.  I have some patients that don’t eat enough greens; therefore they need to supplement their diet with food source supplements that are high in folic acid, B-6 and B-12. 

Another factor in lowering inflammation in the heart besides decreasing homocysteine is making sure we have enough Co-enzyme Q-10.  CoQ-10 is very important for heart health.  Unfortunately, there are many factors in our environment such as toxins, over-the-counter drugs and foods that increase our need for more CoQ-10 beyond what the body can produce on it’s own.  Besides being important for heart health, CoQ-10 is also very important for Brain Health.  For more information, go to my website and take the survey on Brain Health.  If you score high, you need CoQ-10 for both your brain and heart. 

Please let me know if you have any questions.  Cholesterol has not been shown to cause heart disease.  Remember reducing “Inflammation” is the key to a health heart (and brain). 

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