Understanding what your cholesterol means
Editors note: This is Part 1 of a two-part series.EAGLE COUNY, Colorado It is estimated that soon nearly half of Americans will be medicated for high cholesterol. We are in an epidemic an epidemic of high cholesterol and an even more serious epidemic of being over-dosed. Standards for prescribing cholesterol lowering drugs have changed drastically over the years. Doctors used to prescribe these drugs only to those with high cholesterol and a history of heart disease. In 2004, a government committee issued a report stating that all people with cholesterol above 200 should be medicated. This report made Lipitor and drugs like it the best selling drugs in the world. While we like to believe in the efficiency of studies that lead to such recommendations, the validity of this report has been questioned by many. One reason is that the majority of doctors on this committee were somehow affiliated with or employed by the companies that produce these drugs. Another more disturbing reason is that the claims made are blatantly false. In his book, Overdosed America, Dr. John Abramson argues that there is no evidence that statins or other cholesterol-lowering drugs prevent heart disease in those who have no history of occlusive heart disease. Of the eight randomized studies used by the government committee to make these current recommendations, none of them measured the effects of statins in people without previous heart disease. Several studies did assess the effect of statins on people without heart disease, but none show a benefit for women of any age or men over 65 at risk but without heart disease or diabetes. The committee recommends cholesterol lowering medications for people with two or more risk factors, who have a 10 percent or greater risk of developing heart disease over the next 10 years, and have LDL cholesterol levels above the levels they Dr. Abramsons own laborious research on this issue has led him to the conclusion that 18 million people or 75 percent of those currently taking cholesterol lowering medication do not have any history of heart disease.These drugs are not so innocent that one can take them without side effects. Statins and other cholesterol lowering drugs deplete the body of CoQ10, an important enzyme which acts as fuel for the cells in your body. Without this enzyme, muscles deteriorate. Ironically, CoQ10 has its highest concentration in the heart, and low levels of CoQ10 cause degeneration of the heart muscle, which, of course, leads to heart disease. Supplementing with CoQ10 is a must for people taking these medications.These drugs can also lower cholesterol too much. Cholesterol is a steroid that is found in every cell in the body and in the blood. It is an important part of the cell membrane, and helps to control the fluidity on the cell. Cholesterol also provides the backbone for all of the hormones that your body makes, including your sex hormones and vitamin D. In addition, cholesterol is part of the material that surrounds your nerve fibers, allowing for smooth transmission of signals going from your brain to the rest of your body. Bile salts, which help to break down the fats that you eat, are made from cholesterol. Finally, cholesterol has strong anti-oxidant properties. It functions as a free radical scavenger, protecting us from diseases like cancer.When considering all of the normal functions that cholesterol plays in the body, you can posit that low levels of cholesterol can lead to problems with hormone synthesis, nervous system and immune dysfunction, and increased oxidative stress. The association between high cholesterol and heart disease is widely known. Elevated cholesterol levels do indicate an increase in the risk of developing coronary artery disease. These values give a good general assessment of cardiovascular risk. There are, however, other tests and markers which provide a more accurate and complete assessment of cardiovascular risk and disease. According to studies done by other researchers in the field, in addition to the usual blood lipid tests and a calculation of lipid ratios, markers of inflammation such as C-reactive protein and fibrinogen, as well as serum homocysteine levels provide a more direct correlation to heart disease. Without these additional measurements, and without evidence that statins work for those who do not suffer from heart disease, I fear that cholesterol lowering medications are dangerously over-prescribed. The exception being very high risk men under 65.In Part 2 of this topic, I will discuss ways to lower cholesterol and minimize your risk for developing heart disease without the use of prescription drugs. Dr. Eliza Klearman is a Naturopathic Doctor and acupuncturist practicing in Eagle. For more information call 328-5678 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.