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Are Statins Really the Best Way to Lower Your Cholesterol?

Posted by at 5:23 AM | Permalink | Comments (6)


doctorA recent study indicating that healthy people who took statin drugs cut their risk of heart attacks by 50 percent has some folks speed-dialing their general practitioners and asking if they should start taking a cholesterol-lowering drug. But a closer look at the study reveals some chinks in this magic bullet. Because the people chosen to participate in the study already had a low risk of heart attacks, very few in either group had heart attacks during the course of the study. In real numbers, that means 1.8 percent of placebo-takers had heart attacks versus 0.9 percent of those taking statins. That’s a very small number to begin with, so even cutting it in half still doesn’t add up to a whole lot of people.

It’s important to keep in mind that statins can have serious side effects, like muscle pain and weakness, memory loss, and kidney and liver problems. Because statins are relatively new (they were introduced in the mid-1980s), we don’t know the potential dangers of taking them for decades.

But even if statins are the cure-all that they’re cracked up to be, that doesn’t mean you need to start forking over $3 a day (that’s about the cost of Crestor) to cut your heart attack risk. Another solution is much cheaper and has no unwanted side effects: Go vegan!

High cholesterol levels are generally caused by a diet rich in meat, eggs, and dairy products. These products are typically high in saturated fat and cholesterol and have no cholesterol-busting fiber at all. That combination spells high cholesterol levels in your bloodstream.

Unlike meat, eggs, and dairy products, plant-based foods are 100 percent cholesterol-free and have been used in programs to actually reverse heart disease. Most are naturally low in fat and calories and high in fiber, complex carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, and other vital nutrients.

Researchers at the University of Toronto put vegan diets to the test. They asked-since vegan diets, soy products, oat bran, flaxseeds, nuts, and certain plant fats can reduce cholesterol-what would happen if they were used all at the same time. Well, the combined effect was astounding: a 35 percent drop in LDL (the “bad” cholesterol). David Jenkins, professor of nutrition and metabolism at the University of Toronto, has reported that “the evidence is pretty strong that vegans, who eat no animal products, have the best cardiovascular health profile and the lowest cholesterol levels.”

If you want to use the foods that they used for lowering cholesterol, a typical breakfast might include oatmeal, fruit, and soy milk. Lunch might be vegetarian chili, a veggie burger or oat bran bread and tomato,  and dinner could consist of vegetable curry, northern beansbarley, okra, eggplant, cauliflower, onions, and red peppers. But generally, any healthy vegan diet that includes a variety of vegetables, legumes, grains, and fruits will do the trick.

Have you had any success lowering your cholesterol by changing your diet?

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    joseph says...

    December 9th, 2008, 5:28 am

    This article adds to the emerging mosaic that will be the full tapestry of facts about cholestrol and statins which is a propaganda today aggressively promoted. I wish to comment on the 4-th paragraph: high cholesterol levels are not the problem. We get it from food only maximum 20% anyway. Without any cholosterol from diet our liver will produce as much we need. Instead of food to blame (and we have plenty of reasons to blame food production method, pollution, additives, processing, loss of nutrients or low nutrients if any to start with) etc. As a base material for hormones for instance depleted stores call for more base material which is cholesterol production. Another topic in the 6-th paragraph promoting the vegan diet Cahal Milmo’s article linked contains errors naming only 2: a) failing to show the study duration and other relevant details, b) asserting apes are vegetarian. In fact like us they are omnivorus has been observed in the wild by professror Dart and Jane Goddall. Older men live long and healthy lives with elevated cholesterol versus those with ideal 4 die early. Many people also develop hert disease with perfect scores and die! How came? The intelligent approach is to look for the initial agents of injury to the lumen that provoke inflammation and set in motion the cascade of events ending in athberosclerosis. All known.
    Be swell! joseph.

    andy says...

    December 9th, 2008, 10:19 am

    http://www.gooznews.com/archives/001243.html From Mr. Goozner’s web site article one learns the following facts:

    an editorial in the NEJM accompanying the study publication noted that in realistic terms: 120 people would have to take Crestor for 1yr and 10 months for 1 person to avoid a cardiovascular event. The study also found an increased incidence in the development of diabetes–3.0 in Crestor group vs 2.4 in placebo group. Again in real terms : for every 1 person out of 120 who avoided a cardiac event over 1.9 yrs, 3/4 of a perso developed diabetes. That works out to $285,00/1.9 yrs for one person to benefit. Hardly cost efficient.
    One important fact not noted in the comments is that the people in this study had a median BMI of 3.8–virtually making at least 50% overweight, 1/3 obese, and 40% had metabolic syndrome. Hardly representative of a “normal group” of 50-60 yr old men and women.

    Gary says...

    December 12th, 2008, 5:08 pm

    Thank you for this Post…
    Certainly a healthy diet is best for anyone, and using drugs to compensate for poor nutrition is a bad idea.
    This is a Good topic, and I would like to point out that the single most important factor in ASHD is not cholesterol… it is triglycerides, and the single most important factor in tri-level is genetic, specifically the APOC3 gene, which encodes a protein apoC-III. Recent studies of the Amish by researchers from the University of Maryland have found that they have the lowest rate of ASHD of any ethnic group, not because of their diet, which is “healthy”, but because of a mutation in this gene.
    ASHD is a complex disorder and there is no one thing that will apply to all persons as a “silver bullet”.
    A healthy diet is best… sometimes drugs are necessary, yet in the end, our genes have the Final Word.
    thank You for reading…
    Gary
    Tampa

    Gail says...

    December 12th, 2008, 11:49 pm

    Although it is true that many people eat unhealthy diets, there are other factors to consider. For example, everybody in my mother’s family had high cholesterol, and now that I am in my 50s, so do I–even though I am unlike many other Americans with high cholesterol in that my diet is healthier. When I asked my doctor about diet and exercise, he said, “You’re grasping at straws. It’s genetic. You need medication!” Note, this doctor was responsible enough NOT to recommend a statin drug to me because I have autoimmune liver disease, and statins all work in the liver. I take the only two medications available that work in the GI tract and not in the liver. Together, along with significant weight loss, they cut my total cholesterol in half, from 340 to 170. When after 2 years I regained 47 of the 75 lbs. I’d lost, my total cholesterol went up to 220, and my triglycerides and LDL also went up, as well as my blood pressure. I have now lost 14 of those 47 lbs. and plan to lose the rest of it, plus an additional 6 to 10 lbs. This will take some time, but I think that together with the two medications I am still taking, it will return my levels to what they were 2 years ago, when not only was my cholesterol well below 200, but my blood pressure was 120/70.
    I think that in a way it was fortunate that I was not a candidate for statins due to my liver disease. (Note that even though my autoimmune disease is advanced, with cirrhosis of the liver, it seems that my liver has no trouble producing too much cholesterol!) I think a lot of people do not realize the risks of these medications because they didn’t start out with a serious disease of the liver, kidneys, or other organs/systems which these medications could harm. And doctors are more likely to prescribe them than the ones I take, one of which is much safer and the other of which is somewhat safer. (These are Welchol/colesevelam or Questran/Cholestyramine, and Zetia [ezetimibe].) Even my family doctor’s Physician’s Assistant, when I said I couldn’t afford Welchol tablets so I take the much cheaper generic Cholestyramine Resin powder, started talking about brand-name drugs which I know are statins because they cost less, and I interrupted her to point out that I cannot take these drugs which are very dangerous to the liver because of my liver disease. The doctor knows this, but the PA didn’t. I find it a little scary that the PA is authorized to write prescriptions!
    I agree with the second comment about the overweight study subjects. However, two things: One – though they are not “normal” by virtue of their obesity/overweight/metabolic syndrome, sadly, they probably ARE “normal” for today’s average American! Something like 67% of Americans today are overweight or obese. Two – Though of course everybody should first adopt a healthier lifestyle and see if it lowers their cholesterol before taking medication, it’s also important to remember that in some cases (like mine), it’s genetic and, as the first comment pointed out, is NOT necessarily caused by the person’s diet/lifestyle, but exists in spite of it. In my early 40s I lost significant weight, began exercising regularly, and substantially decreased the fat in my diet–did everything right, in other words–and my cholesterol ROSE by 13 points EVERY TWO WEEKS until I was afraid even to measure it! The only known reason it was going up so fast was my age: Since high cholesterol is genetic in my family, it tends to go up as a person reaches middle age.
    Thanks!

    Cheryel says...

    March 2nd, 2009, 12:12 pm

    Mzrch 1, 2009 on the Cover of Parade Magazine that comes with my paper, The Register Gaurd, Liza Minnelli is wearing what appears to be an animal fur coat. She also is featured with dyed ostrich feathers inside with a story saying she never gives up. I think she is a nice woman and will listen if someone approaches her with what happens to animals so she can have those fun furry, fuzzy, fluffy things. Yes, she is an ego maniac but she also has a heart and will listen to fans who are against that sort of thing. She is desperately against anyone not loving her. She is desperate to get only applause with no criticism, not even someone not noticing her is adequate for her. She will listen to loving fans. Find out how to contact her. She is an old timer that wants the new generation to love her. Go get her … Thanks Cheryel
    I will write to Parade and the Register Guard as well.

    Sandra says...

    May 11th, 2009, 1:38 pm

    I have been struggling with high cholesterol for over 10 years, ranging between 260-300 on a semi-vegetarian diet. Semi, in that, I would eat chicken, turkey or fish 2 -3 times a week, and 2-3 eggs a week. Ok, so maybe the term vegetarian was a stretch for me, but I restrained myself compared to my friends and family who ate animal based products 3 meals a day and snacks.
    Recently, it came down to it. My doctor thought I should go on a pill. Or lose weight and exercise. Luckily I had an epiphany listening to a podcast called Food for Thought, and started a vegan lifestyle. No milk, yogurt, butter, cottage cheese, all of those “innocent” animal secretions. I had no idea how hard it would be. Suddenly I was aware of being bombarded by TV, Billboards, and Radio to EAT EAT EAT MEAT!!. And then, just the shear unavailablity of tasty choices that I didn’t prepare myself. Going out is impossible. The average “veg” offering is California mix I could have bought in the frozen food section at the grocery store, and the confusion on the faces of waitstaff when I ask for vegan preparation. “Don’t I want cheese, sour cream or butter?” Dressing on that salad? The closest healthfood store is forty miles away, although Krogers does try.

    But my “genetic” high cholesterol went down to 200 in 6 weeks, didn’t lose any weight though. How come stuff like this doesn’t get more press. I see those stupid Cheerios commercials “lower your cholesterol by 15 points”. Hey what if you stopped drinking milk? Maybe it will go down by 50!
    Also see the following article:
    Scientists find a soup of suspects while probing milk’s link to cancer
    Latest studies focus on estrogens, androgens and IGF-1By Janet Raloff March 28th, 2009; Vol.175 #7 (p. 5) in Sciencenews

    The leading researcher is so careful not to upset the Dairy industry by this comment at the end of the article.
    “In the absence of definitive [safety] data—or the presence of an adverse effect which may be small—you have to decide: Is there anything good about milk?” And other than developing children and malnourished adults, people probably don’t need milk, he says. “I would never say anything stronger than that.”

    This may not be the right forum for this, but what I’d like to see is less aggressive PETA advertising and more common sense advertising. Until we get the surgeon general to make an appeal for veganism, perhaps we could approach it like the effects of smoking 20 years of ago, which has lead to the banning of smoking in public places. Wouldn’t it be great if I could turn on the TV and not see an ad for McD’s or KFC every couple of minutes. Arguing about animal rights is great, but people are brainwashed. Even I, a PETA member for over 5 years, had become numb to the environment of animal slaughter that we live in.

    I have a job asking health questions of people all day long. I asked people who were already on cholesterol-controlling medications if they knew where the cholesterol came from in their diet. They were astouded to find out it came from animal products. Really. Easily 90% didn’t know. Even my doctor when she told me to lose weight and exercise didn’t specify how to lose weight or mention cholesterol in food. She probably thought I knew, but still, to have that many people not know, I must think the doctors are not even trying, and calling everything “genetic”.

    Thanks for reading my rant

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