Lower Cholesterol Without Statin Side Effects
If you’re taking statin drugs to control cholesterol, you need to read this.
From talking to patients, I’ve discovered that many people consider statins to be “miracle” drugs that allow them to eat anything they please without worrying about consequences. No wonder statins are the top selling prescription drugs in the country, with nearly half of the nation’s adults taking them.
What many people don’t understand is that statins rob the body of an essential nutrient known as Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10). This vitamin-like substance plays a huge role in our lives, since it is responsible for roughly 95 percent of the energy creation within our bodies.
Although we manufacture CoQ10 internally, production slows as we age. So anyone over age 40 is most likely already experiencing a slowdown in CoQ10 production. Add statins to the mix, and you’ve got an older individual with serious fatigue issues.
Many people don’t know this, but your heart and brain use an enormous amount of energy just getting their everyday jobs done. That’s why you’re likely to feel both mentally and physically exhausted when your CoQ10 levels are low.
To keep energy up all day, I strongly urge everyone over age 40 to take at least 100 mg of CoQ10 daily, whether you have heart disease or not. For individuals taking statins, I recommend doubling that dose to 200 mg daily. As my patient Gene noticed, taking CoQ10 supplements made a big difference in his energy levels – something he’d been struggling with for several years.
The Problem with Statins
While statins can be helpful for patients who already have heart disease, I hesitate to prescribe them to reasonably healthy patients who want to take them as a preventive measure. Statins are not harmless drugs by any means. There are some 300 side effects linked to statins, including:
- Liver failure
- Damage to nerves
- Muscle pain and damage
- Nausea and vomiting
- Depletion of vital minerals, including zinc and selenium
- Constipation and/or diarrhea
Many times, these side effects don’t kick in right away, so when they occur, patients don’t connect them to the drugs. And there are less noticeable side effects, too. For example, new research shows that statins may block the benefits of omega-3 supplements, such as fish or flaxseed oil. Considering the long list of health benefits we get from omega-3s, that’s a serious problem.
In my opinion, the best approach to preventing heart disease is with lifestyle adjustments. The big two factors are…
- Eating a nutritious, whole foods diet.
- Practicing moderate, daily exercise.
There is no pill or magical substance that can replace those two essentials.
Here are four basic suggestions on how to avoid statin-related side effects and keep your heart and brain healthy.
1. Substitute a Statin Alternative
When it comes to lowering cholesterol, statins aren’t the only game in town. A natural substance, known as red yeast rice (available without a prescription at most health food stores), is chemically identical to a statin but is not as powerful and has far fewer side effects. Follow the dosage instructions on the product you purchase.
2. Make Meals Matter
I’ve noticed that, for many people, meals are a touchy subject. Everyone has favorite foods that they enjoy, and being deprived of them can take away some of life’s small pleasures. So, when a patient really needs to make dietary changes but is reluctant to give up unhealthy items, I often suggest they add a few better choices to balance the good and bad.
Adding the proverbial “apple a day,” for example, may seem like a small step, but it has a big payoff. Research has shown that the substances in apples may:
- protect against several forms of cancer.
- counteract damage done by rogue molecules known as free radicals.
- reduce inflammation.
- support a healthy immune system.
- repair damage caused by aging.
Most people like apples, so this is a much easier sell than, say, broccoli. Once a patient has gotten accustomed to an apple a day, I encourage them to branch out and try a new fruit or vegetable. Because, the truth is, that list of benefits I cited for apples is pretty much true for all fruits and vegetables, with some minor differences.
Eventually, most patients find that eating more produce isn’t as terrible as they imagined it would be. And once they start feeling better and the pounds begin to fall off, it’s a good bet they’ll understand how powerful – and beneficial – dietary change can be.
3. Move On
Maintaining a healthy heart, regardless of cholesterol levels, requires exercise. The heart is a muscle, and nothing strengthens it better than activity, like regular, brisk walking.
Unfortunately, few people get sufficient daily exercise. A new survey of nearly half a million Americans shows that only about 20 percent of U.S. adults get the recommended amount of aerobic and muscle-strengthening exercise daily.
Unless your physician has declared workouts off limits, please carve out 20 to 30 minutes each day for walking, jogging, bicycling, swimming, or other activity. Personally, I find that exercising first thing in the morning not only gets me going, but it also takes one important item off my to-do list, which is a nice way to start the day. Try it, and see if it works for you, too.
4. Consider CoQ10 Supplements
If you’re over age 40, I’ll repeat what I said earlier – you need supplemental CoQ10. Your body is simply not producing enough on its own to keep energy levels where they should be or to protect you from serious illness. For example, a recent study found that low blood levels of CoQ10 were observed in a broad range of critically ill, hospitalized patients and were also associated with fewer daily activities after those patients were discharged from the hospital.
Clearly, it’s important to maintain healthy levels of this essential nutrient. Look for supplements that include boosters like resveratrol and Pterostilbene, antioxidants that make it more absorbable. Because they work, these are the ingredients I used to formulate my own version of CoQ10 supplements. As I mentioned earlier, if you’re currently taking statins aim for a daily dose of 300 mg of CoQ10. If you’re free of heart disease and aren’t taking statins, 100 mg daily should be sufficient.
If you’re concerned about cholesterol, remember that your body needs it for a number of important functions, including hormone production. In addition, cholesterol provides some little-known benefits, such as…
- Helping fight cancer
- Maintaining a sharp memory
- Protecting your chromosomes from aging
- Assisting with the production of serotonin, a “feel good” chemical messenger in the brain.
So please don’t get competitive about lowering your cholesterol further than your physician recommends. There are downsides to very low cholesterol, including depression, aggressive behavior, dementia, and an increased risk of a type of stroke known as cerebral hemorrhage. Instead of fretting about cholesterol, simply work to increase your number of healthy behaviors each day, and see what a difference that can make!