If you’re doctor has told you you need a statin to lower your cholesterol, did you know statins can raise your risk of type 2 diabetes? A 2019 study of close to 9,000 subjects in their mid-60s showed that statins raised the risk of diabetes by 38 percent. They also showed higher risk for high blood sugar and insulin resistance, which is a precursor to pre-diabetes. It didn’t matter which brand of statin the subjects took, overweight and obese subjects had an even higher risk.
Because high blood sugar, insulin resistance, and diabetes pose their own health risks, including for dementia and Alzheimer’s, this study points to problems with statin use for a condition that functional medicine protocols can often easily manage.
Previous studies have linked statins with an increased risk of type 2 diabetes, including a 2012 study that found female users had a 50 percent increased risk.
Statins are among the most commonly prescribed drugs
One of the most commonly prescribed drugs, statins account for more than $20 billion a year in spending. This translates to about one in four Americans over 40 taking statins — that number has increased by about 80 percent in the last 20 years.
Side effects of statins include muscle weakness and wasting, headaches, difficulty sleeping, and dizziness.
Statins do not address the root cause of high cholesterol
Statins may lower cholesterol, but they do not address what causes high cholesterol or a cholesterol imbalance in most people. For most people, this is typically inflammation (although some people have a genetic disorder that leads to very high cholesterol).
Cholesterol is beneficial and not inherently evil. The body uses it to repair damage in the arteries caused by inflammation. In fact, inflammation, not high cholesterol, is the main cause of heart attacks and strokes.
Considering the following:
- 75 percent of peoplewho have heart attacks have normal cholesterol.
- Older patientswith low cholesterol see a higher risk of death than those with higher cholesterol.
- People in other countries with higher cholesterol than Americans have fewer heart attacks.
Hypothyroidism, which affects over 20 million Americans, also raises cholesterol. Also, because gluten is inflammatory for so many people, a gluten-free diet may lower cholesterol.
Using functional medicine to lower cholesterol
Functional medicine is a highly effective way to lower cholesterol naturally. This is because functional medicine addresses the root causes of cholesterol imbalances versus overriding the problem with risky drugs.
A functional medicine protocol includes an anti-inflammatory diet, exercise, nutritional support, and looking for root causes of inflammation. These include hypothyroidism, autoimmune disease, bacterial infections in the digestive tract, poor blood-sugar handling, or other chronic health disorders.
High cholesterol is typically tied to a diet too high processed carbs and sugars, not fat. Sugar and processed carbs lower good cholesterol and raise harmful triglycerides. This diet promotes low density small particles that lead to the dangerous buildup of plaque in the arteries. This raises the risk of not only heart disease but also insulin resistance or “pre-diabetes.” In a nutshell, sugar, not fat, is the bigger culprit with most heart attacks.
However, be careful about which fats you eat. Trans fats, or hydrogenated fats, promote dangerous types of cholesterol. Omega-3 fats found in fish and fish oils and monounsaturated fats found in olive oil and avocado facilitate healthy cholesterol.
We depend on cholesterol. It helps produce the cell membranes, vitamin D, and hormones that we need to function. It’s also vital for healthy neurological function.
A cholesterol test measures LDL and HDL, which are small packages of fat and protein that help move cholesterol through the body to where it needs to go.
High-density lipoprotein — HDL
HDL is considered “good” cholesterol. It helps remove arterial plaque.
Low-density lipoprotein — LDL
LDL is the “bad” cholesterol. It forms plaque that narrows and stiffens the arteries (atherosclerosis).
These are dangerous in high levels and linked to heart disease and diabetes. Triglycerides rise from eating too many sugars and processed carbs, smoking, physical inactivity, excess alcohol, and being overweight or obese.
Lipoprotein (a) — Lp(a)
Lp(a) is made up of LDL plus apoprotein a. Elevated Lp(a) is a strong risk for heart disease.
When testing cholesterol, please pay attention to:
- HDL versus LDL
- Triglyceride levels
- The ratio of triglycerides to HDL
- The ratio of total cholesterol to HDL
Inflammation promotes heart disease
Inflammation in the body is a primary link to heart disease. Eating too many sugars and processed carbs, a sedentary lifestyle, smoking, excessive alcohol, chronic stress, leaky gut, autoimmunity, and chronic infections all cause chronic inflammation. People with systemic inflammation, measured by C-reactive protein (CRP), have a more increased risk for heart disease than those with high cholesterol. Also, normal cholesterol is not protective for those with high CRP.
Addressing causes of high cholesterol through functional medicine avoids the risks and side effects of statins. Ask my office for more advice.