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Sunday, January 19, 2014

Why Statins Aren't the Answer to Heart Disease and What Matters Most

The American Heart Association's new set of guidelines for the use of cholesterol-lowering drugs to prevent heart disease makes millions of healthy people the targets of statin medications that they don't need, for reasons that are not evident.

There have been lots of statin studies, but not a lot of good studies on statins. Many have been tainted by unreliable and ethically questionable research methods including "selective reporting of outcomes, failure to report adverse events and inclusion of people with cardiovascular disease" in studies meant to exclude such people.

If we look at randomized, placebo-controlled trials, which are the gold standard when it comes to scientific research, statins have zero effect on overall mortality.

The well-respected Cochrane Collaboration (an international, independent, not-for-profit research organization) reviewed 14 randomized, controlled trials involving more than 34,000 adults. Researchers found "little evidence" that statin medications prevent first-time heart attacks or improve quality of life. They concluded that for people at low risk of cardiovascular disease, potential adverse effects "are poorly reported and unclear." In people with a history of heart disease or type two diabetes, they found that taking statin medications lowered their risk of cardiovascular complications by only about 1 percent.

Furthermore, these drugs are not without adverse effects. Up to 20 percent of people who take statins experience muscle pain and weakness. They may also experience nerve problems, memory loss, confusion, dizziness, sexual dysfunction, exercise intolerance, liver damage, irritability, and depression. Statins promote the development of diabetes (a recent study found that taking statins increased the risk of diabetes by 71% in postmenopausal women), they can cause heart failure and birth defects, and they may also increase the risk of developing cancer. Even when there aren't any symptoms, significant injury to cells, muscles, and nerves can occur. 

When statins do reduce rates of death from cardiovascular disease, primarily in men with pre-existing heart disease under the age of 50, there is no impact on overall mortality, which means that they die more often from other causes.

In these cases where statins are beneficial, they are protective not because they lower cholesterol but because they reduce inflammation. In fact, lowering cholesterol isn't that helpful and it can even be harmful. Just as many people with low cholesterol die from cardiovascular causes as those with high cholesterol, and in men of all ages and women over the age of 50, low cholesterol levels are associated with an increased risk of death.

Inflammation is the real cause of cardiovascular disease, so the best way to prevent and reverse it is to reduce inflammation. As an added bonus, reducing inflammation reduces the risk of several other leading causes of death including diabetes, Alzheimer's disease, and even cancer.

Here are my top tips for reducing inflammation and preventing and reversing cardiovascular disease:

#1  Stop smoking and avoid exposure to second-hand smoke.
Smoking causes inflammation and it's one of the most common causes of heart disease and lung cancer. Studies show that inhaling second hand smoke is also deadly.

#2  Exercise regularly. 
Healthy adults need about 3 hours each week of a combination of aerobic, strengthening, and stretching exercise. Unhealthy adults may need more. If you don't already exercise, or if you need to step up your routine, get permission from your doctor first.

#3  Eat an anti-inflammatory diet.
Avoid foods that increase inflammation like sweets, starches, processed foods, and pro-inflammatory fats. Eat plenty of vegetables, fiber, healthy fats, protein, and anti-inflammatory spices.

#4  Lower your blood sugar.
High levels of blood sugar increase inflammation in the body, so if your fasting blood glucose level is above 87 milliliters per deciliter, it's time to do something about it.

#5  Manage Stress.
High levels of stress hormones like cortisol promote inflammation in the body and they also raise blood sugar. Learn to manage stress effectively and take time to relax and spend time doing things that bring you joy.

#6  Detox once or twice a year.
Detoxification reduces inflammation in the body and helps to prevent cardiovascular disease, diabetes, Alzheimer's disease, and cancer, among other conditions.

If you're not sure where to start, read my new book, The Prediabetes Detox, whether you have prediabetes or not. You'll learn about the harmful effects on inflammation in chapter 1 and the importance of detoxification in chapter 2. Chapter 3 is full of specific recommendations for reducing inflammation through diet. Chapter 4 focuses on supplements, including fish oil which is naturally anti-inflammatory and has numerous heart health benefits. In chapter 5 you'll learn how exercise and stress management reduce inflammation and you'll find specific recommendations for incorporating these important activities into your regular routine. Chapter 6 will help you minimize your exposure to inflammatory toxins inside your home. Chapter 7 will give you guidelines for maintaining optimal health and living a long and joyful life. And chapter 8 is full of recipes featuring anti-inflammatory foods.

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