Safe Alternatives to Statins
Julian Whitaker, MD
Statins do not treat disease. They simply lower cholesterol levels—and, in the process, they block the production of protective coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10). In my opinion, the potential benefits of these drugs pale in comparison to their known dangers. There is nothing—I repeat, nothing—that these drugs add to a program of cardiac prevention that can’t be achieved with much safer, less expensive natural therapies.
High cholesterol is not a disease per se. It’s simply one of many risk factors for heart disease. That’s why, when patients taking statins come to the Whitaker Wellness Institute, our first order of business is to get them off those medications and started on a multipronged program that lowers cholesterol levels, reduces risk of heart disease, and improves multiple aspects of health.
Lifestyle Changes for a Healthy Heart
We begin with a diet that lowers cholesterol and quells inflammation—another statin claim to fame. This includes lots of fiber-rich vegetables, beans, and legumes; a little fruit; and plenty of lean protein with an emphasis on salmon, tuna, and other omega-3–rich fish. (For extra fiber, add a quarter-cup of freshly ground flaxseed to water, smoothies, salads, or other foods.) Items to avoid include processed oils, which promote inflammation, and starches and sugars, which contribute to insulin resistance—a significant risk factor for both heart disease and diabetes.
It’s long been known that exercise raises protective HDL cholesterol. But according to a 2009 study involving nearly 9,000 sedentary adults, it also lowers LDL cholesterol, especially in women. Your goal should be a minimum of 30 minutes of moderate physical activity most days of the week. For optimal results, add two to three sessions of resistance training.
UCLA researchers found that when postmenopausal women followed this diet and exercise regimen for just two weeks, they had significant improvements in HDL and LDL cholesterol, blood sugar, and body mass index—and a 45 percent drop in C-reactive protein (a marker of inflammation) to boot.
Lower Cholesterol, Suppress Inflammation…
In place of drugs, we prescribe nutritional supplements. For tackling cholesterol, we recommend plant sterols, substantial increases in fiber, and, perhaps most important, niacin.
Unlike statins, niacin not only lowers LDL cholesterol but also elevates HDL, a feat no drug is able to accomplish. In fact, a Pfizer drug aimed at increasing HDL was scrapped in 2007 after it was found to worsen heart problems and increase risk of death. But the niacin story gets even better. Results from a recent clinical trial published in the New England Journal of Medicine proved that this supplement actually reverses blockages in the carotid arteries!
For its broad cardiovascular benefits, we also recommend high doses of fish oil. EPA and DHA, fish oil’s primary omega-3 fatty acids, reduce inflammation, lower blood lipids (especially triglycerides), improve blood viscosity, normalize heart rhythms, and protect against sudden cardiac death. Name one drug that can do even a fraction of that!
For some patients, we prescribe low-dose aspirin as well, as it counters inflammation, improves blood flow, and discourages blood clots. Although aspirin is not appropriate for everyone, long-term use by high-risk patients has been shown in large clinical trials to reduce nonfatal heart attacks by 34 percent, strokes by 25 percent, and deaths by 18 percent.
…And Reduce Other Risk Factors
We also recommend a high-potency multivitamin and mineral supplement. Cardiovascular disease risk factors go far beyond LDL cholesterol and inflammation. B-complex vitamins lower levels of homocysteine, a toxic protein that harms the arteries. Vitamins C and E, beta-carotene, selenium, and other antioxidants protect against free-radical damage. And magnesium and other minerals help keep blood pressure in check and enhance arterial health.
Finally, don’t forget CoQ10 and vitamin D. As we discussed in the previous article, CoQ10 energizes the heart muscle, lowers blood pressure, and protects against heart failure. Vitamin D deficiencies, which are rampant in the US—especially during the winter—are linked with a dramatically increased risk of cardiovascular disease.
In addition to reducing risk of heart disease, this natural, cost-effective, science-based, patient-proven approach also protects against a range of health concerns, from diabetes and weight problems to autoimmune disorders and even cancer. In other words, it does everything statins do—and more—and it’s far safer.
- Suggested daily doses of these supplements are as follows: ¼ cup freshly ground flaxseed, plant sterols 1,500–2,000 mg, niacin 500–2,000 mg (the regular form, not niacinamide or no-flush niacin; build up gradually and take at bedtime to ameliorate flushing), fish oil 2–8 g, CoQ10 200–600 mg, and vitamin D 2,000–5,000 IU. A therapeutic multi should contain above-RDA levels of folic acid and other B vitamins, antioxidants, and magnesium. Talk to your doctor before starting low-dose aspirin therapy (81 mg per day), as aspirin is contraindicated in some patients.
- Look for these supplements in your health food store, order them online, or call (800) 810-6655.
- For comprehensive treatment of all risk factors for cardiovascular disease, call the Whitaker Wellness Institute at (866) 944-8253.
- Antithrombotic Trialists’ Collaboration. Collaborative meta-analysis of randomised trials of antiplatelet therapy for prevention of death, myocardial infarction, and stroke in high risk patients. BMJ. 2002 Jan 12;324(7329):71–86.
- Monda KL, et al. Longitudinal impact of physical activity on lipid profiles in middle-aged adults. J Lipid Res. 2009 Aug;50:1685–1691.
- Taylor AJ, et al. Extended-release niacin or ezetimibe and carotid intimamedia thickness. New Engl J Med. 2009 Nov 26. 361(22):2113–2122.
Modified from Health & Healing with permission from Healthy Directions, LLC. Copyright 2007. Photocopying, reproduction, or quotation strictly prohibited without written permission from the publisher. To subscribe to Health & Healing, click here.