Today it happened again. I saw another patient who, except for a little bit of extra weight, was healthy until she was diagnosed with high total cholesterol levels.
“You’ve got to do something” her family told her.
She got the usual advice from her previous, well intentioned MD: Cut butter, eggs, red meat and cheese. But cutting those healthy foods didn’t work, and on the next test, the cholesterol level was even higher. Afraid for her life, she asked what else she could do. No surprise, they put her on a statin: Crestor. And on the next test her total cholesterol was lower and everyone was happy. But the glow didn’t last.
Her energy dropped, her hunger increased, her activity declined, and she steadily gained weight until she found herself under the obese category on the BMI chart. Worse, three years after starting Crestor, her glucose levels rose to the point where she had developed early diabetes (a known side effect of Crestor and presumably other statins since the 2008 Jupiter study). Once in early diabetes, more struggles with weight, and new problems such as joint pains, nerve problems, and hypertension are on their way.
What’s wrong with the scenario?
First, this 57 year old mother of three got the wrong dietary advice: Cut fat. This almost always leads to eating more carbs. Then, she was started on a pill that hasn’t been tested on women for more than a short period of time, about 2 years in the average study. Together, the high-carb diet and the statin medication set her up for more health problems, and do surprisingly little to prevent her risk of heart attack or stroke.
The chance of a high-carb diet cutting this patient’s, or anyone’s, risk of heart disease is zero. (See Good Calories Bad Calories, by Gary Taubes, and Chapter 9 of my book, Deep Nutrition) The chance of this woman, who has no other risk factors for heart disease aside from high LDL cholesterol (a poor predictor by itself), benefitting from Crestor’s ability to prevent heart attacks is less than one in a thousand. That’s less than one tenth of one percent. Her chance of developing one of the long-term side-effects of Crestor—diabetes—is about thirty percent. Other long-term risks of Crestor and all other members of the statin class of drugs include cancer, balance disorders, dementia, kidney problems, heart failure, gastritis, and septic infections.
In causing diabetes and further weight gain, the low-cholesterol approach has done this woman more harm than good.
What should have happened?
If you have high cholesterol, I’d much rather you treat your high cholesterol with a low-carb diet that includes plenty of fresh vegetables and healthy, natural fats including cholesterol-rich butter and cream, which help your digestive system to absorb the phytonutrients in veggies. Cut snack chips, cookies, crackers, and ice cream. Switch out your cereals, puffy bread sandwiches, bagels, noodles, and other starchy, empty calorie foods for healthy protein-rich foods, including pastured eggs and cheese, or bacon that’s nitrate free. Make sure to avoid vegetable oils, and don’t overcook any meats.
The goal is not to get your total cholesterol under 200, or any other arbitrary number. The goal is to make sure your cholesterol metabolism is running smoothly. If you don’t smoke, and your LDL to HDL ratio is less than three to one and your triglycerides are under 150, even if your total count is 250, that’s a real good indication your lipid metabolism is working correctly and, here’s the real point, your arteries are likely to be nice and clean.
According to the latest statistical accounting (you can watch the symposium video at: http://cme.medscape.com/viewarticle/720591), low HDL is a much more serious problem than anyone expected, and potentially more serious than high LDL!
If your low-cholesterol diet didn’t work, or if you developed diabetes after starting Crestor, or another cholesterol-pill, we’d like to hear from you. Your stories will help others!