More than twenty-five percent of adults age 45 and older take statins.1 Despite the fact that statin drugs, prescribed to lower cholesterol, are among the most frequently prescribed drugs, too often patients are not apprised of the fact that they are associated with serious side-effects and much healthier results can be achieved with dietary lifestyle changes.
Statin drugs work by blocking an enzyme involved in the liver’s production of cholesterol. Elevated blood cholesterol is an important risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Higher LDL cholesterol levels mean that more LDL from the bloodstream makes its way into the arterial wall. There, LDL is oxidized, setting off a chain of events leading to the formation of atherosclerotic plaque.
In the most recent analysis of statins for primary prevention (in patients who have not had a previous cardiovascular event), a 14 percent reduction in all-cause mortality and a 25 percent reduction in fatal plus non-fatal cardiovascular events were reported.2
However, the legitimacy of these numbers has been questioned; some researchers have claimed that studies conducted by scientists without conflicts of interest did not find any reduction in cardiovascular events, in contrast to studies supported or conducted by pharmaceutical companies.3
If you have elevated cholesterol, dietary and lifestyle modifications should be the first course of action. Medication is unnecessary for most people who make the appropriate lifestyle changes. A high-nutrient diet, containing a portfolio of foods such as green vegetables, nuts, beans and berries, works to bring LDL cholesterol down and restore the health of arteries.
A high-fiber, high-nutrient diet, focusing on natural plant foods, such as vegetables, fruit and nuts, was found to reduce cholesterol by 33 percent within two weeks.11 Unlike taking a statin while continuing a disease-causing eating style, a Nutritarian diet and lifestyle does more than address one or two heart disease risk factors. This lifestyle promotes regression of atherosclerotic plaque while reducing cholesterol levels, blood pressure and inflammation.
These effects of a Nutritarian diet have now been published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal, The American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine.12 Survey data documented an average 42 mg/dl decrease in LDL cholesterol in those who adhered to the diet style at least 80 percent. In addition, those who started out obese averaged a sustained weight loss of 50 pounds which was maintained two years after changing their diet.
Those who started with hypertension reduced their systolic blood pressure by an average of 26 mm Hg. Case studies accompanied this data, and atherosclerosis reversal was documented. Living healthfully produces dramatic changes because it doesn’t address just one risk factor; it makes your entire body healthier. You don’t just lower your cholesterol, you become more resistant to diabetes and cancer, as well as improve your immune function.
To learn more about the preventive and therapeutic potential of a Nutritarian diet, read my book The End of Heart Disease, where I explain why nutrient-rich foods and exercise are more powerful than statin drugs for reducing cardiovascular risk. I also discuss the details of the research that has questioned the purported benefits of statins, and the potential risks and side effects associated with these drugs.
I strongly feel that prescribing statins for elevated cholesterol is counterproductive. Taking a statin drug allows the patient to psychologically downplay the urgency of making lifestyle and dietary changes that would drastically improve health, life expectancy and quality of life.
You can choose to remove the cause or treat the symptoms; treating the symptoms with statin drugs does not reverse heart disease and carries the risk of adverse effects. Removing the cause with a health-promoting diet and lifestyle not only reduces cholesterol, but also reduces blood pressure, reverses heart disease and protects against diabetes, dementia and cancer.
U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Statin drug use in the past 30 days among adults 45 years of age and over, by sex and age: United States, 1988–1994, 1999–2002, and 2005–2008 [http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/hus/2010/fig17.pdf]
Taylor F, Huffman MD, Macedo AF, et al. Statins for the primary prevention of cardiovascular disease. Cochrane Database Syst Rev 2013, 1:CD004816.
Okuyama H, Langsjoen PH, Hamazaki T, et al. Statins stimulate atherosclerosis and heart failure: pharmacological mechanisms. Expert Rev Clin Pharmacol 2015, 8:189-199.
Larsen S, Stride N, Hey-Mogensen M, et al. Simvastatin effects on skeletal muscle: relation to decreased mitochondrial function and glucose intolerance. J Am Coll Cardiol 2013, 61:44-53.
Golomb BA, Evans MA. Statin adverse effects : a review of the literature and evidence for a mitochondrial mechanism. Am J Cardiovasc Drugs 2008, 8:373-418.
Mikus CR, Boyle LJ, Borengasser SJ, et al. Simvastatin impairs exercise training adaptations. J Am Coll Cardiol 2013, 62:709-714.
Sattar N, Preiss D, Murray HM, et al. Statins and risk of incident diabetes: a collaborative meta-analysis of randomised statin trials. Lancet 2010, 375:735-742.
Rajpathak SN, Kumbhani DJ, Crandall J, et al. Statin therapy and risk of developing type 2 diabetes: a meta-analysis. Diabetes Care 2009, 32:1924-1929.
Dormuth CR, Hemmelgarn BR, Paterson JM, et al. Use of high potency statins and rates of admission for acute kidney injury: multicenter, retrospective observational analysis of administrative databases. BMJ 2013,46:f880.
Zhou Q, Liao JK. Pleiotropic effects of statins. - Basic research and clinical perspectives. Circ J 2010, 74:818-826.
Jenkins DJ, Kendall CW, Popovich DG, et al. Effect of a very-high-fiber vegetable, fruit, and nut diet on serum lipids and colonic function. Metabolism 2001, 50:494-503.
Fuhrman J, Singer M. Improved Cardiovascular Parameter With a Nutrient-Dense, Plant-Rich Diet-Style: A Patient Survey With Illustrative Cases. Am J Lifestyle Med 2015.
Joel Fuhrman, M.D. is a board-certified family physician, seven-time New York Times bestselling author and internationally recognized expert on nutrition and natural healing, who specializes in preventing and reversing disease through nutritional methods. Dr. Fuhrman coined the term “Nutritarian” to describe his longevity-promoting, nutrient dense, plant-rich eating style.
For over 30 years, Dr. Fuhrman has shown that it is possible to achieve sustainable weight loss and reverse heart disease, diabetes and many other illnesses using smart nutrition. In his medical practice, and through his books and PBS television specials, he continues to bring this life-saving message to hundreds of thousands of people around the world.
*There is no guarantee of specific results. Results can vary. All material provided on the DrFuhrman.com website is provided for informational or educational purposes only. Consult a physician regarding the applicability of any opinions or recommendations with respect to your symptoms or medical condition.