Lower cholesterol healthfully without risky statin drugs

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.

Validity of statin drug data

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

Most common adverse effects of statin drugs

  1. Myopathies (impaired muscle function), which may be due to impaired energy production in the mitochondria of the muscle cells. These negative effects on skeletal muscle may blunt the fitness-building response to aerobic exercise training, and can also lead to kidney and liver dysfunction.4, 56
  2. It is now well established that there is an increased risk of type 2 diabetes in statin users, one meta-analysis reporting a 9 percent increase in risk, another reporting a 13 percent increase in risk.7, 8 
  3. A study examining Canadian healthcare records for 2 million patients who had been newly prescribed a statin found an increase in the incidence of hospitalization for acute kidney injury during the first six months of statin use, high potency statins in particular.9 
  4. May possibly promote heart disease.  Although statins appear to have side effects that are helpful, such as improving endothelial function (ability of endothelial cells to regulate dilation and contraction of the smooth muscle layer of blood vessels) and reducing inflammatory markers,10  the question is now being raised whether statins have effects that actually promote atherosclerosis and heart failure, negating these potential benefits. A team of researchers from Japan and the U.S. compiled and described possible molecular mechanisms by which statins could actually accelerate heart disease.3 More research must be done, but for now their findings do warrant caution.

Nutritarian diet: a safe, healthful alternative to statin drugs

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.

  1. 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]

  2. Taylor F, Huffman MD, Macedo AF, et al. Statins for the primary prevention of cardiovascular disease. Cochrane Database Syst Rev 2013, 1:CD004816.

  3. Okuyama H, Langsjoen PH, Hamazaki T, et al. Statins stimulate atherosclerosis and heart failure: pharmacological mechanisms. Expert Rev Clin Pharmacol 2015, 8:189-199.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. Mikus CR, Boyle LJ, Borengasser SJ, et al. Simvastatin impairs exercise training adaptations. J Am Coll Cardiol 2013, 62:709-714.

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. Zhou Q, Liao JK. Pleiotropic effects of statins. - Basic research and clinical perspectives. Circ J 2010, 74:818-826.

  11. 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.

  12. 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.