The Cholesterol Conundrum

When ABC’s Catalyst program ran a story in 2013 about the overprescribing of statins (the medication used to lower cholesterol levels) more than 60,000 Australians stopped or lowered their medication levels. This extraordinary response caused it’s own controversy given the prevailing orthodox medical view that statins prevent heart attacks and save lives.

More recently, in 2015, a systematic review of all the research on statin use published by the British Medical Journal suggested that the benefit of taking statins was surprisingly small. When two groups of patients with similar risk factors such as cholesterol levels, age and lifestyle were compared the group taking statins were likely to live only three 3 more days than the group not on medication.

Everyone agrees that statins reduce cholesterol levels in the blood, of that there is no doubt. We also know cholesterol is used by the body to repair damaged blood vessels. However have we mistakenly assumed that because high cholesterol levels are seen when we observe heart disease that cholesterol is the bad guy?

Nutrition researcher Sally Fallon certainly thinks we’ve got the wrong end of the stick. She says “just as a large police force is needed in a locality where crime occurs frequently, so cholesterol is needed in a poorly nourished body to protect the individual from a tendency to heart disease and cancer. Blaming coronary heart disease on cholesterol is like blaming the police for murder and theft in a high crime area.”

The emerging alternative view about cholesterol is that high levels of cholesterol indicate a state of systemic inflammation whereby the body is trying to protect itself from potentially catastrophic cellular damage. If you follow this theory it appears reducing cholesterol by statin use is not going to solve the problem only mask it.

Nor is systemic inflammation treated by reducing so called high cholesterol foods but rather by replacing poor quality foods with nutrient dense ones, better managing stress levels and getting some regular exercise.

Keeping in mind no medication is side effect free, and indeed statins are linked to muscle pain, liver damage, digestive problems, rashes and increased type 2 diabetes as well as neurological side effects. In my opinion it’s worthwhile exploring alternative ways to reduce cholesterol so you’re not wholly reliant on statins to do the job.

I would also urge you not to make any changes to your prescribed regimen of medications without seeking appropriate medical advice but please do consider consulting with a naturopath in addition to you GP about the most appropriate course of action for your particular needs.

Wes Smith is Live Well's Director and has 20 years experience as a practitioner and wellness educator. He has a special interest in working with chronic immune issues, stressanxiety and depression
Wes is passionate about inspiring and educating people to create and sustain their vitality and wellbeing so they can live life to the full.
Wes also enjoys teaching meditation and is the creator of an online resource for learning how to meditate. es has a B.App.Sc.(Acup), Diploma of Herbal Medicine, a Yoga Teaching Diploma and is an APHRA registered acupuncturist. Learn more about acupunctureherbal medicine and meditation.

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