Thursday, March 20, 2008

The Cholesterol Myth and Avoiding Prescription Drugs

Our family has always tired to eat a somewhat healthy diet. For years we have concentrated on low fat diets and a large proportion of our meat is venison with the occasional wild turkey and elk. We also try to find beef and pork that is locally raised and drug free. Lately though we have added some new items.

My husband has always had great blood pressure but lately it's been edging up despite working out at the Y three days a week. I guess it's an inevitable result of aging. So he gave up coffee. That did the trick. Mine was edging up too but walking and pickleball solved that problem along with some dietary additions. We have started adding Flax seed to our breakfast. It is loaded with Omega 3 fatty acids and tastes great in oatmeal which is what I have for breakfast along with a cup of chamomile tea every morning. It helps maintain healthy blood pressure along with a host of other benefits. At one point I was taking a prescription blood pressure pill. It made me tired by mid afternoon, I slept poorly and I had nightmares. It was awful. I am so glad to be rid of that drug.

Tom also has had elevated cholesterol for years and was taking Lipitor. Our dentist told us about red rice yeast. He said that his cholesterol dropped 60 points. We have also heard of others having the same success. Red rice yeast is often a better way to treat high cholesterol if in fact treating elevated cholesterol is really necessary. It doesn't have the side effects that cholesterol drugs have, especially on your liver. I also recently read this fascinating article that talks about the Business Week Cover story, “Do Cholesterol Drugs Do Any Good?", and goes on to say (I list some excerpts) that it "blew the lid off the theory that “statins”-- drugs like Lipitor, Crestor, Mevacor, Zocor and Pravachol -- can cut the odds that you will die of a heart attack by slowing the production of cholesterol in your body and increasing the liver’s ability to remove L.D.L., or “bad cholesterol,” from your blood.

It’s true that these drugs can help some people—but not nearly as many as we have been told. Moreover, and this is the kicker, we don’t have any clear evidence that they work by lowering cholesterol.

Although medical research suggests that statins can definitely benefit one group—men under 70 who already have had a heart attack--researchers are no longer convinced that the drugs stave off a second attack by lowering the patient’s cholesterol. The drugs do lower cholesterol, but that is not what helps the patient.

Current evidence supports ignoring LDL cholesterol altogether," Dr. Rodney A. Hayward, professor of internal medicine at the University of Michigan, told Business Week’s reporter.

In recent years, researchers have begun to suspect that statins help patients, not by lowering cholesterol levels, but by reducing inflammation. If this theory is right, “this seems likely to shunt cholesterol reduction into a small corner of the overall picture of heart disease,” the Guardian reported four years ago. "

Do yourself a favor and read the whole article along with the links and the comments. This is one of the comments:

" GRRRRRRRRR this is frustrating, I have all but been screaming this in my practice and am well known for taking many of my new patients off statins!!!! I have seen people die from these meds who I knew didn't even need to be on them!! I want to pull out my hair. There is no pleasure when my popular title goes from "cynic" to "foresighted" nobody benefits from that. This is all about $$$. When will we all wake up and realize in order to have just, quality, equitable medical care we must, must, must remove money from the equation!!!"

Now back to the local level here. Does Tom even need to take the red rice yeast given what the article and comment says? Well it won't do him any harm, so why not? It's interesting that Tom's GP said years ago that he didn't recommend taking Lipitor, not unlike the doctor above, while a heart specialist told him he should take it. If you do take a red rice yeast product, avoid several brands as they contain an unauthorized drug per this FDA warning.

It's also worth mentioning that I had wicked heartburn several years ago and was taking Prilosec every day. When we switched to low fat diets and I eliminated caffeine, it went away for good. So by making some dietary and lifestyle modifications along with increased exercise we have stopped taking several prescription drugs and we feel a whole lot better. We also take a daily multivitamin which is highly recommended by dietitians and doctors. I am also looking into Orovo.

The stew pictured above is Tom's concoction consisting of our lamb (drug free but not low fat!) crushed tomatoes, a pinch of various seasonings and pasta and tomatoes. It was delicious and reasonably healthy.