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Why Proper Nutrition Trumps Statins for Heart Health

New AHA Guidelines Call for Increased Statin Drug Use

In recent years, statins have become increasingly popular for treating cardiovascular disease and preventing heart attacks. Now, new American Heart Association guidelines have lowered the threshold for prescribing statins. Before, your doctor had to assess you as having a 1 in 5 (or 20%) chance of a heart attack in the next 10 years to prescribe statins. Now that number has been lowered to a mere 7.5% chance (thus more than doubling the number of people on statins as heart attack prevention therapy).

Many naturopaths and research organizations, however, suggest that statins are not the answer to preventing heart disease. Rather, they contend the answer lies in solving dangerous nutrient deficiencies that contribute to unhealthy outcomes, not panacea-style prescription of pharmaceuticals.

Fast Facts: Cardiovascular disease is currently the number one cause of death and disability in the United States (yep, ahead of cancer), claiming almost 600,000 lives per year.


Scary Side Effects of Statins

As statins steal the stage for treating heart disease, sickening side effects unfortunately continue to surface. A 2012 study linked statin use in postmenopausal women to a sizeable 50% increased risk of developing diabetes. Now that’s a scary statistic. Though the mechanisms of this ugly side effect are still unclear, researchers suggest statins may cause the body to produce more sugar than usual.

Additionally, statins have been linked to muscle pain and damage, decreased ability of the liver to secrete digestive enzymes, digestive discomfort, rashes, and memory loss or confusion. Not a very pleasant list, eh?


What About ‘Natural’ Statins?

Red yeast rice supplements, which are coveted as a non-prescription alternative to statin drugs, claim a $20 million yearly market. But these are not exempt from the possibility of adulteration (adding fake or unlisted ingredients).

When University of Pennsylvania researchers tested 12 “natural” statin products currently on the market, one-third of them tested positive for citrinin, a mycotoxin that can alter DNA, and thus potentially cause cancer. Additionally, red yeast rice contains 14 compounds called monacolins (including lovastatin, the active ingredient in the prescription statin Mevacor) that inhibit the liver’s ability to produce cholesterol.

Because there is no standardized level of monacolins, manufacturers often neglect to disclose dosage amounts in order to avoid being regulated as an unapproved FDA drug.

Fast Facts: Did you know that cholesterol levels are actually a terrible predictor of heart attack risk? Studies indicate that half of people admitted to hospitals for cardiovascular disease actually have normal to healthy cholesterol levels. A much better measure, say researchers, is your triglycerides to HDL (‘good’ cholesterol) ratio. A ratio of two or lower is considered healthy, while four or above is deemed high.


Nutrition Trumps Prescription

The Orthomolecular News Service (citing this study) blames inflammation and calcification (resulting from poor nutrition) as the leading culprit in cardiovascular disease, not the presence of too much nasty cholesterol buildup. Here’s how it works: Irritation occurs in the arteries, forming plaques with a hard calcified “nucleus” at the center of each plaque. Fatty deposits and a fibrous cap then build up around this nucleus, causing dangerous arterial obstructions. Poor arteries!

Consider this: Despite the abundance of attention statins receive for their ability to reduce heart disease risk, research suggests that statins only reduce the risk of death from heart disease by less than 1%! Meanwhile,3,000mg niacin (vitamin B3) per day was shown to reduce mortality rates by a whopping 11% in studies monitoring over 8,000 people for a six-year period. The same study demonstrated a 27% reduction in non-fatal heart attacks in over 1,000 subjects as a result of high-dose niacin supplementation.


Niacin’s Heart-Healthy Nature

How can a modest B vitamin (an essential nutrient found in red meat, chicken, turkey, beans, and grains) beat out a pricey pharmaceutical drug in heart-boosting benefits, you ask? Scientists explain that niacin regulates sirtuin proteins, which are able to alter and repair the structure of genes that make up DNA. While we won’t bore you with the nitty-gritty science of it all, the point is this: Niacin has shown to increase high-density lipoprotein (‘good’ cholesterol) by 20-35%, an impressive improvement very few pharmaceutical drugs can accomplish alone.

Fast Facts: When paired with fish oil (rich in beneficial fatty acids), niacin’s heart healthy benefits are multiplied. Fish oil may help lower triglycerides (fat in the bloodstream) by as much as 30% (it’s important to remember that it’s the fish oil that packs the omega-3 fatty acid benefits and not the fish meat, which can carry heavy metals).