Sunday, November 24, 2013

Cholesterol: What the Drug Companies Don't Want You to Know

I want to write about something that is near and dear to my heart.  Last January, after completing my Whole 30, I went to my doctor for my annual exam and bloodwork.  I had just finished reading Robb Wolf's The Paleo Solution and I asked my doc if he could some additional tests.  Instead of just the basic cholesterol profile (total cholesterol, HDL, LDL, and triglycerides), I wanted the full monty (breaks down HDL and LDL into small dense and large fluffy particles, C reactive protein, homocysteine, A1C, and tons of other useful info).

Highly recommend reading this.

After giving what seemed like a liter of blood, I anxiously awaited the results.  Three weeks later, I had a 6 page report in my hand.  My doctor said my total cholesterol was high and suggested I go on a statin drug.  What the heck?  I had just finished up the best "diet" ever, was feeling awesome, was staying on a Paleo diet at this point, and my total cholesterol was 267!  Sure, my HDL was at a very healthy 129, but my LDL was 112.  The report did have a lot more info such as Apo A-1, Apo B, Lp(a), etc., but to me, this was Greek!

The last time I listened to a doctor's recommendation, I had my gall bladder unneccesarily removed and prescribed a pill for inflammatory bowel disease.  So I politely declined the statin script and vowed to learn Greek.  I poured over the web searching for truthful info, but kept striking out.  It seemed like every site supported the use of statin drugs.

Eight months later, I found The Great Cholesterol Myth by Jonny Bowden and Stephen Sinatra while Carly and I were in Books A Million.

A must read, if you value your life.

After reading this book, almost non-stop, I finally could see the light at the end of the tunnel.  My first thought was, "F--- you drug companies and your statin drugs!"  The sentence that immediately captured my attention was, "When the National Cholesterol Education Program lowered the 'optimal' cholesterol levels in 2004, eight out of nine people on the panel had financial ties to the pharmaceutical company."  Nice!

After reading the book, I now understood my test report and all those letters and numbers made sense.  Here are a few key take home points from the book.

The easiest way to know if you are at risk for cardiovascular disease is to walk (shoulders/back straight, chest out) towards a wall.  If your belly hits the wall before any other body part, you are probably at risk.  Pregnant women are the exemption :)

Not all HDL's are good, and not all LDL's are bad.  They can be broken down into the bad small, dense particles and the good large, fluffy particles.  Needless to say I had a ratio of small dense to large fluffies of 0.27.  I got an A+ on that test!

The most important colesterol particle of all, which conventional tests do not focus on, is Lp(a).  Lp(a) is a very small, highly inflammatory particle that is thrombogenic (blood clotting). It is the foundation of plaque.  Once again, I received an A+, as mine was 17 (optimal levels are <30 p="">
Saturated fat raises cholesterol, but it raises the overall HDLcholesterol and the good part of LDL cholesterol far more than it raises the bad part of LDL.  And that would go along with my increase in numbers since I had become Paleo.

As far as conventional cholesterol tests go, the triglycerides are the most important risk factor for heart disease.  And it is sugar and processed carbohydrates that raise triglyceride levels.  My triglycerides went from 84 (pre-Paleo) to 46.  A+ once again, as optimal levels are less than 150. If your insurance only covers the conventional cholesterol testing, then the better way to predict heart disease is to calculate the ratio of your triglycerides to your HDL.  For example mine is 46/129 = 0.36.  If you have a ratio < 2, you ought to be happy, regardless of what your total cholesterol is.  Just to make a point, my husband's total cholesterol is 188, but his ratio is 3.6.  Anything > 5 is problematic.  I really need to talk to him about his convenience store eating habits.

C-reactive protein (CRP) is a marker for inflammation.  Optimally you want to be < 0.8.  Mine was 0.3.

Homocysteine is an amino acid by product that causes your body to lay down sticky platelets in blood vessels.  Normal is < 11; mine was 7.  If this number is high, taking folic acid, vitamin B12 and vitamin B6.

You can change your LDL levels; it is not all genetic.

Lowering cholesterol has a very limited benefit in populations other than middle aged men with a history of heart disease.

Cholesterol levels are poor predictors of heart attacks.  Cholesterol is the buiding block of sex hormones.  It is needed to make Vitamin D.  It is used to make bile acids needed for digestion.  Brain cells need cholesterol to communicate.  Cholesterol is used to fight infection.  And the list of good things that cholesterol does goes on ...

Cholesterol is not the bad guy:  SUGAR is.  Inflammation is at the "heart" of heart disease.  Sugar is highly inflammatory.  Factor in chronic stress and you have a recipe for disaster.

So, after deciphering my lab work, I now feel comfortable with my "high" total cholesterol.  I will continue to eat grass fed red meat, grass fed clarified butter, pastured bacon, and and free range eggs.  I will continue to stay the hell away from food in a box and sugar!  After all, I have no family history of cardiovascular disease; the Williams clan does have pretty good tickers!

And no, I will not be taking any statin drugs just to lower a number that is insignificant to begin with.  Just in case you do not know, statin drugs can cause muscle pain, memory loss, liver failure, and deplete your body's stores of CoQ10 (which is vital to muscle function, including your heart!).  The drug companies will tell you how statins reduce your risk of heart attacks, but what they don't tell you is that it is relative risk and not absolute risk.  Absolute risk is the true reduction in risk whereas relative risk is a big smokescreen that obscures what you really want to know.  It is their way of making their numbers sound really good.  And remember, most drug companies fund their own studies. Fuzzy math, I tell ya!

So maybe these authors are just full of crap, have some vendetta against the drug companies or are wanting to make a buck or two off their book.  Well, I don't think so.  They have a 14 page bibliography of research articles that are not linked to drug companies.

I encourage you to think long and hard before taking any drug.  You have got to be pro active about your health.  A number is just a number; you must factor in history, genetics, environment, and clinical signs.  Unfortunately today, too many doctors just want to focus on numbers.  And drug companies will concoct pills to "fix" those numbers, regardless of what additional problems those drugs will cause.

Screw you Lipitor!  Food is my medicine.

A good website to go to that discusses advanced testing is Health Diagnostic Laboratory.


Secretary - Silver Sands Road Committee said...

Good for you Carey! I went through much the same introspection when statins were prescribed for me years ago. I never started them. The negative effects were more than enough to convince me it is not worth it. I am also staying 'Paleo' and feel much healthier as a result. My numbers are good.

Unknown said...

Thank you so much for you analysis of the book and cholesterol testing in general. I had been on Lipitor (10 mg) which brought my cholesterol level down to 150 from 240. My chiropractor/biking friend said you need cholesterol for the reasons you sited and said I should think about dropping it. Well, I already had after my doctor kept asking me if I had any of the telltale signs like muscle aches, etc. Well, I'm 63, trail run about 20 miles a week and bike about 40-80 miles a week all while climbing ladders painting, repairing houses, splitting wood, etc. Of course I have muscle aches, how the hell do you tell the difference. So I gave it up. Feel like I'm running faster 8:11 mile pace for 15k but feel like my biking has suffered. Anyway, so appreciative of your posting.

Unknown said...

Thanks for taking the time to document your findings and provide a review of the book. I had previously stopped taking 10 mg of Lipitor which had brought my cholesterol down to 150 from 247. My chiropractor cyclist friend recommended dropping the lipitor, that I indeed needed cholesterol for general body function as you pointed out via the book review. Again, thanks for taking the time to post.

LMaddy said...

Thank you for your research on statins and post about your experience. I need to talk to a family member about getting off of statins because of the side effects and this book as well as your perspective are extremely helpful. It's quite interesting to read your quote about the participants on the panel "When the National Cholesterol Education Program lowered the 'optimal' cholesterol levels in 2004, eight out of nine people on the panel had financial ties to the pharmaceutical company." That's crazy.

Thanks again for your thoughtful post!

Anonymous said...

Glad I just read this. My cholesterol was just diagnosed at 167 which was a surprise to me.I've never been diagnosed with high cholesterol,and even though my diet could be better,I mostly eat better than worst. My triglycerides are 75.I haven't been prescribed any meds for it,yet,(they're still checking it)but I'm glad I have this info just in case they try to.Good stuff.-Mark D.