Statin controversy: Lowering cholesterol at the expense of antioxidants?

Prescription Drugs

By pH health care professionals

Statins are one of the most commonly prescribed drugs in America, because heart disease and stroke are some of the most commonly diagnosed diseases. Although they have saved many lives, controversy about their use still exists.

Statins work by stopping the work of an enzyme called HMG-CoA reductase. When food gets broken down into fatty acids, it oxidizes to a substance called acetyl-CoA. Chemical reactions cause the acetyl-CoA to be converted to HMG-CoA. The HMG-CoA reductase normally would turn it into new cholesterol, but gets blocked by the statin. This works because most of the cholesterol accounted for on your lab tests comes from the body making it from fatty acids. With a decrease in animal products in the diet and a statin, most patients notice a decent drop in cholesterol.

But statins can also cause liver inflammation, aching muscles, and stillbirth or birth defects. The liver inflammation is usually treated by stopping the medication or reducing the dose, and the aching muscles are usually addressed by switching the type of statin.

Earlier this year, an abstract from a pharmacology journal (of a clinical hypothesis, not a research study) created some buzz among patients active on disease message boards. The authors of the piece think that because statins reduce levels of the potent antioxidant glutathione, the resulting lack of antioxidants could trigger bad outcomes like heart disease.

It's true that antioxidants seem to prevent cancer and heart disease (oxidative stress causes damage at the cellular level; antioxidants stop this process), and that having less antioxidants is a bad thing. Glutathione is a selenium-containing protein, and since these proteins depend on a certain step in the cholesterol-making process that statins prevent, the glutathione doesn't get made. Think of a train being diverted prior to getting to its stop. It requires decent doses of selenium to "encourage" the chemical reactions to run in the antioxidant-making direction again -- think of such a strong wind pushing the train that it has no choice but to run in the original direction.

With this in mind, be proactive and know how your medications are affecting other areas of your health, and ask a knowledgeable doctor if those side effects can be mitigated.

So, here are some ways you can be proactive:

  1. If you are on a statin, consider a selenium supplement.
  2. The best form of cholesterol lowering is a plant-based diet.
  3. Consuming other forms of antioxidants, whether in food or supplement form, may offset the decrease in glutathione, while cholesterol buildup is such a direct cause of heart disease that stopping a needed statin drug may be unwise. If cholesterol testing shows high levels after a patient has switched to a good diet, that statin might still be necessary to protect against heart disease.
  4. Test, don’t guess. Trial and error costs more time, money and stress! And who wants to deal with that? Testing for nutritional deficiencies can help you tailor your diet to exactly what your body needs, and testing for cardiovascular risk factors just might save your life.

Enjoy Your Healthy Life!

The pH professional health care team includes recognized experts from a variety of health care and related disciplines, including physicians, attorneys, nutritionists, nurses and certified fitness instructors. This team also includes the members of the pH Medical Advisory Board, which constantly monitors all pH programs, products and services. To learn more about the pH Medical Advisory Board, click here.

Comments (2)


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