In the era of cholesterol lowering medications, there’s great promise that you can healthfully consume an abundance of dietary fat while still avoiding statin drugs. “High cholesterol” results typically end in being prescribed an anti-cholesterol medication, however, more and more, it’s being determined that higher cholesterol levels may in fact be health promoting rather than disease causing. If you’re wondering how elevated cholesterol can be good for your health, whereas statin drugs may not always be the answer, read on to learn why. 


What does the evidence say about statin drugs? 


Scientific evidence has yet to confirm that statin drugs reliability reduce your risk of heart attack or death. In fact, although two cholesterol lowering medications have been shown to reduce cholesterol levels much more than one alone, it’s also been shown that it leads to more plaque buildup in the arteries and with the same risk of a heart attack. Older patients with lower cholesterol levels have been shown to actually have a higher risk of death than those with higher cholesterol levels. This evidence has also been extended to populations as a whole, wherein countries with higher average cholesterol tend to have reliably less cardiovascular disease. Because the goal of statin and other cholesterol medications is to lower cholesterol with the intent to reduce the risk of heart attack and stoke, there’s clear evidence that treating high cholesterol may not actually be the most correct or effective approach to take after all. Alternatively, evidence actually suggests that it’s probably the ability of statins to help reduce inflammation that accounts for the benefit of these drugs, not due to their ability to reduce cholesterol.


Statins, muscle pain and CoQ10


It is well accepted (proven actually) that statin drugs block the production of co-enzyme Q10 (CoQ10). CoQ10 is a natural and powerful cellular antioxidant, produced in the body, that actually helps reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke. Any person prescribed a statin should also always be prescribed a daily dose of CoQ10 to make up for this fact. Unfortunately, and all too often, CoQ10 isn’t prescribed alongside statins, and patients end up with muscle damage, pain, fatigue, memory issues, neurological issues, diabetes, and likely a higher risk of heart attack or stroke.  


Cholesterol and its health promoting benefits 


Cholesterol is used for many functions within the body. First of all, it acts as the base for the production of many hormones (such as estrogens, progesterones and testosterone.). Without proper cholesterol in the body, normal functioning hormones could not be created. Funny enough, as men and women transition through andropause and menopause, so to do corresponding cholesterol levels (they naturally tend to rise). In addition, cholesterol is the essential base molecule required for vitamin D production, helps the gallbladder function, and is strongly essential in supporting and maintaining proper immune system capacity. Lastly, cholesterol stars as the primary component of every membrane of every cell that makes up your body, and also makes up 50% of your brain! 

Cholesterol is known to be extremely anti inflammatory and anti-oxidative (it’s a powerful antioxidant!). When arteries and vessels are damaged (such as from tobacco smoke or other environmental pollutants), cholesterol comes to the rescue, forms a plaque, and begins the healing process. Purposely lowering cholesterol in the body directly inhibits the benefits and function of why it essentially exists. So while very high cholesterol may not be ideal, automatically treating it with statins may not be the answer as it can certainly be an effective sign that inflammation and and oxidation needs to be addressed. 


Fat, heart attacks, and cholesterol 


From a confirmed medical perspective, here is what we know: approximately half of heart attack cases are found not to have elevated or high cholesterol readings, and damage caused to the walls of most arteries are preempted by inflammation and oxidative stress, not simply by the presence of cholesterol or plaque alone. Did you know that dietary fat only contributes approximately 10% to cholesterol levels? This is exactly why consuming healthy fats provide health encouraging benefits while not tipping you over the cholesterol edge.  


I have high cholesterol, what should I do? 


The science clearly shows that high cholesterol is not the killer. Although out of control (excessively high or altered) cholesterol can contribute to heart attack or cardiovascular illness, it is not the precipitating factor. Inflammation and oxidation on arterial walls are often the cause that creates elevated cholesterol cycles (out of control inflammation or oxidation causes an out of control cholesterol building process). So when asked “what comes first, the chicken or the egg”, the answer is always inflammation and oxidation first, followed by adaptive (then over adaptive) changes in cholesterol. If you want to target cholesterol at its root, although statin drugs can be helpful in certain cases, the focus should always be reducing inflammation, oxidation, and the associated causes at their root. 


Dr Jeremy Hayman, ND helps patients at Cornerstone Naturopathic Inc. feel better, live better, and achieve optimal wellness and health. Years of patient care coupled with dedication to personal life balance has helped Dr Jeremy employ the adage that “your approach to health should be simple”.