Cholesterol, Statins, and Choice

I was at the gym the other day and I overheard a couple of middle-aged tubby guys complaining about their cholesterol. To make a long story short, one was listening attentively while the other bragged about his statins—made me cringe. Why? Well, in Cholesterol Protection for Life Dr. Fuhrman talks about their side-effects, pretty scary stuff. Check it out:
When resorting to medical intervention, rather than dietary modifications, other problems arise, reducing the potential reduction in mortality possible, as these individuals are at risk of serious side effects from the medication. The known side effects for various statins (the most popular and effective medications to lower cholesterol) include hepatitis, jaundice, other liver problems, gastrointestinal upsets, muscle problems and a variety of blood complications such as reduced platelet levels and anemia.
Now, I doubt my two tubby guys will heed a warning like this. After all, they belong to a gym and are still fat. But I guess they represent the millions of people that just aren’t willing to do the hard work. They’d rather pop a pill and continue eating poorly. Recently New York Times reporter Jane E. Brody was faced with this very decision—guess what she did? See for yourself:
Now it was time to further limit red meat (though I never ate it often and always lean), stick to low-fat ice cream, eat even more fish, increase my fiber intake and add fish oils to my growing list of supplements. But the latest test, in early June, was even more of a shock: total cholesterol, 248, and LDLs, 171.


My doctor’s conclusion: “Your body is spewing out cholesterol and nothing you do to your diet is likely to stop it.” I was not inclined to become a total vegetarian to see if that would help. The time had come to try a statin, one of the miraculously effective cholesterol-lowering drugs.

By studying the effects of statins in thousands of people who already had heart disease or were likely to develop it, researchers finally proved that lowering total and LDL cholesterol in people at risk was both health-saving and life-saving. I’ll know by fall if the low-dose statin I now take nightly will do the trick, or if I’ll need a higher dose.
Wow. That quote from the doctor is amazing. Talk about throwing in the towel. Brody is no better. I mean why wouldn’t she at least try ratcheting up her diet further? My guess is she’d be pleasantly surprised by the results, and, it’s a lot better than being saddled with statins for the rest of her life. According to Dr. Fuhrman superior nutrition would set her straight. From Eat to Live:
A vegetable, fruit, nut, and bean-based diet has been shown to be the most effective cholesterol-lowering dietary approach in medical history. This newsworthy data with the potential to save millions of lives has been ignored by the mass media. With this dietary approach, most patients drop their total cholesterol below 150 and LDL below 100, without the need for medications…


…In areas of the world where people eat a diet of unrefined plant foods, people have total cholesterol levels below 150, and there is zero incidence of heart disease in the population.1
A couple years ago when I was sick with gastritis and my doctor wrote me a bunch of prescriptions, I made a choice. I said I could either be beholden to drug companies for the rest of my life, or, I can beat this thing on my own terms. For me, the carrot was mightier than the prescription pad.
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Dumb Science: Isolated Vitamins NOT Magic Pills

If you spend most of your time reading health news, you’ll soon realize that for every good piece of science, there’s a broad confederacy of junk science. Take this one for example. A new study has determined that taking vitamin C, E, and beta-carotene supplements won’t prevent heart disease in high-risk women. Carolyn Colwell of HealthDay News reports:
"Antioxidants are clearly not the magic bullet for heart disease prevention," said Dr. JoAnn E. Manson, the study's principal investigator and chief of preventive medicine at Brigham and Women's Hospital, in Boston. "We didn't see an overall benefit or risk for these vitamins and cardiovascular disease."


The study shows that vitamins C, E and beta-carotene supplements are no substitute for conventional cardiovascular medications with proven results, added Dr. Nanette K. Wenger, an associate professor in the division of cardiology at the Emory University School of Medicine.

Women patients, in particular, seem to "love their antioxidants, and sometimes, for some reason, stop life-saving medications and start taking them," added Wenger, chairwoman of the data safety and monitoring board for the study.

The findings also mean "we have to redouble the efforts on conventional prevention" such as healthy diet, exercise, weight control and avoiding tobacco, Manson said. "One problem is that occasionally, if there is an expectation of benefit from popping a pill, people are less vigilant about controlling established risk factors and much more difficult lifestyle modifications," she added.
Okay, I’m not a doctor, I have no medical background, and honestly, I’m not that bright, but even I know that adding vitamins to a rotten diet isn’t actually going to help improve your health. To quote some farmer, “Y’all can put a pig in a dress, but, it’s still a pig.” When I asked Dr. Fuhrman about this study, he pretty much had the same reaction:
People that still think that individual vitamins like C and E and beta carotene are an answer to improvements in health, should put away their typewriters and white out, and take a ride in their Edsels. But, there is lots of worthless research being done out there.
On a side note, and maybe it’s because I’m too young, but I had to Google Edsels. Okay, back to the junk science at hand. In his work Dr. Fuhrman makes it crystal clear that vitamins and pills alone aren’t the way to superior nutrition. The basis of our health and longevity can be found in the fruits, vegetables, seeds, and legumes around us—eat them! More from Eat to Live:
When you eat mostly natural plant foods, such as fruits, vegetables, and beans, you get large amounts of various types of fiber. These foods are rich in complex carbohydrates and both insoluble and water-soluble fibers. The fibers slow down glucose absorption and control the rate of digestion. Plant fibers have complex physiological effects in the digestive tract that offer a variety of benefits, such as lowering cholesterol.1
And that’s only the tip of the iceberg!
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