THE GREAT CHOLESTEROL MYTH – Jonny Bowden and Stephen Sinatra (2012)

cholesterol mythMe: “Doc, I cycle 100 miles a week, burn 6000-7000 calories a week, take fish oil, and I’m eating better.  I even take advantage of “nature’s broom” by eating oatmeal almost every day.  However, my cholesterol just won’t drop.”

Doctor: “Because of family history and genetics, you simply won’t be able to lower your cholesterol without a statin.”

So for the last four years, I’ve taken a well-known statin and the results have been favorable.  However, Drs. Jonny Bowden and Stephen Sinatra disagree with the notion that lowering cholesterol prevents heart disease.  Their book, The Great Cholesterol Myth contains an argument that pumps feverishly through the arteries of this book: The real causes of heart disease include four key factors, namely – inflammation, oxidation, sugar, and stress.  The authors contend the real tragedy is the fixation with cholesterol which has produced an industry that boasts over $30 billion a year in the statin market.  In a shocking statement, both authors maintain, “Cholesterol does not cause heart disease.”

Bowden and Sinatra point out that cholesterol is vital for healthy living: “Cholesterol is an essential molecule without which there would be no life, so important that virtually every cell in the body is capable of synthesizing it.”  For over fifty years, the so-called lipid hypothesis has dominated the medical community which essentially states that “saturated fat runs up cholesterol levels, and elevated cholesterol leads to heart disease.”  The hypothesis has never been proved but continues to rule in the hearts and minds of most Americans.

One of the most helpful aspects of The Great Cholesterol Myth is the discussion about the importance of coenzeme Q10 (better known as CoQ10) which serves an important nutrient, a sort of fuel source for the heart.  Statins deplete CoQ10 which may lead to muscle pain, weakness, and fatigue.  Yet none of the doctors that have prescribed a stain in my case have ever mentioned that importance of supplementing with CoQ10.  The authors plead with readers who take statins to immediately begin supplementing their cholesterol lowering drug with  CoQ10 – a minimum of 200 mg daily.

Dr. Sinatra admits that he still prescribes statins on occasion but “almost exclusively to middle-aged men who’ve already had a first heart attack, coronary intervention, or coronary artery disease.”  He argues, “Statin drugs are anti-inflammatory, and their power to reduce inflammation is more much important than their ability to lower cholesterol.  But [and here’s the clincher] we can lower inflammation (and the risk for heart disease) with natural supplements, a better diet, and lifestyle changes such as managing stress.”

The authors reveal a fascinating study that includes five factors that significantly lowered the risk for heart disease:

1. Don’t smoke.

2. Drink alcohol in moderation.

3. Engage in moderate-to-vigorous exercise for at least half an hour a day on average.

4. Maintain a healthy weight (BMI under 25).

5. Eat a wholesome, low-glycemic (low-sugar) diet with plenty of omega-3 fats and fiber.

Notice that lowering cholesterol is painfully absent from the list.  Perhaps this is why, as the authors note, “Cholesterol is a relatively minor player in heart disease and a poor predictor of heart attacks.  More than half of all people who are hospitalized with heart attacks have perfectly normal cholesterol levels.”

The heart of the book explores the real culprit behind heart disease.  The authors dogmatically claim “the true cause of heart disease is inflammation” or as they put it, “acute inflammation hurts, but chronic inflammation kills.”  Second, oxidation is one of the sure signs of inflammation, which leads to a fascinating conclusion, namely – the only time cholesterol becomes troubling is if it’s oxidized (or damaged).  Third, the authors note that “sugar is a far greater danger to your heart than fat ever was.”  They go on to demonstrate that “the number one dietary contributor to heart disease is sugar.”  Finally, stress is included as a major cause of heart disease.

Bowden and Sinatra wonder out loud if statins will become the next medical tragedy – quite comforting to anyone who has relied on statins for years on end!  Side-effects are explored, which is well documented, and side-effects which I have personally experienced.  But the alarming news is that some researchers are warning that statins may contribute to Alzheimers, thinking skills, and memory.  One researcher comments, “Cholesterol changes the shape of the protein to stimulate thinking and memory.”  But the fact that is most often repeated is ability of statins to deplete the body of CoQ10.  “The depletion of CoQ10 is one of the most important negative effects of statins, and the one that is pretty much responsible for a host of common side effects involving muscle pain, weakness, and loss of energy.” To summarize, the authors maintain the risk of using statins outweighs the rewards.

Finally, Bowden and Sinatra explore how supplements can lead to heart health such as vitamins, antioxidants, and omega-3 fats included in wild salmon.  Additionally, they recommend that stain users immediately begin to supplement their diet with CoQ10.  “Just as a gasoline engine can’t work without spark plugs, the human body can’t work without CoQ10.”

I am not ready to pitch my statin until my doctor recommends doing so.  But The Great Cholesterol Myth has got me thinking.  And it has led to some concrete action steps such as implementing CoQ10 into my daily diet.  I’m actually looking forward to my next doctor visit – where my list of questions will be long.  Let’s just say, I’ll be getting my money’s worth that day!

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