One of the most important things to understand before beginning a medication regimen is whether or not medications, like statins, are entirely necessary. Natural treatments often get unfair criticism from the medical community and finding accurate information about treatment alternatives can be a daunting task. There are a lot of sources out there that are not credible and many more that are designed to create fear on the part of the patient. Statins are not the only solution to elevated cholesterol. Cholesterol can often be brought into a healthy range without medications. It is also true that people who are at a real risk for heart attack or stroke can benefit from drug therapy.
With all of the discussion about cholesterol medications and different drug efficacy trials in the news, some people might be wondering how to avoid taking some of these medications. It is absolutely crucial to start with accurate information and cholesterol tests can often be misleading. Rather than having a total cholesterol test performed consider asking your doctor about a Vertical Auto Profile or VAP test and a C-reactive protein test. Standard cholesterol tests can fail to identify between 40% and 60% of those at risk for heart attack or stroke. While a VAP test combined with a C-reactive protein test can provide a highly comprehensive analysis of a person’s risk for heart disease.
Standard cholesterol tests check for total cholesterol, low density lipoproteins (LDL), high density lipoproteins (HDL) and triglyceride levels. The LDL finding in a total cholesterol test is not an actual measurement of the cholesterol, but instead a mathematical calculation of it. A VAP test on the other hand directly measures LDL levels.
The VAP test also looks at lipoprotein subclasses including the lipoprotein (a) level which yields a more accurate analysis of heart attack and stroke risk. The lipoprotein (a) is the most dangerous kind of cholesterol and is indicative of an inherited risk for heart disease. It also is not not responsive to traditional drugs aimed at reducing LDL cholesterol levels. A report from Life Extension Magazine suggests that if people who suffered a heart attack or stroke had gotten a VAP test rather than the standard total cholesterol test, their heart attacks and strokes could have been prevented.
There are cases where statins are highly beneficial, particularly when a person is resistant to making lifestyle changes. However, in many instances statins are not the only solution to elevated cholesterol levels. Making lifestyle changes will certainly alter an individual’s health in a much more comprehensive fashion than will taking a statin drug. What patients need to realize is that the benefits of taking a statin are frequently exaggerated.
Jim Fain, former chief of nuclear medicine at UCLA, said in a personal interview that one way he suggests a person increase their heart health is to switch over to a cardiac diet. This diet, which is also very good for people with diabetes involves the elimination of beef, pork, and lamb as well as reducing the amount of carbohydrates consumed. He also advises a person to eat fresh, locally-grown, organic fruits and vegetables and encourages them to stay active and socially involved.
What is very catching about his approach is that he does not emphasize a strenuous exercise regimen, but rather that a person remain active even in things like fishing, where they are not just camped out on the bank with a beer in hand. Walking and gardening are two other simple ways to stay active. Jim Fain also stated that exercise 3-5 days a week has not been shown to reduce mortality, but if a person likes going to the gym then they should continue doing so. Exercise can be very beneficial in the treatment and prevention of other diseases and can often enhance a person’s emotional well-being, but it is not an absolute necessity.
There are many resources that say specific foods can be beneficial in reducing a person’s risk of heart disease or stroke, and certain supplements that can be supportive of these goals. Consuming high quality filtered and purified fish oil, or other Omega-3 supplements, has many positive health effects just one of which is better heart health. These oils act by reducing triglyceride levels and increasing HDL levels, which help to eliminate LDLs from the body. These beneficial oils are present in foods such as walnuts, avocado, tuna, salmon, and olive oil.
Another way to help raise HDL levels is by taking niacin regularly. It is important to take the kind that causes flushing since the “flush-free” versions may not exert the same protective effect. Some experts also recommend taking a multivitamin with specific emphasis on those containing chromium, biotin, and lipoic acid. Taking a coenzyme Q10 supplement is frequently suggested which can also help lower blood pressure.
It is also important to reduce stress, though that is not always feasible but exercise can help. If you are a smoker, quit. Smoking is a huge contributor to many types of diseases, not just heart disease. There are many resources now available to help you reach your goal.
People should stay in contact with their doctor if they have or are concerned they might have heart problems, but be an informed patient. Take time to thoroughly investigate any treatment, medical or natural. If your doctor wants to prescribe a statin, realize that statins are not the only solution to elevated cholesterol. Educate yourself so that you can be your own advocate rather than blindly accepting the advice of your doctor. After all, you know yourself best.
By: Lara Stielow
Personal interview with Jim Fain Ph.D.