I get many questions regarding cholesterol and there seems to be a lot of confusion in this area. Cholesterol is a fat that is both in food and created by your body. The main source of blood cholesterol is the kind that is produced by your own body in your liver. Dietary cholesterol has a minimal effect on blood cholesterol levels. 100 years ago heart disease was virtually unheard of despite the fact that the typical cholesterol level was over 20 points higher than it is today. So, why is heart disease such a problem today and statin meds are prescribed so freely in the hopes of preventing heart disease?
Let’s first take a look at statin medications and how they work. Lipitor, also known as atorvastatin, is a common statin medication that is widely prescribed today, but there are many others by different names. They all work on the same principle, inhibiting an enzyme in your liver that causes it to produce cholesterol, HMG-CoA reductase. HMG CoA reductase inhibitors like Lipitor block this enzyme which is essential for your body to produce cholesterol therefore lowering its levels in your blood. Unfortunately those medications come with a long list of side effects that are both common and severe including muscle weakness and destruction, fatigue, headaches, and abdominal pains. Are these risks worth it for you? Why not try something a little less risky?
The question then remains…if we can use a medication to block that enzyme from working overtime, why can’t we slow it down naturally? We can and the best way to do it is with diet, but not a diet low in saturated fat, a diet low in sugar and carbohydrates. Glucose is the form of sugar your body takes into the blood for fuel from carbohydrates. Insulin is the hormone produced in response to glucose in the blood. Both of these compounds increase the activity of HMG CoA reductase in the liver. Therefore a diet low in sugar will decrease the blood levels of glucose and slow the stimulation of both Insulin and HMG CoA reductase.
What happens if this type of diet doesn’t do enough to lower your cholesterol levels? Are you then left with no other option but to start statin meds? No, there are many options including Niacin, Guggul, Red Rice Yeast, Garlic, and exercise. Lowering your cholesterol is about lifestyle changes and lowering your risk of heart disease is about more than just cholesterol. When talking about your cholesterol with your doctor don’t forget to ask about Homocystiene and Cardio C-reactive protein. These are 2 factors that heavily influence your risk of heart disease as well as your cholesterol levels.