Stop Chattin’ ’bout Statins

Before just agreeing to take whatever a doctor has prescribed for you, you should carefully consider getting a second or even a third opinion. Sometimes doctors either don’t test well enough to actually know what’s wrong with you, or they may provide a solution that brings its own dangers.

Take statins, for instance. These can be more dangerous than effective, unless you’ve actually had a stroke or heart attack. And yet, doctors hand them out like flyers to a concert if your cholesterol levels are a smidge on the high side, even if there’s zero evidence of cardiovascular disease.

There are a couple of issues with this approach. First, statins have dangerous side effects. They drain your body’s supply of CoQ10 (used by every cell in your body for energy production) and vitamin K2 (which moves calcium to the right places, like bones, and away from the wrong places, like arteries), and they hamper your ability to produce ketones (which limit the function of HDAC, something tied very closely to aging). What does this all mean? Statins can make you more prone to diseases, like cancer, diabetes, neurodegenerative illnesses (like Parkinson’s, Huntington’s, and Alzheimer’s), musculoskeletal disorders (such as myalgia and rhabdomyolysis), and cataracts. All of these potential side effects for statins, and they actually only work on about 1% of the population!

Does your prescription even apply for you?

When I was a kid, my grandpa would take me aside if he saw me crying. He would smile, pat me on the head or rustle my hair, and he’d say, “Indians don’t cry.” First of all, I’m about as white as you can be; it there’s any American Indian blood in me, it’s so small a lab

probably wouldn’t find it. But secondly, saying “Indians don’t cry” didn’t address my problem. I still had a skinned knee or had my feelings hurt. This phrase was a catch-all that only rarely applied.

This story explains the second problem with prescribing statins in every case of high cholesterol. The doctor is likely failing to address the root problem. Without the proper analysis of what’s causing your levels to be high, there’s no way to know whether the prescription will actually help you. Are the side effects of statins worth taking the chance that nothing will change with your cholesterol level?

Cardiovascular issues don’t always go back to plaque in your arteries or genetic high blood pressure. For instance, high cholesterol could be caused by hypothyroidism (low thyroid function). True, this does also increase your risk of cardiovascular disease. But one of the reasons for that is that it throws your lipid balance out of whack. Your bad lipids include LDL, the “naughty” cholesterol, and triglycerides, made from fats and sugars you take in. Your good lipids include HDL, the “nice” cholesterol. You always want lower LDL and triglycerides and higher HDL, and hypothyroidism screws this balance up.

Proper hormones to treat hypothyroidism have positive effects on your lipid transport in areas such as your blood. They stimulate the first step in the conversion of other substances into cholesterol, and they also control activation of the genes that receive LDL. For instance, a hormone known as T3 helps keep LDL from oxidizing.

Statins are prescribed way too often as a fix for high cholesterol.

But thyroid hormones can be good or bad for any number of other risk factors, not just your cholesterol levels. If you really want to avoid a heart attack, you should do more than just lower your cholesterol. Among other things, hypothyroidism has been linked to these conditions: insulin resistance (bad, since insulin helps your body use carbs, fats, and proteins properly); oxidative stress (damage over time to your cells, like the rusting of an engine); atherosclerosis (junk building up in your arteries, putting you at risk of stroke, among other things); metabolic syndrome (having at least three of five very bad medical conditions); and weight gain. All of these increase your chances for cardiovascular disease. If you get your thyroid levels back to healthy levels, you might eliminate a lot of these risk factors all in one go.

So, then, your high cholesterol could be caused by too many burger-and-fry meals, but it could also come from a problem with your thyroid itself. To be sure, you should get a test measuring your metabolic rate, since blood tests miss most cases of hypothyroidism. If your metabolic rate is low, your thyroid needs help, no matter what blood tests show.

With all of this said, very few doctors have what they need to measure the metabolic rate. They need special equipment. But going out of your way to find a doctor who can measure metabolic rate is worth it. And given the side effects of statins, you should only accept a prescription of these as a last resort, if you already have a documented case of cardiovascular disease. A second and third opinion by other doctors really could save your life.

Probiotics, Plants, and Genetic Health

Escherichia coli, most commonly called “E. coli“,
is one of many bacteria found in the human gut.

As many of you probably already know, your digestive system is home to trillions of microscopic bacteria, fungi, and viruses. In common speech, these are called your “gut bacteria” (called “gastrointestinal microbiota” in fancy science jargon). By design, our bodies are supposed to have a healthy community of certain bacteria that constantly live here. In fact, our very health depends on having these bacteria live there, in our gut, all the time.

At the University of Wisconsin-Madison, researchers discovered that these bacteria can actually help turn genes on and off. The information taken from their study can be used to avoid illness, even sicknesses that are genetic.

They started by raising mice in a germ-free environment. They wanted to see what would happen if microorganisms were introduced only through the mice’s diets. As it turns out, the bacteria provided through their diet actually produced substances that “talk” to the mice’s cells. They even affected gene expression.

How did they figure that out? They fed one group of the mice a diet based on plants, giving them a variety of carbohydrates, like what people can get from a diet based on fruits and vegetables. The other group got what most Westerners tend to eat: a lot of fat and sugar.

The mice with a plant-based diet were a lot better off and had much more complex microbiomes. (In other words, their gut bacteria were a lot better balanced.) Something called “short-chain fatty acids” were produced when the gut bacteria ate up the nutrients in the plants. These fatty acids helped the bacteria to communicate a lot better with the mice’s genes and influence them positively. (FYI, these same fatty acids are also really important for colon health.)

And what about the mice who had a high-fat, high-sugar diet? Yeah, they

Germ-free mice were given two different diets.

didn’t do so well. Because there were fewer nutrients for their bacteria to consume, their number of short-chain fatty acids was a lot lower. This also meant that they bacteria couldn’t “talk” to the mice’s genes as well.

What surprised the researchers was that the microbiome didn’t just get chatty with cells in the stomach and colon.

It also struck up conversations with the liver and just about anywhere else in the body where fatty tissue was found. In other words, having a healthy gut isn’t only important for your colon and stomach; it’s something that affects your entire body.

In case you’re not already familiar with the bacteria of the gut, here’s the takeaway. To keep your body at its best: (1) you need healthy bacteria in your gut (versus other types of bacteria); and (2) you need to feed those bacteria the right foods. Eating a lot of plant-based dishes — yes, that means stuff like Brussels sprouts, spinach, and broccoli — is important for both. Initially, it will most noticeably affect number 2, but it will also eventually help with number 1, because the complexity and quantity of good bacteria in your gut will go up.

If you want to kick-start positive changes to your gut and help maintain a healthy microbiome, you can take a probiotic. Sure, maybe you can’t change your genes. That doesn’t mean you can’t take control of your life and health. You can affect how genes talk to each other and express themselves (how they act and what they produce). Stop treating bacteria like the enemy: some of them just want to help!