Are Statins the Best Means of Preventing Heart Disease?

//Are Statins the Best Means of Preventing Heart Disease?

Are Statins the Best Means of Preventing Heart Disease?

6 Ways to Reduce Your Cardiac Risk without Prescription Medication

Odds are, you or someone you know is currently taking a “statin,” a category of cholesterol-reducing medications commonly prescribed to decrease the risk of a heart attack or stroke. Usually recognized by the brand names “Crestor” and “Lipitor,” statins are a multi-billion dollar industry, with millions of new prescriptions filled each week. In fact, in 2010, sales of Lipitor alone totaled $7.2 billion — an amount higher than for any other prescription medication sold in the US!

Looking at the rate of new prescriptions one might think that we’ve finally identified a drug that can successfully prevent heart disease.

Statins are being widely prescribed to patients who have higher than normal cholesterol levels – in hope of reducing their risk of developing heart disease.Unfortunately, the medical research to date indicates that statins have very limited usefulness in preventing heart disease unless the patient already has a personal history of heart disease.

The usefulness of statins revolves around the difference between primary prevention – preventing the development of any heart disease – and secondary prevention – preventing the worsening of heart disease in someone who has already suffered a heart attack, stroke or other symptoms.

A 2010 study found that statins, when used for the purpose of primary prevention, helped prevent the development of heart disease in only 2 percent of patients with a medium cardiovascular risk, and in only 3 percent of patients with a high cardiovascular risk. One’s level of risk was assessed by reviewing a number of factors including: whether an individual smoked, was overweight, or had diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, rheumatoid arthritis, chronic kidney disease, or a family of history of heart disease. Note that “high cholesterol” is only one of a number of health factors used to assess one’s risk of developing heart disease.

On the other hand, when taken by patients who had already had a heart attack, a stroke, or been diagnosed with heart disease, statins were able to reduce cardiovascular mortality by up to 36 percent. Therefore, using statins for this group of individuals may make sense.

But as you can see, statins aren’t effective in preventing heart disease for a majority of patients, even those categorized as “high risk.” One reason for this is that statins are designed to reduce cholesterol, but cholesterol is only one factor that puts an individual at risk for having a heart attack or stroke.

Inflammation is a much more reliable predictor of one’s risk of developing heart disease than is cholesterol. And inflammation is best measured by looking at a patient’s C-reactive protein (CRP) levels.

The good news is that very often inflammation can be reduced dramatically by making lifestyle changes, such as adopting an anti-inflammatory diet, engaging in regular exercise, practicing daily meditation, not smoking and getting enough sleep. Consequently, at the Kaplan Center we work with patients to help them reduce inflammation.

Do we ever prescribe statins? Absolutely. But only on a case-by-case basis, where the patient has a history of heart disease and when lifestyle changes haven’t succeeded in reducing inflammation.

Some patients ask, “Even if the effectiveness of statins is limited, why not prescribe statins to every patient – what harm could it do?” My answer: “plenty!”

Unfortunately, taking statins involves significant health risks. In response to a growing body of medical research, the FDA recently updated its safety guidelines for statins. The new guidelines warn patients and health care providers that statins may cause memory loss and increase a person’s risk of developing Type-II diabetes. Statin’s established side effects already included: muscle pain or weakness, headaches, sore throat, sinusitis, nausea, and liver problems.

In sum, there are considerable medical risks associated with taking statins, and for most individuals, there are better ways to reduce the risk of developing heart disease.

Here are six steps to help you reduce inflammation, lower your risk of heart disease and improve your overall health and sense of well-being:

1. Make sleep a priority. Quality sleep of 7-9 hours each night will reduce inflammation and is essential for optimum physical and mental health.

2. Incorporate meditation into your daily routine.

3. Take part in regular, physical exercise.

4. Maintain a diet high in antioxidants and low in inflammatory foods.

5. Supplement your diet with 1.5 grams/day of Omega-3 fish oil. Omega-3 fatty acids provide a range of health benefits to reduce your risk of heart disease, including reducing inflammation, cholesterol levels and blood-pressure levels.

6. Take 100 mg/day of CoQ10. This enzyme works as an antioxidant and enhances the energy production within the cells. If you are over 50 years old, take 100 mg/day of UBQH, a form of CoQ10 that’s easier for your body to absorb.

Ultimately, there is a lot each of us can do to prevent heart disease without turning to statins or other prescription medications. You and your physician can work together to figure out the best course of action for your unique situation and to determine whether medications are right for you.

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About the Author:

Gary Kaplan, DO
Gary Kaplan, D.O. is the founder and medical director of the Kaplan Center for Integrative Medicine and author of Total Recovery: A Revolutionary New Approach to Breaking the Cycle of Pain and Depression. A pioneer and leader in the field of integrative medicine, Dr. Kaplan is one of only 19 physicians in the country to be board-certified in both Family Medicine and Pain Medicine. Dr. Kaplan is a Clinical Associate Professor of Family Medicine at Georgetown University School of Medicine and serves on the Advisory Committee to Health and Human Services for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. To read Dr. Kaplan's complete bio, click here.

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