You’ve been told you need to lower your cholesterol, but did you know taking a statin could raise your risk of type 2 diabetes? A recent study of almost 9,000 people in their 60s showed that statin use increased the risk of diabetes by almost 40 percent. Statin use was also associated with a higher risk for elevated blood sugar and insulin resistance (pre-diabetes). While the brand of statin subjects took didn’t seem to matter, risk was higher in overweight and obese subjects.
Given the risks associated with high blood sugar, insulin resistance, and diabetes, this study highlights further problems with statin use for a condition that is typically well managed through functional medicine protocols. High blood sugar and diabetes raise your risk for many chronic health disorders, including dementia and Alzheimer’s.
This isn’t the first study to link statins with an increased risk of type 2 diabetes. Previous research has found a 50 percent increased risk of diabetes in female users.
Statins most commonly prescribed drugs
Statins are among the most commonly prescribed drugs, accounting for more than $20 billion of spending a year. About one in four Americans over 40 takes statins, with that number having increased by almost 80 percent in the last two decades. Side effects include muscle weakness and wasting, headaches, difficulty sleeping, and dizziness.
Statins do not address the underlying cause of high cholesterol
Although statins lower cholesterol, they do not address the underlying cause of high cholesterol in most people, which is typically inflammation (some people have a genetic disorder that causes very high cholesterol). The body uses cholesterol to patch up damage in the arteries caused by inflammation. In fact, research shows inflammation is the primary cause of heart attacks and strokes, not high cholesterol.
Considering the following facts about cholesterol and heart disease:
- 75 percent of people who have heart attacks have normal cholesterol.
- Older patients with low cholesterol have a higher risk of death than those with higher cholesterol.
- Populations in other countries with higher cholesterol than Americans have less heart disease.
Hypothyroidism, a condition estimated to affect more than 20 million Americans, raises cholesterol. Many find a gluten-free diet lowers cholesterol, as gluten is inflammatory for so many people.
Research also shows diets low in fat and high in carbohydrates increase the “bad” form of LDL (there are two to look at) and decrease the protective HDL.
Lowering cholesterol through functional medicine
Using functional medicine is a highly effective way to lower cholesterol naturally. This is because functional medicine identifies and manages the root cause of a problem versus using a drug to block symptoms.
Management includes an anti-inflammatory diet, exercise, nutritional support, and finding out causes of inflammation. These may include low thyroid function, autoimmune disease, bacterial or viral infections, leaky gut, poor blood-sugar handling, or other chronic health issues.
In fact, high cholesterol is more often tied to a diet too high processed carbohydrates and sugars, not fat. Sugar and refined carbs, including processed white foods, drive good cholesterol down and triglycerides up. It causes low density small particles that encourage the dangerous buildup of arterial plaque. This can lead to not only heart disease but also insulin resistance or “pre-diabetes.” Sugar, not dietary fat, is the bigger cause of most heart attacks.
However, the type of fat you eat matters too. Trans fats, or hydrogenated fats, promote dangerous types of cholesterol, while omega-3 fats and monounsaturated fats improve the healthy types of cholesterol.
Measuring cholesterol players
Cholesterol is found in every cell and helps produce cell membranes, vitamin D, and hormones. It’s also necessary for good neurological function.
When we measure cholesterol, we are measuring LDL and HDL. These are small packages of fat and protein that help move cholesterol throughout the body.
High-density lipoprotein — HDL
This is considered “good” cholesterol. It helps removes excess arterial plaque.
Low-density lipoprotein — LDL
This is considered “bad” cholesterol. It can form plaque that narrows the arteries and makes them less flexible (atherosclerosis).
High levels of this dangerous fat are linked to heart disease and diabetes. Levels rise from eating too many sugars and processed carbs, as well as from smoking, physical inactivity, excessive drinking and being overweight.
Lipoprotein (a) or Lp(a)
Lp(a) is made up of an LDL part plus a protein (apoprotein a). Elevated Lp(a) levels are a strong risk for heart disease.
When testing cholesterol, please pay attention to:
- Levels of HDL “good” cholesterol versus LDL “bad” cholesterol
- Triglyceride levels
- The ratio of triglycerides to HDL
- The ratio of total cholesterol to HDL
Inflammation promotes heart disease
Systemic inflammation is a primary factor in heart disease and most chronic health disorders. A diet high in sugars and processed carbs, a sedentary lifestyle, smoking, excessive drinking, chronic stress, gut infections, unmanaged autoimmunity, and chronic infections are all causes of chronic inflammation. People with elevated systemic inflammation, which is measured by a blood marker called C-reactive protein (CRP) have a higher risk for heart disease than those with high cholesterol. Also, normal cholesterol is not protective for those with high CRP.