Updated: October 2022
Statin drugs are the most prescribed medication for high cholesterol and triglycerides. Cholesterol lowering medications will lower cholesterol but one of the most common side effects of statins is muscle and joint aches/pains.
That is because statins can cause a potentially serious condition called rhabdomyolysis (a breakdown of muscle tissue).
How does Digestion Work?
Digestion is dependent on the rhythmic contractions of the muscles of the digestive tract. The name of these contractions is “peristalsis”.
Many people will develop digestive or “gut” health problems and have altered motility. Some will get diarrhea, others will get gas, and some will get constipation. Worse yet, many people suffer from all three!
Now, I don’t know about you, since digestion and health in general are dependent on muscles, my muscles are pretty important to me. So is my brain. Cholesterol is needed for both the muscles and the brain to be healthy.
Age Related Muscle Loss
People past the age of 65 lose 1-2% muscle mass a year anyway. Why would you want to add another 1-2% of muscle breakdown a year, along with helping your brain be less healthy and at the same time decreasing libido (sex drive and desire) or performance because of a statin drug?
I get it. You might be worried about your high cholesterol and the stroke or heart attack risk. I understand.
High Cholesterol Options
High cholesterol is a risk factor but diet, exercise, supplementation and lifestyle modifications can work wonders, make you feel great, and could also be preventative of a stroke or heart attack.
Besides, are you grossly inflamed? Is that the cause of your high cholesterol? Are you hypothyroid, with a slow metabolism, and that is what is driving it up? Why is it high to begin with?
Statin Drugs and CoQ10 Depletion
Additionally, statins can cause a “drug induced nutrient depletion” of CoQ10. CoQ10 is what your heart and other tissues use to make energy.
CoQ10 can also act as a natural blood thinner when taken in adequate dosages. Statins deplete the very thing your heart needs in order to stay healthy – (CoQ10). This simply doesn’t make sense to me. Sorry, soap box. Back to the point.
How to Lower Cholesterol Naturally
I have seen so many patients with high cholesterol that I felt it was important to write an article on the natural approach for cholesterol control and regulation.
I also feel it is important to understand how cholesterol can be affected by digestion. I am going to include some dietary measures for cholesterol control but also make it clear that cholesterol is not necessarily bad.
Also, using red yeast rice to control cholesterol levels can cause many of the same side effects as statin drugs or medications.
By now, most of you know how much I dislike medication. It is true that medication is sometimes necessary. However, the human body is a masterful self regulating organism.
In fact, even an autoimmune disease that destroys body tissues happens because the body is trying to protect itself. It’s simply amazing!
So many people can be helped by getting the body healthier through natural methods. Natural methods often have great results and don’t have a list of side effects that are a mile long.
I know I am being repetitious here, but when it comes to issues like high cholesterol, I personally don’t believe that statin drugs are the answer. They have many possible side effects.
Do Statin Medications Really Lower Heart Attack or Stroke Risk?
Statin medications have been shown to initially lower cholesterol but have also been shown to not have a dramatic decrease in the number of people who have a stroke or heart attack.
Once again, the principle of changing things in the body by covering up the problem isn’t going to the root cause of the problem.
Is Cholesterol Bad?
One big myth is that cholesterol is bad. Cholesterol is not the enemy. Your body needs cholesterol. Your brain is made up of sterols from cholesterol.
Your body even needs the “bad” cholesterol which is called LDL cholesterol. LDL cholesterol is the “bad” cholesterol because it has a higher fat and lower protein content than HDL cholesterol.
However, it is the transport molecule that your liver uses to transport fats to tissues in the body. If you don’t have enough LDL “bad” cholesterol, you could die.
Cholesterol Produces Bile Acids
An important role of cholesterol in the body is that it produces bile acids. These acids are necessary for digestion of fats. The liver makes cholesterol. The liver also makes bile acids.
Bile acids are what help you break down and absorb fats. They are what also help you absorb fat soluble vitamins (A, D, E, and K) from the foods that you eat.
If you have low cholesterol production (either natural or statin induced), you can become nutrient deficient and become malnourished over time.
Is High Cholesterol Bad?
It is important to note that problems can arise when cholesterol levels go too high. That is a definite risk for cardiovascular disease such as atherosclerosis and events such as heart attack or stroke.
For most people, cholesterol will lower on its own through lifestyle modifications. Some of them are by eating cholesterol lowering foods (listed below).
Does Inflammation cause High Cholesterol?
One of the most common drivers of high cholesterol is chronic inflammation. Let’s say that you have IBS. With IBS, the tissues in your digestive tract are under a constant strain.
The digestive tract is constantly trying to heal and repair, but can’t truly heal because of the chronic diarrhea.
In this situation, the liver will make more cholesterol because the body heals and repairs through cholesterol. So, an inflamed gut can be a cause of elevated total cholesterol.
Does Hypothyroidism cause High Cholesterol?
Another very common cause of high cholesterol is when people have thyroid dysfunction. Actually, a person’s pituitary gland may be working completely normal and be producing the right amount of Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH).
Even with adequate TSH levels you could have major problems with the thyroid hormone system (including conversion problems of T4 to T3 in the liver and peripheral tissues).
Thyroid Gland and TSH
What I am saying is that on a basic lab test, your thyroid gland could look fine, but you could still be having a problem with the utilization and breakdown of thyroid hormones and therefore have a “thyroid” problem.
How could the Thyroid effect Cholesterol?
The thyroid gland controls metabolism of all tissues in the body. Your liver makes cholesterol and the cholesterol is released into the body so that it can help with tissue repair, etc…
If your metabolism is slow, then the tissues won’t metabolize your cholesterol and therefore, may not break it down. Over time, this can cause elevation of cholesterol in the bloodstream which is “high cholesterol”.
A slow metabolism can also be tied to constipation. That’s why so many people with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis (autoimmune thyroid disease) or even non-autoimmune hypothyroid can have constipation.
Hypothyroidism and Constipation
Constipation can lead to malnutrition and is another risk factor for cancer. It is critically important to look for the cause of health problems and get to the “roots”.
Signs of Hypothyroidism
- no energy
- thinning hair
- difficulty losing weight
- tough skin
- low sex drive
- loss of the outer third of the eyebrow
- fungal toenails
- digestive health problems (IBS, SIBO, Crohn’s, etc…)
What is Functional Hypothyroid?
A large percentage of the population is “functional hypothyroid” which means that their laboratory values are within normal “clinical” range but low when it comes to a functional standpoint.
Functional hypothyroid patients may not have any of the symptoms that I just listed but those symptoms could very well be on their way if nothing is done about it.
Remember, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. It is important to identify these types of problems early on before they cascade into many other health problems and/or disease.
As many of you know, I work with A LOT of thyroid patients. Both hypothyroid (Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis) and hyperthyroid (Grave’s Disease).
It is not uncommon to lower someone’s cholesterol by up to 100 points after helping identify and correct low thyroid hormone conversion.
Working naturally can take some time and an exercise of patience for both my patients and myself, but most people can have fantastic results through following one of my natural protocols.
List of Cholesterol Lowering Foods
- Red Wine
- Olive Oil
On my expanded Currie Panel blood work, I also check a special cholesterol panel called the “Cardio IQ”. It shows your risk of stroke or heart attack based off of your levels of total cholesterol, HDL cholesterol, triglycerides, LDL cholesterol, cholesterol/HDLC ratio, and Non-HDL cholesterol.
The Cardio IQ Test breaks down the individual components and shows a graph stating whether your levels are: Optimal, Moderate, or High Risk for stroke or heart attack based off of the findings for each component of the test.
What is Niacin?
A recommendation that I make for some of my patients with high LDL cholesterol is niacin. Niacin has been shown to increase LDL particle size and make the LDL cholesterol less likely to cause plaques in the arteries.
*Care needs to be exercised with Niacin as it can induce what is known as a “Niacin Flush”.
A Niacin Flush is a skin reaction where the skin can turn bright red and itch or burn. It can happen in the arms, legs, face or trunk.
Talk to me if you experience a Niacin Flush and I will work with you to develop an alternative strategy.
Other Tests Offered
In my clinic, I also offer many other tests such as: the Adrenal Salivary Index (to identify abnormal cortisol levels and the connection with sleep wake cycles/Circadian rhythm), Parasitology Testing, Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO) Breath Test, Organic Acid Testing, Spirometry (to check lung function), Computerized Urinalysis Testing, Urinary Indican Test (to check for undigested and rotten food particles/protein in the gut), Food Sensitivity Testing (to see if foods that you eat are contributing to an immune system response leading to inflammation, sickness and autoimmune disorders), Metabolic Acidosis Testing, and many others.
Diabetic Regulates Blood Sugar
I was recently working with an extreme diabetic whose blood sugar was 400 when he had his second stroke. In his third week of treatments with me, he came to me and said, “Dr. Currie, my blood sugar is less than 100 for the first time in over 30 years. I don’t think that I need these medications. What do you think?”
I said, “Well, I can’t tell you to quit taking your medications. That is between you and your primary care physician, but isn’t it wonderful that we are getting to have this conversation?” He was thrilled and so was I.
This is a carbon copy of the conversation that I get to have with my Functional Medicine patients over and over again.
- My anxiety is gone!
- I’m sleeping through the night!
- I haven’t had this much energy in many years!
- My mind is clear and the fog is gone!
- I’m having regular bowel movements!
I love it when I see the lights start to come on and people begin to realize that there is often a better way to live and that thriving instead of just surviving is actually possible.
I am especially proud of the fact that I have had 3 pharmacists consult with me about their health. People who are on the “inside” and “in the know”, don’t want to take medications. It’s true. Ask one and you’ll they will tell you.
One cornerstone of my approach with my patients is that I believe that if you are not testing, you are guessing.
If you don’t run the proper tests for the health problem, then you are making decisions about your health off of conjecture. Guessing isn’t good enough.
Lab Test Interpretation
Also, just performing the blood tests or lab tests isn’t good enough. You have to know how to interpret the results when you read them.
I have seen labs performed by other Drs. on many of my patients. Often, the liver enzymes will be elevated or there could be some other values that are out of range.
Patients tell me that their Dr. said that even though their values were out of range, it was a good lab or that they will need to “keep an eye” on the high or low numbers.
When I see numbers that are out of range or even on the high or low end (just inside of the range that doesn’t cause a red flag), the body is showing me that a health problem is occurring.
A chronic infection in the Gastrointestinal Tract (GI) can cause a shift in the Complete Blood Chemistry (CBC) numbers.
Eosinophils and Parasites
An example of one of the markers I look at is the eosinophil %. There can be a shift in white blood cell percentages that can be clues to some type of possible infection.
Unfortunately, these clues are often overlooked or missed. An eosinophil % of over a 3.0 can be a possible parasitic infection and a need for possible parasite testing.
I see the same thing in many of my subclinical hypothyroid patients. The labs look “normal” but the patient tells me that they feel sick.
Thyroid Hormone Panel
A common finding is that Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH) is often within “normal” range on blood work, but T3 is too low or Reverse T3 is high from a functional standpoint.
Your numbers can be within “normal” range and you can still be subclinical hypothyroid.
What about Anemia?
The same holds true with anemia. Your iron levels can be “normal”. However, you could be on the low end with your serum iron and suffer from subclinical anemia.
Or, your ferritin (iron stores) could be getting depleted which can cause hypoxia associated with anemia. The answer isn’t necessarily to take more iron. The cause of low iron or ferritin needs to be rooted out and corrected.
BTW, parasitic infections can also lower iron!
With my patients, I test them using whatever tests are indicated after performing a thorough and comprehensive case history.
Your detailed history of illness is what I will combine with your laboratory testing in order to formulate my conclusions. They go hand in hand. Often, the answers are somewhere in the history and the laboratory tests help to confirm them.
The beauty of this approach is that follow-up testing can be performed and improvements can be directly measured by comparing the initial laboratory testing with follow-ups.
Of course there are exceptions to the rule but it has been my experience that the vast majority of my patients become much healthier.
In fact, most of them already know how much healthier they are before we even perform the follow-up labs because they feel so much better. But, it is extremely rewarding for both my patients and myself to see the changes in black and white.
Health is Happiness,
Dr. Keith Currie