- Get a second and even a third opinion before you take cholesterol medication : Cholesterol medication has become a $27 billion per year industry, with over 13 million Americans taking the drugs. The drugs only benefit people who have already had a heart attack. There is virtually no increase in life expectancy for people who do not have heart disease or for patients over the age of 65. The amount of reduction in heart attacks is miniscule for people without heart disease, and the death rate is about the same in studies where groups being given statins are compared to groups not taking the drugs. Diet, exercise and lifestyle changes easily outperform these drugs for preventing heart attacks.
Cholesterol is just one risk factor for heart disease. C-reactive protein (also called CRP), a measure of inflammation, is a much more serious risk factor for heart disease. High CRP is especially dangerous if the LDL (“bad”) cholesterol is high. CRP can be controlled by diet.
The other issue about cholesterol lowering drugs is the side effects, which can be life-threatening. The most common side effect is muscle pain. It can make exercise difficult (just what you want in a heart patient–curtailed activity because of pain). The muscle pain can become severe; this is a condition known as rhabdomyolysis. Rhabdomyolysis can lead to liver damage, kidney failure and even death. Other side effects of statins include liver damage, digestive problems and some researchers have linked them to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.
The connection between statins and heart failure have not been discussed much in the medical literature (not unusual since most medical journals sell ads to drug companies). If you put a couple of facts about statins together, and use a little logic, you may begin to see a connection between their use and heart failure. One of the things that statins do biochemically is interfere with the cell’s production of coenzyme Q10. Coenzyme Q10 is vital to the cells’ energy production and depleted coenzyme Q10 levels are strongly associated with heart failure in several studies. Furthermore, when patients with heart failure are given coenzyme Q10, their symptoms improve. Also, muscle pain (and damage) is one of the very common side effects of statin use. You could even argue that they always cause muscle damage–the question is just how severe that damage is. The heart happens to be made mostly of muscle; doesn’t it stand to reason that years of statin use can weaken it? The 1990s was the decade where statins came into wide use. The incidence of heart failure increased by 70% between 1990 and 2000.
Survival tips if you have been told you need a statin:
- Get a second opinion. This is especially true if you are in good health and your cholesterol is below 300. Remember, diet and lifestyle can do a lot to protect you from a heart attack–much more than artificially lowering your cholesterol.
- If you have heart failure, discuss statin use with your doctor–and get other medical opinions.
- If you take the drug, listen to your body. If you experience muscle pain, call your doctor immediately. Make sure that regular blood tests are being taken to watch for liver damage.
- If you take the drug, consider taking coenzyme Q10. We will not tell you the dosage, because you should discuss any supplementation with a trained health professional. EVERYONE who takes statins should also take coenzyme Q10.
2. Don’t mask digestive symptoms: Most of your immune system is centered around your digestive system. If you have digestive issues, it is your body telling you that something is wrong. The most common symptom, reflux, can usually be handled with some dietary changes, and eating more slowly. Omeprazole, one of the common drugs given for gastric reflux, may actually create bacterial gastritis, actually aggravating the symptoms long-term. Omeprazole also is linked to hip fractures. Finding the source of digestive problems and correcting it will often improve your overall health.
3. Pain medication doesn’t “fix” anything. “Take an anti-inflammatory” is one of the most common pieces of medical advice. Many have the attitude that the drugs actually promote healing–THEY DO NOT. Non–steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS), actually help to destroy cartilage (people with arthritis who take these drugs are actually making the disease worse over the long term). They irritate the lining of the GI tract and cause oxidative stress. Vioxx, a Cox 2 type pain killer, was taken off of the market because it potentially caused heart problems. Celebrex is still on the market and there are studies that indicate that there are problems with it as well.
This is not to say that you should never take pain medication. You simply need to understand that the only thing that pain medication does is to mask pain. Also, there are serious health implications if you take pain medication long-term.
Natural strategies for people who are in chronic pain
- Change your oil: Absolutely avoid trans fats (hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated oil). Limit saturated fats.
- Avoid foods that promote inflammation. Do not eat refined sugar products, chemical additives and refined white grains–avoid processed foods.
- Eat foods that fight inflammation. Eat lots of brightly colored produce. Eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables. Take omega-3 fatty acids because they fight inflammation.
- Consider the use of natural, non-drug therapies to get pain under control. Chiropractic and acupuncture are often very effective. Physical therapy can help with core strengthening and other issues related to pain.
4 Get stress under control. Stress is linked to so many health problems. It is not only linked to high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke, but also, cancer, colitis, eczema and it can even make your allergies worse. Also realize that there are lots of steps you can take before taking an antidepressant. Exercise improves mood and often outperforms pharmaceuticals. Vitamin B12 deficiency is a common cause of depression in the elderly. Deficiencies in other B vitamins and magnesium can also lead to depression. Many people who suffer from depression have thyroid issues. A poor diet, one that is high in sugar additives and trans fats can lead to depression. If you are already taking an antidepressant, you cannot take yourself off of it–there may be severe consequences. Do, however, have someone help you with nutrition.
5. Get insulin and sugar under control. So many of the drugs we end up taking are due to the fact that we eat too much sugar (over 150 pounds per year per person) and we produce too much insulin. Sugar and insulin are involved with high blood pressure, high cholesterol, high triglycerides, type 2 diabetes, menstrual problems, heart disease, pain, inflammation, depression and even polycystic ovaries. With simple life-style changes and some good nutritional products you can easily lose weight and help improve a lot of other health problems.
Symptoms of insulin resistance include fatigue, weight gain, brain fog, carbohydrate craving, and periods of hypoglycemia after a high carbohydrate meal (often needing a nap after eating). Approximately 50% of patients with high blood pressure are insulin insensitive. Approximately 30% of American adults are insulin insensitive and 25% have Syndrome X. The Journal of the American Medical Association states that if a patient has three or more of the following symptoms: waist measurement greater than 40” in men (35” in women), triglycerides greater than 150 mg/dl, HDL lower than 40 mg/dl, blood pressure greater than 135/85 or fasting glucose of 110 mg/dl, Syndrome X is present.
Problems with sugar and insulin cause weight gain, along with a variety of other health problems. In general, people with insulin insensitivity will have a BMI greater than 30. They carry weight around their abdominal area and crave sugar and starch. Getting insulin production under control is the key to weight loss—and there are some products that will help you to do this. Dietary changes are, of course necessary. You need to go on a low glycemic diet—avoiding high glycemic foods like refined carbohydrates. You should only eat three meals per day.
It is important to exercise regularly. It is also a good idea to stop snacking. The snacking issue is a tough one; many patients with insulin insensitivity are labeled as hypoglycemic. Some feel weak or shaky if meals are delayed or feel the need to snack every two hours (or have been told to do so). It is a good idea to wean from this by increasing the time between snacks. When you first eat, you produce insulin which helps to store the calories of the meal. As time goes on, you produce glucagon, which helps to burn the stored calories. The first three hours after eating, insulin is dominant; after three hours glucagon becomes dominant. You cannot lose weight if you keep producing insulin and snacking makes you produce insulin. It is especially important not to eat between dinner and bedtime.
Treating insulin insensitivity is an easy and effective way to help get many sick people better. People who are on statins, blood pressure medication, antidepressants, reflux meds, oral diabetes medications, pain medication and women taking birth control pills for PMS can all benefit from getting their insulin levels under control.
6. Be smart when it comes to antibiotics. Antibiotics can save your life if you have a severe bacterial infection. The problem is that they are overused, with doctors prescribing them for viral conditions like colds. Some patients suffer from recurrent infections. Many times taking a natural approach to boost the immune system and prevent infection works well. Recurring sinus infections are often fungal. Many times people with chronic sinusitis suffer from allergies or are even sensitive to a food that they eat every day. Urinary tract infections are often prevented by drinking juice that is high in mannose, like unsweetened cranberry juice or pineapple juice regularly. Herbs, like uva ursi, often help prevent urinary tract infection.
It is very important to take a probiotic supplement for at least 60 days after taking antibiotics; it is also a good idea to avoid refined sugar and refined white flour during that period. It will help keep yeast under control, help unburden the immune system and minimize the development of allergies.
7. If you can’t sleep, try natural treatments before resorting to drugs. Americans now spend around $5 billion each year on sleep medications. According to the October 23, 2007 issue of the New York Times, also reporting NIH figures, newer sleeping pills like Ambien, Lunesta, and Sonata reduced the average time to go to sleep by just under 13 minutes compared with fake pills. The sleeping pill Rozerem, gets you to sleep 7 to 16 minutes faster than a placebo, and increases total sleep time 11 to 19 minutes for the low, low price of $3.50 per pill.
There is a neurotransmitter called gamma amino butyric acid, or GABA. Many tranquilizers work to boost GABA levels. GABA is produced by a series of chemical reactions called the Krebs Cycle. The Krebs cycle is how the body produces energy. The cofactors for it include various B vitamins and magnesium. Too much refined food will make the nutrients necessary to run the Krebs cycles in short supply. This results in problems sleeping, as well as fatigue and a craving for sugar and other carbohydrates. Deficiency in the nutrients necessary for Krebs cycle activity can also result in anxiety. People who feel anxious and have trouble sleeping frequently do well when they improve their diets and are supplemented with B complex and magnesium.
People who are thiamin (vitamin B1) deficient, for example, will have a tendency to wake up in the middle of the night, unable to fall back to sleep. They will also generally have fatigue and depression. They really don’t feel very good much of the time. Often they have feelings of impending doom.
8. Work to prevent heart failure. Congestive heart failure is on the rise, and unfortunately there are few effective medical approaches to this disease. It turns out that some of the medications that cardiac patients take may actually contribute to the problem. Some of the drugs deplete nutrients, and those nutrients turn out to be beneficial to patients with congestive heart failure. Getting professional nutritional advice can help you to improve your cardiac health. Here are some examples:
- ACE Inhibitors will deplete magnesium. It turns out that one of the very common nutrient deficiencies found in patients with heart failure. Low magnesium is one possible cause of heart arrhythmias. Talk to a nutritionist about magnesium supplementation.
- Diuretics (furosemide, sold under the brand name Lasix) also deplete magnesium. They deplete thiamin as well. One of the symptoms in a severe thiamin deficiency (a disease called beriberi) is an enlarged, weak heart. Diuretics are commonly given to people with congestive heart failure. Clinical results can improve if a nutritionist is consulted about supplementing with thiamin and magnesium.
- Statins deplete coenzyme Q10. There is a lot of research to support the idea that coenzyme Q10 supplementation is very beneficial to patients with congestive heart failure, and supplementation should be discussed with a nutritionist. Heart failure patients who are taking statins should discuss this issue with their doctors.
- Other nutrients are beneficial to patients with heart failure. We have already mentioned coenzyme Q10; another nutrient that is particularly well-researched is carnitine. Others that may be beneficial include antioxidants, hawthorn, and vitamin B12. Exercise (with the right kind of supervision) has also been shown to benefit patients with congestive heart failure. Discussing your condition with someone who is knowledgeable about nutrition and other aspects of natural health can improve the results of your medical treatment.
9. Get your thyroid properly diagnosed. As many as 13 million Americans may have an undiagnosed thyroid problem, according to the Colorado Thyroid Disease Prevalence Study. Over 25,000 participants were studied in 1995. The researchers found that nearly 9% of the participants who were not on thyroid medication were hypothyroid and a little over 1% were hyperthyroid. If this number were extrapolated to the entire US population, the number of patients with an undiagnosed thyroid problem would number 13 million.
Many people have been tested, but not correctly diagnosed. Most people are screened for hypothyroidism with a test known as “TSH”. TSH is a pituitary hormone that stimulates the thyroid gland—levels are used to screen for thyroid problems. The British Medical Journal [BMJ 2000;320:1332-1334 (13 May)] published research examining the flaws in diagnosing hypothyroidism. The authors concluded that there are indeed flaws with the way that we diagnose hypothyroidism. First of all, the research is lacking that shows us the relative importance of lab tests and symptomatology in diagnosing the thyroid. TSH production is affected by the level of thyroid hormone, but it is also affected by other things. We don’t fully understand how various illnesses affect TSH and the thyroid hormones. There is also a need to consider the possibilities of false positive and false negative results when looking at lab tests related to the thyroid. The fact of the matter is that there are a lot of patients exhibiting the symptoms of hypothyroidism, but are told that their TSH is normal and that there is no problem with the thyroid. Many doctors believe that part of the problem is that the values that we call “normal” for TSH are too high. Symptoms need to be taken into account. A TSH value of 2 or 3 can be significant if symptoms are present.
It is important to understand how to diagnose hypothyroidism—so many health problems are linked to it. Many people on antidepressants may actually need thyroid support. Research appearing in the American Journal of Psychiatry (March 1993;150:3:508-510) suggests that the thyroid may be involved with some cases of depression. The frequency of depression over the course of a lifetime was higher in the group with subclinical hypothyroidism.
Hypothyroidism can cause high cholesterol and heart disease. Now, research appearing in the Annals of Internal Medicine (2000; 132(4):270-8) shows that subclinical hypothyroidism and thyroid autoimmunity can also increase the risk of heart disease. Hypothyroidism can be responsible for miscarriages. If an expectant mother has hypothyroidism and doesn’t miscarry, her baby will have a lower IQ than if her thyroid was normal [According to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine (1999;341:549-555, 601-602),]. Problems losing weight, dry skin and immune system problems may have the thyroid at their root.
Many doctors using natural health care will rely on a basal body temperature test. Dr. Broda Barnes was critical of the lab work available to diagnose hypothyroidism. Dr. Barnes felt that the basal body temperature should be between 97.8 and 98.2 degrees. If a patient has a low basal body temperature and hypothyroid symptoms, that is justification to treat the thyroid. The problem is that many things can cause a low temperature. Using only basal body temperature and symptoms to make this diagnosis is also unsatisfactory.
Symptoms of hypothyroidism include:
Crying for no reason
Inability to lose weight
Puffiness under the eyes
Swelling in the ankles
Lack of motivation
10. Make sure that you understand the side-effects of drugs. The sixth leading cause of death in the United States, killing over 100,000 people each year is prescription medications that are properly prescribed and taken. It is not uncommon for a new symptom to be a side effect of a drug currently being taken. It is also not uncommon for a new prescription to be given for the new symptom. Some side effects are not very common and can be missed by your doctor. Be suspicious of any new symptom that appears when you take a new medication.