Does Inflammation Cause Heart Disease?
According to the book, “The Great Cholesterol Myth,” all information that the medical community has given about cholesterol is wrong. Co-authors, Dr. Stephen Sinatra, a cardiologist, and Jonny Bowden, a doctor of nutrition, suggest that there are two mistakes that have been made when it comes to dispensing information about cholesterol.
FIRST CHOLESTEROL MISTAKE: FAT AND CHOLESTEROL CAUSE HEART DISEASE
The first mistake that doctors make is in telling people that fat and cholesterol cause heart disease. Apparently, research in the 1960s and 1970s which initially suggested that high cholesterol caused heart disease was flawed. In fact, according to Dr. Sinatra, it was so flawed that it would not even be published in current times. The doctors further point to evidence that a large portion of people with low cholesterol have heart disease, while a large percentage of those with elevated cholesterol do not have heart disease.
Dr. Sinatra explains that the body actually needs cholesterol. It is important to healthy functioning of cells, it lubricates and helps manufacture vitamin D in the skin, and it helps neurotransmitters function for a clearer-thinking brain. Cholesterol is also protective for the body. It guards against infectious disease in the lungs and GI tract, and it reduces chances for hemorrhagic stroke.
According to the authors, there are European studies that link high cholesterol to a longer life span. They have also referenced the Framingham Heart Study in Massachusetts, originally conducted in 1948. A large group of participants have been followed for three generations to identify common factors that contribute to cardiovascular disease. According to Dr. Bowden, older people in the study with the highest cholesterol actually lived the longest.
TYPES OF CHOLESTEROL EXPLAINED
According to many doctors, there are two forms of cholesterol within the human body - HDL (or good cholesterol) and LDL (or bad cholesterol). While Drs. Sinatra and Bowden agree, they go even further, explaining that some forms of LDL cholesterol are not harmful.
While it has been suggested that LDL cholesterol clogs arteries, some types (A and AB) are too large to fit into blood vessels. It is small-particle, LDL cholesterol (type B) that gets into blood vessels, causing plaque and potential heart disease.
According to Dr. Sinatra, rather than high cholesterol, the true source of heart disease is inflammation which can be influenced by body weight and what we eat. Along that vein, he claims sugar is the enemy because elevated blood sugar creates oxidative stress and plaque in the blood vessels.
Because it is still believed that high cholesterol causes heart disease, doctors prescribe cholesterol-lowering drugs for their patients like statins. This, say the authors, is the second mistake that doctors make regarding cholesterol.
SECOND CHOLESTEROL MISTAKE: STATINS ARE SAFE AND WILL EXTEND LIFE
Drs. Sinatra and Bowden controversially suggest that statins don’t work for most people, with the exception of middle-aged men with coronary disease and low HDL. The authors do agree that statins lower cholesterol, but since cholesterol is not the real cause of the problem, they don’t work for heart disease. In addition, statins have many unpleasant side effects: increased risks for diabetes and cancer, coronary calcification, memory loss, sexual dysfunction, muscle pain and liver problems.
These side effects are apparently grossly under-reported. In fact, a survey was conducted on doctors regarding reported side effects of statin drugs from their patients. It was found that 65 percent of doctors withheld these side effects from MedWatch because they refused to believe that they were caused by the prescribed statin drugs. MedWatch was founded in 1993 as the Food and Drug Administration’s reporting system for adverse effects.
Statins are of particular concern for women and children. The Women’s Health Initiative showed a 48% incidence in post-menopausal women for diabetes in those who take statin drugs. Younger women on statin drugs (in the Jupiter study) showed a 13% incidence for diabetes. Dr. Bowden also suggests that putting children on cholesterol-lowering drugs “is the greatest tragedy waiting to happen.” Because a child’s brain (specifically the cerebral cortex) is not fully grown until age 25, it vitally needs cholesterol for memory and for thinking.
Instead of statins, Dr. Bowden recommends heart-healthy alternatives. Steer clear of sugar and trans fats, and consume anti-inflammatory foods (like oily fish, cruciferous vegetables and soy), supplements (like selenium, mixed carotenoids, calcium, and Coenzyme Q10) and spices (like ginger and turmeric). Also highly recommended is regular exercise, getting rid of toxic relationships, lowering stress and getting regular vitamin D through exposure to sunshine.
People may also want to have a new, cutting-edge cholesterol test called a Particle Size Test. This measures amounts of A, AB and B, LDL cholesterol in the blood, which is a far better predictor for heart disease than former cholesterol tests. The cost varies from roughly $10 to $100 and is covered by most insurance.