From The Desk of Josh Gitalis

Join my community!

Get a weekly newsletter featuring evidence-based nutrition information!

C = Cholesterol

The top selling drug in the world is Pfizer’s cholesterol-lowering drug Lipitor, at annual sales of about 14 Billion dollars (the “B” is not a typo).

We have been led to believe that cholesterol is the villain and should be controlled be any means.

Have you ever been at the scene of a fire? Have you noticed that every time there’s a fire, there are always these large red trucks there too. My conclusion is that these red trucks must be starting the fire.

Does this sound ridiculous? Well it is. Just about as ridiculous as treating high cholesterol with statins. Cholesterol is produced by our body (about 85%, the other 15% is consumed) to patch up damaged arterial linings, not to intentionally plug them up.

Once cholesterol is elevated, the damage has already been done by free radicals which are molecules that circulate in our body looking to damage a tissue. Cholesterol is a downstream response, meaning that it is the effect, not the cause.

The most common side effects with statins are muscle pain and weakness. In serious cases, statins can cause permanent muscle damage. Statins may also increase liver enzymes in certain individuals.

The Alternative

Niacin (vitamin B3) therapy is one of the most effective scientifically proven treatments for high cholesterol. Niacin raises HDL (the “good” cholesterol), lowers LDL (the “bad” cholesterol) and triglycerides. When put face to face with cholesterol-lowering drugs, it is more effective at lowering cholesterol and more importantly, reducing the likelihood of a cardiac event.

The other highly effective natural treatment for high cholesterol are sterols. Sterols are so good at lowering cholesterol that food manufacturers are actually adding them to certain foods to make them therapeutic. In my opinion, this is completely unnecessary and again not getting to the core of the problem.

Sterols compete with cholesterol (notice the root of the word cholesterol is “sterol”) for uptake in the small intestine. Thus, sterols block the absorption of cholesterol and then cholesterol is eliminated via the stool.

D = Dietary and E = Exercise

This is where the medical perspective and natural perspective intersect. We both recognize that diet is a huge factor in preventing CVD. Many deaths from CVD could have simply been prevented by following some basic dietary principles.

Dr. Dean Ornish is just one of the many doctors that has proven that you can halt CVD in its tracks with diet, and even reverse the disease process.

The unfortunate thing about the medical setup is that it is not organized to help people learn how to modify their diet and lifestyle. Thus, doctors don’t demand from their patients that they modify diet and lifestyle before drugs are prescribed. And patients, who are often just as guilty, are not interested in working to change their habits. They are more interested in a “quick fix”.

The Alternative

When working with an evidence-based clinical nutritionist, the emphasis is on diet and lifestyle modification. Even though supplements are safe, they are used as a last resort to help restore the body’s balance. Dietary modification and exercise adherence are always a priority.

Drugs are amazing therapeutic tools and can save lives when used appropriately. We need to have a paradigm shift in our standard of care and use riskier interventions as a last resort rather than a first line of therapy. Diet and lifestyle should always be the first interventions followed by supplements and then drugs and other medical interventions as a last resort.

With this new model, millions of lives could be saved every year and many people’s standard of living could be improved.

This change starts with you.