Medical science has claimed for decades that elevated cholesterol levels pose a health threat, especially if you have too much of the so-called “bad” cholesterol – or LDL (Low-Density Lipoprotein). However, a team of international experts is now arguing that this theory is exaggerated. In fact, the experts specifically advise against taking cholesterol-lowering statins. Meanwhile, science is focused on how to improve the safety of statins by combining them with supplements of coenzyme Q10.
More and more people are diagnosed with elevated cholesterol levels in their blood and are advised by their physician to start taking cholesterol-lowering medicine – also known as statins. Elevated cholesterol is traditionally associated with an increased risk of atherosclerosis and coronary thrombosis, especially the “bad” cholesterol – also known as LDL (Low-Density Lipoprotein).
Healthy people become patients
According to a group of international experts headed by the Danish physician and researcher, Uffe Ravnskov, this perception is entirely wrong. In an article in the Danish national newspaper, Politiken, (January 24. 2017), Ravnskov writes: “Healthy people risk becoming patients if they follow the guidelines of Hjerteforeningen [the Danish National Heart Foundation] and start taking cholesterol-lowering medicine.”
Do they have a point?
Director of Research at Hjerteforeningen, Gunnar Gislason, does not share this opinion and believes that far too few Danes receive cholesterol-lowering therapy. His viewpoint is in line with what the majority of doctors worldwide believe. Still, do Uffe Ravnskov and the (according to himself) 15 international experts, half of which are professors, have a valid point? Is there a chance that they have insight, which is not known by the established medical world?
In 2016, Ravnskov and his team published an article in one of the world’s leading medical journals, documenting that people older than 60 years of age with high LDL levels live longer than people with normal or even low levels of LDL. Their article was mentioned in more than 100 newspapers across the globe and was one of the most read articles that journal had ever published. The article is based on an analysis (meta-analysis) of 19 different studies that have monitored a total of 68,000 healthy older people for years after measuring their cholesterol values. The majority of studies demonstrated that high LDL levels were an advantage, and none of the studies showed harmful effects of LDL.
In the eye of the beholder
In fact, one of the studies (which included 44,000 people) showed that those with the highest levels of LDL in their blood lived longer than those who took cholesterol-lowering statins.
Understandably, people who advocate the use of statins are likely to refer to other studies that show improved survival among patients who take statins. Still, there are some factors to take into account. For instance, a common method for calculating the efficacy of statins is to compare a group of people who take statins with a group that does not. If one out of 100 patients in the statin group dies, while there are two deaths in the group that does not take statins, statin proponents will argue that the medicine has 50 percent efficacy – simply because 1 is 50% of 2. Statin critics, on the other hand, will argue that the effect of taking statins is merely one percent.
A billion-Dollar industry
Perhaps, it would be more relevant to consider the fact that statins represent one of the pharmaceutical industry’s most lucrative markets globally, generating billions of US-Dollars in sales worldwide. Not surprisingly, the pharmaceutical is extremely goal-oriented and systematic in its approach to medical science, and the majority of statin studies is funded by the manufacturers of these products.
The body needs cholesterol
So where does all of this leave the patient? How does a person know whom to believe? As with so many other things, it can be difficult to decide, and there are both advantages and disadvantages. Statins are indeed very effective drugs for lowering cholesterol levels, but there are side effects such as muscle pain, depression, and pronounced fatigue (read the box about cholesterol and coenzyme Q10). Also, cholesterol is an essential compound that the body depends on, because it is an integral part of all cell membranes, and we need it in order to synthesize vitamin D, bile acid, and sex hormones.
Did you know that cholesterol and Q10 are chemically related?
Cholesterol is synthesized in the liver. The same is the case with the vitamin-like nutrient, coenzyme Q10, which supports the energy turnover inside our cells. Q10 and cholesterol share the same biochemical pathway, more specifically an enzyme called HMG-CoA. It is in the final stage of this biochemical process that this enzyme diverts into cholesterol and Q10 respectively. Cholesterol-lowering statins work by blocking this enzyme, but in doing so, the synthesis of coenzyme Q10 is blocked, as well. Scientists believe that the subsequent reduction of Q10 inside the cells leads to dysfunctions and the onset of various side effects.