Mediterranean Diet ‘Just as Good as Statins’ for Preventing Heart Disease

Do a quick search for “Mediterranean diet” on our site and you will find oodles of articles espousing the health benefits of this eating lifestyle.  In December, yet another study showed that people who eat a Mediterranean-style diet have a lower risk of cardiovascular disease – possibly even as low as those taking statin drugs.

Let’s see why this diet can be so good for the heart.

Lead study author Shafqut Ahmad, Ph.D., a research fellow at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, said of the findings:

“We didn’t know the potential mechanisms of how a Mediterranean diet reduced risk of cardiovascular disease. It was like a black box. Through this study, we know that a Mediterranean diet reduces or improves a lot of risk factors for cardiovascular disease, which are very important in terms of prevention.”

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women in the U.S., and kills about 600,000 people each year, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The most common form is coronary heart disease, which claims 370,000 lives annually. Some 735,000 Americans suffer a heart attack each year. [2]

For the research, Ahmad and his colleagues recruited more than 25,000 women and asked them to complete food intake questionnaires and provide blood samples. Then, the team followed them for up to 12 years. [1]

Those who closely followed a Mediterranean-style diet had a 25% lower risk of cardiovascular disease, compared to those who followed the diet the least closely.

The researchers uncovered the mechanisms behind this link by using the participants’ blood samples to measure previously-established and new biomarkers of heart disease and found changes in inflammation, glucose metabolism, and insulin resistance.

Ahmad said:

“The finding shows that a Mediterranean diet improves inflammation, which is quite a big risk factor for cardiovascular disease. We now also know that a major pathway through which a Mediterranean diet improves cardiovascular disease risk is through improved glucose metabolism, insulin resistance, and body adiposity [fat].”

Moreover, when the body has trouble metabolizing glucose and becomes unable to use insulin efficiently (insulin resistance), it can lead to Type 2 diabetes if left untreated. Type 2 diabetes is a significant risk factor for cardiovascular disease.

The Benefits of Meds, Without the Risks

Percentage Reduction in Cardiovascular Disease Events Associated With Mediterranean Diet Explained by Potential Risk Mediators

In the study, the participants were placed into 1 of 3 categories based on their adherence to a Mediterranean diet: low, middle, and upper. Over the course of the study, 428 women in the low group, 356 women in the middle group, and 246 women in the upper group had the highest risk factors for cardiovascular disease.

Based on this information, the researchers determined that women in the middle and upper group had a 23% and 28% reduced risk of experiencing a cardiovascular event, respectively, compared to women in the lower group.

The overall 25% lower risk of cardiovascular disease mimicked similar preventative effects of medication – namely aspirin and statins.

In other words, sticking to a Mediterranean diet may be just as effective as statin drugs, which are linked to more than 300 adverse events, or aspirin, which has been linked to intestinal bleeding and a higher risk of stroke.

Ironically, a study by Finnish researchers published in 2015 linked statins with a 50% increased risk of Type 2 diabetes.

Ahmad said:

“Statins and aspirin are routinely used medications for cardiovascular disease prevention. Through diet, you can reduce your risk as comparably as through medications.

It’s even possible that a Mediterranean diet works better than statins at reducing cardiovascular risks. In 2016, a study revealed that people with a history of heart attacks, strokes, and blocked arteries were 37% less likely to die during the study if they adhered to a Mediterranean diet. In past studies, statins were shown to reduce the risk of heart problems by 24%.

Although the study only looked at women, Ahmad said the findings could be generalized and also applied to men, since past studies reached similar conclusions in both men and women.

He said:

“It’s very clear, for the first time in a large-scale, epidemiological study, that we showed that Mediterranean diet improves cardiovascular disease risk by 25%, but also improves underlying biomarkers, which is really great.”

The study was not free of limitations, however. For starters, the research relied on self-reported data, which can be inaccurate, particularly when it comes to food intake. Additionally, the women in the study were medical professionals, so it’s possible they led a healthier lifestyle compared to the rest of the population. [2]

But as I said earlier, there is a ton of data which suggests that eating a Mediterranean diet is one of the healthiest eating patterns you can adopt.

The study was published in JAMA Network Open.

Sources:

[1] Everyday Health

[2] NBC News

Cholesterol Guidelines Updated for the First Time Since 2013

On November 12, the American Heart Association (AHA) and the American College of Cardiology (ACC) updated the clinical guidelines for managing cholesterol for the first time since 2013. Unlike in the past, the new guidelines do not suggest a one-size-fits-all approach, but a more personalized one that allows patients to take a more active role in managing their health.

In addition to new assessments of patient risk for cardiovascular disease, the guidelines also give approval for new drugs to treat high-risk patients, and a treatment blueprint designed to help doctors and patients determine when it is appropriate to start taking cholesterol-lowering medication.

Dr. Michael Valentine, president of the ACC, said:

“High cholesterol is not one size fits all, and this guideline strongly establishes the importance of personalized care. Over the past 5 years, we’ve learned even more about new treatment options and which patients may benefit from them. By providing a treatment roadmap for clinicians, we are giving them the tools to help their patients understand and manage their risk and live longer, healthier lives.”

The go-to-treatment for high cholesterol that can’t be controlled by diet and exercise has traditionally been statin drugs. These medications can lower the risk of cardiovascular disease, but it isn’t always clear when a patient should start taking them. According to the new guidelines, patients should undergo calcium artery scans before being prescribed statins when it isn’t clear how high their risk is for cardiovascular disease.

When statins don’t work for a patient – such as when an individual has suffered a heart attack or stroke, or their LDL-C levels have not been lowered by statins – the guidelines recommend the use of 2 new, cholesterol-lowering drugs. The guidelines also recommend first adding a drug called ezetimibe, in addition to statins. For more severe cases, the guidelines recommend adding a PCSK9 inhibitor drug.

Additionally, the new guidelines call for doctors to consider screening children as young as 2 for cardiovascular risk factors if they have a family history of heart disease and high cholesterol. [2]

That might sound crazy, but consider this: U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data from 2015-2016 shows that nearly 1 in 5 school age children and young people aged 6-19 years old in the U.S. is obese.

What’s more, the national obesity rate among children ages 2 to 19 in the U.S. is 18.5%, according to data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES).

The traditional view among doctors is that obesity and high cholesterol combined increases a person’s risk for cardiovascular disease, so the authors of the guidelines believe it is important to start looking out for kids’ heart health at a young age.

Dr. Sarah D. de Ferranti, chief of outpatient cardiology and director of preventive cardiology at Harvard Medical School’s Boston Children’s Hospital, said in a statement:

“It’s important that, even at a young age, people are following a heart-healthy lifestyle and understanding and maintaining healthy cholesterol levels.”

No More One-Size-Fits-All Targets

The new guidelines represent a shift in the way doctors and clinicians treat high cholesterol, but so, too, did the 2013 guidelines.

Amit Khera, MD, the director of the preventative cardiology program at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, explained that, in the past, doctors encouraged patients to reach a low LDL target, like a “magic number.” For high-risk patients, that meant an LDL level of under 70 mg/DL in the blood.

The new guidelines have eliminated that target altogether. The goal now is to curb overall risk, rather than achieving a certain cholesterol number.

The 2018 revisions expand on those from 2013, “and give doctors and patients a little more to support their decision-making,” Khera said.

The updated guidelines also created new risk assessment tools that expand on the information collected from patients. The assessments still take into account standard risk factors like smoking and obesity, but also consider family history, ethnicity, and certain health conditions, such as premature menopause in women, when determining a patient’s risk for cardiovascular disease.

The hope is that in addition to helping clinicians compile a more comprehensive understanding of their patients’ risk status, there will be more factors for patients to consider, which will hopefully motivate them to take a more active role in reducing their risk.

Khera said:

“Guidelines are only as good as implemented, and if people aren’t going to use them, they’ll be for naught. But giving patients a little more control over their care is going to improve their adherence to care. They’ll be much more likely to keep taking the medications, which is what’s going to reduce the risk for cardiovascular disease.”

Reaching a “magic” cholesterol target number can seem daunting, whereas eating more vegetables, for example, might seem more doable for a lot of people.

A New Way of Thinking

A study published in January 2018 recommends statin drugs are given to an additional 9 million U.S. adults for preventing heart attack and stroke, sparking great debate among the medical community. [3]

It’s not difficult to see why many experts disagree with that assessment.

In recent years, studies have suggested that having high cholesterol does not increase a person’s risk for heart attack and stroke. Despite the availability of every type of low-fat and fat-free food imaginable, rates of both obesity and heart disease have continued to climb. If cholesterol was indeed the culprit in cardiovascular disease, you would expect to see those numbers declining.

Several renowned cardiologists have stated that cholesterol is vital for brain matter, nerves, and all other cellular structures in the body. Moreover, they say calcium deposits in the arteries are far more dangerous than cholesterol, as cholesterol is waxy and pliable, whereas calcium deposits are hard. Therefore, cardiologists say that doctors are focusing their attention in the wrong place.

Other noted cardiologists have gone on the record stating that saturated fat, believed to increase cholesterol levels, does not cause heart disease. They note that even in people with established heart disease, reducing saturated fat alone does not reduce heart attacks.

And while statins do work for many people, the drugs are linked to over 300 adverse events. Take a look at these headlines we have covered here at Natural Society.

A Move in the Right Direction, Hopefully

Hopefully, the new guidelines will encourage people to become more engaged in lowering their risk of cardiovascular disease through diet and lifestyle, and reduce the need more even more Americans to start taking risky drugs that may or may not protect their heart health.

If you’ve been told you have dangerously-elevated cholesterol, you shouldn’t automatically assume you need to start taking pills. If your doctor suggests prescribing you a statin, discuss the idea of making lifestyle and dietary changes, such as eating a Mediterranean-style diet or including/avoiding other specific foods or food groups.

The guidelines were announced on November 10 at the AMA’s annual scientific conference and are published in the journal Circulation.

Sources:

[1] Everyday Health

[2] USA Today

[3] CNN

Demonizing cholesterol is essential for the sale of dangerous statins!

CARDIAC SURGEON/PROFESSOR EMERITUS TELLS THE TRUTH ABOUT THE CHOLESTEROL SCAM AND THE TOXIC EFFECTS OF STATINS.

The following clips are from Dr. Donald H. Miller, Jr’s article published in the Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons, summer 2015 edition, which can be read in full here. Fallacies in Modern Medicine: Statins and the Cholesterol-Heart Hypothesis


Modern medicine has developed striking ways to treat coronary heart disease, which feature coronary stents implanted percutaneously and coronary artery bypass grafts performed surgically with the aid of a heart-lung machine. And then there are statins to lower cholesterol.

Some 43 million Americans take statins. In 2010, 11.6 percent of the population took them, 37 million, which includes 19.2 percent of people age 45-64; 39.6 percent of people age 65-74; and 44.3 percent of people age 75 and older.3 Following the 2013 ACC/AHA guidelines, an additional 10.2 million Americans without cardiovascular disease have now become candidates for statin therapy. One study concludes that 97 percent of black and white Americans age 66 to 75, including all men in that age group, should take statins.

It is a multibillion-dollar business. Pfizer’s Lipitor went on sale in 1997 and became the best-selling drug in the history of prescription pharmaceuticals before its patent expired in 2011. Sales surpassed $125 billion. AstraZeneca’s Crestor was the top-selling statin in 2013, generating $5.2 billion in revenue that year.

Government and the pharmaceutical industry fund these multimillion-dollar studies expecting correct results, so statin trial researchers employ this particular kind of statistical deception to create the appearance that statins are effective and safe. As one medical school professor puts it, “Anyone who questions cholesterol usually finds his funding cut off.”

Statins do more harm than good.

Fungi make statins, as a “secondary metabolite,” to kill predatory microbes. They also kill human cells. In a review of How Statin Drugs Really Lower Cholesterol and Kill You One Cell at a Time by James and Hannah Yoseph, Peter Langsjoen writes:

Many practicing physicians have a healthy understanding of the current level of corruption and collusion among big pharmaceutical companies, governmental agencies such as the NIH and FDA, and major medical associations [and non-profits] such as the American Heart Association, but the reader of this book will come away with the disturbing conclusion that it is even worse than imagined. Statins may be the perfect and most insidious human toxin in that adverse effects are often delayed by years and come about gradually. Further, statins frequently impair mental function to such a degree that by the time patients are in real trouble, they may lack the mental facilities to recognize the cause.

This toxin targets brain cells and skeletal muscle. A broad spectrum of adverse cognitive reactions occur from taking statins. They include confusion, forgetfulness, disorientation, memory impairment, transient global amnesia, and dementia.

Myopathy is the most common adverse effect of statin treatment, manifested by muscle aches and pains, weakness, instability, and easy fatigue. The most severe manifestation of statin-induced muscle damage is rhabdomyolysis, which carries a 10 percent mortality rate. Fragments of ruptured muscle block renal tubules and cause kidney failure. In one randomized trial of 1,016 healthy men and women given statins or a placebo, 40 percent of the women taking statins suffered exertional fatigue or decreased energy.

Several randomized controlled trials have reported a statistically significant increase in cancer associated with taking statins. In most of these trials, a small reduction in cardiovascular deaths in the statin group is counterbalanced by an increase in deaths from other causes, notably cancer, with the result that there is in no significant difference in all-cause mortality between people taking a placebo and those prescribed statins.

Statins can also cause diabetes, emotional disorders (depression, aggressiveness, suicidal ideation), hepatitis, cataracts, and strokes. Since August 2014, attorneys have filed more than 1,000 lawsuits against Pfizer, representing 4,000 women who say that taking Lipitor gave them diabetes.

Statin trials typically run for only 2 to 5 years. Investigators terminated the influential JUPITER trial endorsing statins for primary prevention of ASCVD after (a median) 1.9 years, far too short a time to reveal one of the worst “side effects” of long-term statin treatment: accelerated senescence. Statins speed up the transition from midlife vigor to debilitated old age.

Heart surgeon Michael DeBakey and his team, 52 years ago, found no correlation between blood cholesterol levels and severity of atherosclerosis in 1,700 patients undergoing surgical treatment of ASCVD. I have observed the same thing with my heart surgery patients (unpublished observation). Evidence for the cholesterol-heart hypothesis, i.e., the lipid hypothesis, wilts upon close scrutiny, as is also the case with the diet-heart hypothesis, which indicts saturated fat along with cholesterol for causing atherosclerosis. Approached with an open mind and without confirmatory bias (ignoring evidence that disagrees with one’s beliefs), substantial evidence now proves beyond a reasonable doubt that these hypotheses are wrong.

Cholesterol acts as the body’s fire brigade, putting out inflammatory fires and helping repair damage. Blaming cholesterol for atherosclerosis is like blaming firemen for the fire they have come to put out.

Cementing this molecule’s physiologic importance, there are now more than 100 peer-reviewed studies showing that low cholesterol levels are associated with earlier death.

It is becoming increasingly clear that the cholesterol-heart hypothesis is a fallacy of modern medicine. In the future, medical historians may liken the prescribing of statins to lower blood cholesterol with the old medical practice of bloodletting.

 

Donald W. Miller, Jr., M.D., is emeritus professor of surgery and former chief, Division of Cardiothoracic Surgery, University of Washington School of Medicine. Contact: donaldwmiller@gmail.com.

Doctor Miller’s presentation on saturated fats and heart disease is a must see:

Coenzyme Q10 may Be Viable Solution for Many Diabetics

Coenzyme Q10 has long been known for its antiaging properties, especially in the cases of energy production and cardiovascular health. Now, it seems as though we have another use for this not-quite-a-vitamin – the prevention and mitigation of diabetes.

One little-publicized cause of diabetes may be the use of statins, marketed as “prevention” for cardiovascular events. Some statins, such as rosuvastatin, are linked with a 27% higher risk of type II diabetes! Two meta-analyses also found an elevated risk of diabetes, one with a 9% higher risk, and the other showing a 12% higher risk. This disproportionately affects the elderly, who are most likely to be prescribed statins.

So Why May Statins Raise the Risk of Diabetes?

Statins work by blocking an enzyme called HMG-CoA reductase, but this also blocks a precursor to coenzyme-Q10. Depletion of CoQ10 disrupts mitochondrial function. Along with negatively affecting energy levels, this also has a negative impact on insulin signalling, which could lead to the blood glucose dysregulation known as diabetes. To make things even worse, lowering LDL cholesterol also reduces CoQ10 transport into cells. [1]

These effects combined can deplete CoQ10 by as much as 54%.

This is why medical professionals now often recommend CoQ10 supplements to anyone taking statins. In fat cells exposed to statin drugs, the coenzyme can restore the normal glucose uptake mechanism that the drugs also disrupt.

Additionally, CoQ10 has been found to reduce blood sugar and HbA1C levels in diabetic patients. Blood sugar tests only take a picture of how your glucose regulation is doing now; haemoglobin A1C gives an idea of your blood glucose regulation over the past 4 months, as it shows how much sugar has been tangled in the haemoglobin proteins.

The root cause of many diabetes complications is loss of endothelial function (the lining of the blood vessels), which leads to poor blood flow and tissue destruction in parts of the body such as the eyes, kidneys, and toes. Worse still, this can even affect the heart, causing something known as diabetic cardiomyopathy (heart muscle damage).

Fortunately, supplementation with 200mg of CoQ10 has been found to significantly improve loss of endothelial function in diabetes, which may spare many from crippling complications.

Are Statins Even a Necessity?

But do we even need these CoQ10-depleting statins? Research has actually shown that statins may be more harmful than beneficial for the heart, even if there were no alternatives. Statins have been found to increase the risk of microalbuminuria, which is a known marker of blood vessel dysfunction.

Other studies have found that some statins could worsen heart function, increase LDL oxidation (which is the cause of plaque!), cause heart failure and/or atrial fibrillation (a fluttering movement that does not pump blood!), reduce blood flow to the heart, and weaken the heart muscle. [2]

The CoQ10 depletion may also be behind the increase in congestive heart failure in the USA. It is very fortunate that even “mere” diet advice can also protect against cardiovascular deaths, such as eating an apple every day – which may reduce LDL cholesterol by an impressive 40%!

Overall, CoQ10 deficiency can be debilitating and even dangerous, but you don’t have to suffer.

Sources:

[1] LifeExtension

[2] GreenMedInfo


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