Cholesterol-Lowering Alternatives to Statins

Wednesday, 01 May 2013 09:33 AM

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One of the questions I get most often is if there are alternatives to using the class of cholesterol-lowering drugs called statins. In truth, many people who take statins probably shouldn’t, because their cholesterol problems are not serious enough to warrant such a strong drug.

Some can’t tolerate statins because of their side effects, which include:

• Headaches
• Muscle aches and weakness
• Dizziness and drowsiness
• Nausea and/or vomiting
• Abdominal cramping and diarrhea

The good news is that there are supplements that can treat high cholesterol naturally. The bad news is that none are as effective as statin therapy. But there is one that comes very close. Red yeast rice contains a substance that is chemically identical to the active ingredient in a statin drug.

Unfortunately, quality control is a problem. Red yeast rice is manufactured in China, and there have been instances of the product being laced with a statin to enhance the effect. This is an illegal and dangerous practice.

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Niacin (vitamin B3) is also a very effective way to lower LDL cholesterol, boost HDL cholesterol, and transform small, dense LDL particles into a more harmless type.

When taking niacin, you should start off with 250 mg and build up to 1,500 to 3,000 mg daily — which may take up to two years.

Also, be cautious about adding niacin if you already take statins. In a recent study of 26,000 patients, those who took both niacin and a statin experienced an increase in adverse side effects, researchers reported in the European Heart Journal.

Fish oil is my primary weapon for lowering triglycerides, which increase risk for stroke even more than LDL cholesterol. I recommend 2,000 mg daily. Because it is a natural blood thinner, if you notice bruising, quit taking it altogether.

Flaxseed, flaxseed oil, and flaxseed lignans have all been studied for their cholesterol-lowering properties. I find they have a mildly positive effect. Probiotics help maintain good digestive health. These helpful bacteria also help prevent cholesterol from being reabsorbed, and therefore lower the amount of it in the blood.

Study results have been mixed, but in a randomized study reported last fall, researchers
from McGill University found that participants taking probiotics saw their cholesterol drop by 9 percent. My recommendation is 2 to 4 capsules daily.

Garlic, which is lauded for a number of beneficial cardiac effects, is also a mild cholesterol and blood pressure reducer. I recommend 1 or 2 capsules a day.

Lastly, vitamin C offers a variety of health benefits and has also been found to exert a mild cholesterol-lowering effect. I recommend 2,000 units daily for this purpose.

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