Cholesterol’s role in health is a complex topic. It’s not as simple as “all cholesterol is bad for you”. In fact, the body needs some cholesterol to create/regulate hormones and form some vitamins. If our bodies need cholesterol though, why does it have such a bad reputation?
Well, there are two kinds of cholesterol. One is called LDL, and it’s typically thought of as the “bad” cholesterol. There’s also HDL, which is thought of as the “good” cholesterol. It has a positive perception because HDL swerves as a sort of sweeper of LDL from your bloodstream. It helps clear out the LDL from your blood, thus improving your overall cholesterol score. This is important because high levels of LDL and triglycerides (fats produced with LDL) can cause serious heart problems. They create a waxy substance that can attach to the walls of your arteries. The result is a narrowing of the arteries and the risk of blood clots. These can result in not enough oxygen getting to the heart or brain, the result being heart attack or stroke.
With risks like these, it’s no wonder the medical field is so concerned with improving and protecting heart health. Some ways to do this is through lifestyle changes such as improving your diet, exercising more, finding time to relax, and managing a healthy weight.
However, the truth is sometimes diet and lifestyle changes may not be enough. One of the scenarios where this could be the case is if someone has a genetic predisposition to high cholesterol. In this situation, healthcare providers may suggest starting a cholesterol-lowering medication treatment. We’ll discuss these treatments, how they work, and what to keep in mind!
There are a few treatment options doctors may consider when trying to help lower someone’s cholesterol:
1.) Statins: Stains lower LDL cholesterol by making your liver produce less cholesterol. They also increase the body’s ability to remove the cholesterol already in your bloodstream.
2.) Selective Cholesterol Absorption Inhibitors: these medications prevent the absorption of cholesterol in the intestine. They also help your liver remove cholesterol from your blood.
3.) PCSK9 Inhibitors: This is an injectable medication most frequently used with patients who have a genetic history of high cholesterol.
4.) Bile Acid Sequestrants: this kind of drug helps remove cholesterol from the blood by removing bile acids. The body creates bile to help get rid of cholesterol, so by reducing the amount of bile already made, your body produces more bile. You can think of it as creating enough bile to flush out the cholesterol on your bloodstream.
5.) Niacin and Nicotinic Acid: Niacin is a B vitamin that helps reduce LDL (bad cholesterol) and triglyceride levels while increasing HDL (good cholesterol).
6.) Fibrates: This type of medication mainly lowers triglycerides, which are a fatty substance in the blood that can also cause blood clots and artery blockages.
There are several reasons why your doctor may choose to start one of these treatment plans. If you pertain to any of these groups, it might be something to discuss with your healthcare provider:
– You have already suffered from a heart attack or stroke, or you have peripheral arterial disease.
– Your LDL cholesterol is 190 mg/dL or higher.
– You are 40-75 years old with diabetes and an LDL cholesterol level of 70 mg/dL or higher.
– You are 40-75 years old with a high risk of developing heart disease or stroke with an LDL cholesterol level of 70 mg/dL or higher.
It’s important to always speak with your healthcare provider and make sure to follow their plans and recommendations.
Statins: What’s the deal?
Out of these treatments perhaps the most commonly heard about are statins. There are a lot of questions regarding their safety and side effects. It’s important to discuss with your doctor any and everything about your current health. This helps your healthcare provider make a choice where the benefit of taking a statin outweighs the risk. That being said – statins are generally effective and safe for most people. The most frequent concerns when it comes to taking statins are:
– Muscle pain and/or damage: this can mean feeling weak, tired, or sore, and it can range anywhere from mild to severe. Note that it is not common for individuals taking statins to experience severe or debilitating muscle pain. In fact, the risk of developing muscle pain or damage is about 5% compared to taking a placebo. Furthermore, it’s extremely rare for a statin to cause permanent muscle damage, and when this does occur, it’s often because the statin was taken with other medication or the dose is too high. Make sure to speak in detail with your healthcare provider about any and all current medications and supplements as these can sometimes affect the statins.
– Liver damage: sometimes taking a statin can trigger an increase in liver enzymes that cause inflammation. Your doctor may ask for a liver enzyme test before starting a statin. If the levels of this enzyme are too high, they may suggest a different treatment plan. Again, this is not a common side effect by any means, but if you notice new or worsening fatigue, weakness, loss of appetite, pain in the upper abdomen, dark-colored urine, or yellowing of the skin and/or eyes make sure to speak with your doctor as soon as possible.
– Increased blood sugar and risk of developing type-2 diabetes: blood sugar could increase when taking statins. This therefore increases the likelihood of developing type-2 diabetes. The risks are small, but if you’re someone who already struggles with blood-sugar or diabetes, make sure to speak with your healthcare provider.
– Neurological side-effects: the FDA warns that some individuals may experience memory loss or confusion when taking statins. Again, the likelihood of developing these side effects is small, but if you notice any known symptoms… you guessed it: check in with your doctor!
There is also some research suggesting that it may be possible for some statins to have an effect on symptoms of depression and anxiety. This mostly has to do with drastic cholesterol depletion. Maintaining healthy levels of cholesterol is crucial to keeping serotonin receptors healthy. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter with many roles, one of which is regulating mood and cognition. The current research isn’t very consistent and requires further studies. However, some patients on statin treatments have noticed changes in mood. This includes symptoms of anxiety, depression, and increased irritability. The research emphasizes the importance of maintaining a healthy balance between LDL “bad cholesterol” and HDL “good cholesterol” as your body does need it to regulate many processes.
Finally, some individuals are concerned about gaining weight when taking a statin medication. The research shows that it’s less so that statin causes weight gain, but that people’s eating habits may change when taking the medication. Since statins work to lower cholesterol levels in the blood, some patients might see it as “insurance” against cholesterol. This may drive them to consume foods with high cholesterol: foods such as those rich in fats and sugar. Consuming a diet rich and fats and sugars will increase caloric intake, and fat intake, and therefore likely contribute to gaining weight. As you may recall – being overweight or obese are health risks in the likelihood of developing heart disease. Therefore – using a statin as insurance for eating more unhealthy foods is not recommended. There are some studies that point to the possibility of statins also affecting metabolism. Essentially, that statins may influence the hormones which let you know your tummy is full, which results in more eating. More research is still needed on this but maintaining a healthy diet and lifestyle will help curb the possible risks of weight gain during statin use.
Medications and Lifestyles – A Power Couple
This last part stresses an important part of cholesterol-lowering medications: they work best when paired with healthy lifestyles! If your doctor recommends starting a treatment with any of the medications listed above, it’s advisable to follow their instructions and keep monitoring your health. If you notice any side effects, make sure to speak with them before stopping the treatment as this could potentially cause problems. However, improving your diet and lifestyle can only help amplify the effectiveness of these medications. Plus, leading a healthy life can improve more than just your heart. It can optimize your overall health and improve your quality of life!
What can FK do for me?
FK nutrition plans are not meant to serve as a treatment or cure for any health conditions. We highly advise all our customers to seek the help of a licensed healthcare professional in addressing any and all possible health concerns. However, we do believe that powerful nutrition has a big influence on improving overall health. That’s why we have created two different means of optimizing your nutrition!
Our first offer is Fran’s Kitchen Delivery meal plans. These meal plans are delivered to customers within the Phoenix, AZ area based on an agreed upon schedule. The plans offered under this system are:
– Autoimmune protocol
We also offer a customizable Fran’s Kitchen Online Meal Plan system! Customers can choose which diet path they would like to take, input their needs, goals, and current health into a survey, and then we send your shiny new meal plan via email! These plans include everything you need to prepare your own powerfully nutritional meals right from the comfort of your kitchen. The Fran’s Kitchen Online Meal Plans system includes:
Regardless of which path you choose to follow, rest assured that all our meal plans are created to deliver powerful nutrition and incredible taste! They are designed with one goal in mind: helping you optimize nutrition and live the life of wellness you deserve! Some of the benefits of using Fran’s Kitchen include:
– Reduced inflammation
– Improved energy levels
– Improved focus
– Improved gut health
– A full body detox
– A rebalanced body replenished with key nutrients and minerals
If you want to know more about FK meal plans, check out our website!