Friday Author: Seth Kaplan
Here is a story I heard from a world-renowned heart researcher. While the subject matter does not seem to have much to do with statin drugs, bear with me. It is relevant:
“Years ago, epidemiologists became aware of a calcium conundrum. In developed countries, like the United States, where one can get all the calcium one wishes, the rates of osteoporosis and joint replacement surgery showed consistent increases. But, in undeveloped or poor countries, where the populations had trouble getting calcium, records showed low levels of bone diseases and joint replacement surgeries. That is counterintuitive; how could it be?
“The forces of Western medicine investigated this bizarre phenomenon. After years of research, they discovered a substance that people consumed in abundance in poor countries, but not in wealthy ones, that led to dietary calcium finding its way to the bones and joints: Vitamin K2.”
Dietary sources of Vitamin K2 include broccoli, soybeans, and dark green leafy vegetables like kale, collards, turnip and beet greens, and spinach. In other words, vegetables, which most Americans do not eat in sufficient quantities but which other populations consume regularly. But, what does Vitamin K2 have to do with calcium?
Nutrients Must Be Absorbed To Be Useful
Scientists knew that, no matter how much calcium one consumed, a person could not absorb more than 500 milligrams in 12 hours. That is why, when calcium is prescribed or even bought over the counter, the instructions tell patients to take it in divided doses. Researchers also knew that, in addition to being hard to absorb, calcium can adhere to the epithelial cells lining blood vessels, especially those serving the heart.
To improve calcium absorption, which would help reduce osteopenia, osteoporosis, joint replacements, and other conditions, some doctors recommended to their post-menopausal female patients that they take a combination of calcium citrate (better absorbed than calcium carbonate), magnesium, Vitamin D3, and Vitamin K2. But, as so often occurs, taking this regimen conferred other benefits as well.
The Vitamin K2 helped more calcium get to the joints and bones while preventing it from causing calcification; i.e., calcium deposits inside heart blood vessels. And, now you can start to see how the elements in this tale relate to statins.
What Are Statins?
One side effect of taking statin drugs is that they block a molecule needed to product Vitamin K2, which protects the heart from calcification by re-directing calcium to bones and joints. Without K2’s protection, calcium can adhere to the walls of heart arteries, increasing the danger of heart attack and stroke.
And, since the calcium needed to support skeletal structures in the body doesn’t get to those targets, such a lack can cause skeletal weakness and attendant muscle pain. Statins also “strip out” coenzyme Q10, which helps in energy production and healthy heart function.
Why Take Statin Drugs?
For at least 20 years (actually longer if you count red yeast rice, an extract of Chinese club moss, that mimics the action of a statin), physicians have prescribed statins to lower serum cholesterol, or cholesterol produced by the liver, about 85% of the total. The amount is influenced partly by genetics, and partly by the individual’s liver functionality. The other 15% comes from dietary sources.
It is generally accepted among doctors today that there is no relationship between cholesterol and heart disease. In fact, a growing body of evidence indicates that these drugs accelerate hardening of the arteries and can cause, or worsen, heart failure.
Another, more subtle, effect of taking statins occurred with people who really lowered their cholesterol to, say, 120-140. These folks suddenly couldn’t find their keys, got lost more often, and generally had a lower level of cerebral function. The reason? The brain uses cholesterol as food. Cut off the brain’s food supply, and it cannot perform its functions.
Degrees of Truth
And yet, some patients and their doctors will unequivocally state that statins saved the patients’ lives by lowering cholesterol levels. Both conclusions contain degrees of truth. So, do not use what you read here to stop taking statins or any drug prescribed for you by a doctor. I have no scientific standing or medical training, although I have learned a lot over the years, and keep acquiring more knowledge that I share with you. Use it to formulate questions to ask your doctor, who has the knowledge of your specific medical history and conditions and the training and clinical experience to make informed decisions and recommendations.
Medical knowledge changes rapidly, but physicians cannot keep up and still practice within the strictures of their licenses. Without such limitations on my inquiries, learning, and sources, I hope to bring to you information you may not have that can result in better interactions between you and your doctor(s).