Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Safer alternatives to statin medications

High cholesterol levels are associated with increased incidences of cardiovascular disease, however, many authorities believe the current federal guidelines on what are considered healthy cholesterol levels may be too low. Cholesterol serves several important functions within our bodies; lowering it too much can actually be harmful. Furthermore, the guidelines have led to the over-prescription of statin medications, which may lead to potentially dangerous side-effects.

Moderate levels of cholesterol are not the enemy we've been told they are. Benefits of cholesterol include being the precursor for many hormones, serving as "insulation" around nerves, forming bile acids (which help us digest fats and absorb fat-soluble vitamins), and being an important component of every cell's membrane.

Emerging research shows low cholesterol levels may account for many symptoms of diseases. In women, it can lead to hormonal imbalances, negatively affecting the menstrual cycle. Low cholesterol levels have also been associated with mental disorders, such as depression and violence.

So, we must walk a middle road. Using statin medications, however, may not always be the best approach. Statins deplete Co-Q10 levels and may damage the liver. There are natural ways to reduce cholesterol levels without dangerous side effects. One of the most promising natural ingredients is phytosterols. The research is so compelling and abundant that, in a rare move, the FDA granted permission for a health claim to be used on phytosterols regarding their effectiveness in lowering cholesterol levels.


• Are effective in lowering moderately high cholesterol levels
• Lower LDL (bad) cholesterol by 10 to 15% in 4 to 8 weeks
• Lower total cholesterol about 10% on average
• Can be taken by people with familial hypercholesterolemia (genetically high cholesterol) and can be safely used in conjunction with statins in those with extremely high cholesterol levels
• Can be safely used by children with familial hypercholesterolemia
• Have no significant side effects
• May work by decreasing cholesterol absorption from the diet

On average, Americans consume about 180 mg of plant sterols daily, a far cry from the necessary 800 mg required to lower cholesterol levels. The most effective way to get adequate phytosterols is to take them as a dietary supplement.

Red yeast rice, another effective natural tool that lowers cholesterol levels, has been the subject of criticism in the recent past due to concerns over quality and the pharmaceutical industry's claim that it too closely resembled statin drugs. In 2001, at a pharmaceutical company's urging, the FDA pulled red yeast rice off the shelves because of the allegation of chemical similarity to prescription statins. The nutraceutical industry eventually won back the right to manufacture and distribute this product on the grounds that the statin portion of the red yeast rice is naturally occurring and perfectly safe to consume.

Red yeast rice has been the subject of a small clinical trial published in the June 2009 issue of Annals of Internal Medicine*. This recent study evaluated the effectiveness of red yeast rice as a natural LDL cholesterol-lowering agent. Sixty-two study participants all had the common experience of significant muscle pain and weakness when taking prescribed statin drugs intended to lower their cholesterol, resulting in their discontinued use of the medication.

Patients were divided into two treatment groups; one taking 1800 mg red yeast rice and the other a placebo, for 24 weeks total. All participants were also enrolled in a 12-week lifestyle change program designed to lower cholesterol levels. After 12 weeks, the group taking red yeast rice saw a 27% decline in LDL levels as compared to baseline at the beginning of the study and a significant decrease in total cholesterol. The placebo group experienced 6% drop in LDL levels.

Having healthy, balanced cholesterol levels is one way that we can help prevent cardiovascular disease. As demonstrated, a rethinking of our current guidelines for what constitutes healthy levels is in order. And while statin medications may be appropriate for someone with very high cholesterol and many other risk factors of cardiovascular disease, the judicious prescribing of statin drugs could stand review.

*Red Yeast Rice for Dyslipidemia in Statin-Intolerant Patients: A Randomized Trial, Becker et al. Annals of Internal Medicine. 2009; 150: 830-839

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Do You Need More Vitamin D?

By Dr. Jennifer Morganti

Vitamin D has been the topic of the most exciting news in the scientific community for the past several years. Numerous clinical trials reveal that a large portion of the North American population is quite deficient in this critical nutrient, and this may be a key reason so many suffer with one or more inflammatory-based conditions.

It is common knowledge that vitamin D enhances absorption of calcium from the intestine to promote bone building, thus preventing osteoporosis. The latest research, however, has greatly expanded scientists' understanding of vitamin D. A vitamin D deficiency has been linked with several health problems, including inflammation, depression, seasonal affective disorder (SAD), nervous system problems, Rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, cancer, cardiovascular disease, and musculoskeletal pain. Vitamin D's anti-inflammatory activity seems to be one of the underlying mechanisms that make it so effective at alleviating these conditions.

Vitamins D2 and D3 are the primary forms, both of which are eventually converted via the liver and kidneys to the more bioactive form, calcitriol. Vitamin D3, also known as cholecalciferol, can be obtained from food (animal sources), supplements, and from sun exposure, which is then converted to a usable form by cells in the skin. The pervasive use of sunscreen has likely contributed to high deficiency rates, as it blocks the absorption of UV light and vitamin D conversion. D2 (ergocalciferol) is derived from fungal or plant sources and less efficient at converting to usable calcitriol than D3. Some sources claim that D2 absorption is one third of the rate of D3 absorption. Vitamin D2 is also made synthetically, but this form can be toxic and should be avoided entirely. A wide range of the body's tissues have vitamin D receptors and, like the kidneys, have the ability to convert preliminary forms of vitamin D to calcitriol. This indicates that this nutrient is critical to these tissues' metabolic processes.

Because sunlight exposure is such a critical source of vitamin D3, there is a correlation between living in northern latitudes and vitamin D deficiency. Subsequently, this population has increased risks of at least two maladies: cardiovascular disease and Multiple Sclerosis (MS). One study shows that patients with cardiovascular disease have lower levels of vitamin D than healthy people. Another demonstrates that patients with hypertension reduced their blood pressure significantly simply by increasing vitamin D levels via increased exposure to ultraviolet light. Vitamin D also has been shown to reduce C-reactive protein (CRP) levels, a marker for inflammation and an indicator of increased risk for heart disease.

MS is a neurological disease that exhibits symptoms of fatigue, muscle weakness, vision problems, loss of balance and muscle coordination, slurred speech, tremors, stiffness, and bladder problems to name a few. MS is also believed to have an autoimmune component. Incidences of MS are elevated in northern latitudes because of the limited availability of sunshine. The connection between MS and vitamin D levels was finally given credibility in 2006 when the Journal of the American Medical Association announced that MS risk can be lowered by increasing vitamin D based on a large amount of epidemiological data gathered between 1992 and 2004. These researchers felt that vitamin D may prevent MS because it is a potent immune modulator and because of its ability to temper MS's autoimmune component. An additional clinical trial shows that daily supplementation with 5000 IU of vitamin D3 (plus calcium and magnesium) over two years reduced exacerbations of MS symptoms.

A multitude of studies also conclude that low vitamin D levels are linked with increased risk of cancer, such as breast, ovary, colon, and prostate, while many in vitro (laboratory-based), animal, and human studies show that vitamin D prevents cancer cells from proliferating. At the 2007 annual meeting of the conservative American Association for Cancer Research, the CEO of Roswell Park Cancer Institute confirmed that a significant amount of research strongly links low vitamin D levels with increased risk of many types of cancers.

Vitamin D levels can be measured by a simple blood test, which may be called either 25(OH)D or 25-hydroxyvitamin. Be aware that some labs have not yet updated their reference ranges, and that the ideal levels of vitamin D are now considered to be over 50 ng/mL versus 20-45 ng/mL as some labs may indicate. An article in the June 2007 edition of The New England Journal of Medicine describes how a leading researcher on vitamin D, Dr. Michael Holick, called for a fourfold increase in the recommended daily intake (RDI) of D3 from 200 IU to 1000 IU daily. Other physicians call for even higher doses, such as 2000-4000 IU. Holick also called for an increase in the current tolerable maximum daily dosage from 2000 IU to 10,000 IU daily. To raise vitamin D levels, it is wise to take at least 1000 IU daily for 4 to 8 months before levels return to normal. (Note: Vitamin D toxicity is now thought by some to occur only when taking over 100,000 IU daily for several months.)

Did you take your vitamin D today?

Monday, March 8, 2010

Hidden Dangers In Your Drinking Water

The safety of your drinking water has been compromised by municipal treatments, industrial waste, and unreliable government regulation that leave dangerous cancer-causing byproducts in your glass. There has been an alarming increase in the amount of contaminants in drinking water supplies, both in big cities and small towns. Each time we hear of another waterborne disease outbreak, we wonder whether the benefits of drinking tap water outweigh the risks. These newly discovered contaminants that may be in your water include MTBE, Arsenic, and Trihalomethanes.

MTBE is a chemical added to gasoline to reduce carbon monoxide emissions from automobiles. However, because of the toxic health effects, many states are phasing it out and will eventually ban it. MTBE is toxic and causes eye irritation, tearing, nasal discharge, trouble breathing, nausea, and is a probable carcinogen. MTBE has leaked into ground water throughout the U.S., over a period of years. Reports of hundreds of people becoming ill have come to light and are connected to MTBE contamination in drinking water.

No one would purposely add arsenic to the water supply—yet arsenic has been found in thousands of water supplies serving over 12 million people across the U.S. Studies have linked long-term exposure of arsenic in drinking water to increased rates of cancer of the bladder, lung, skin, kidney, nasal passages, liver, and prostate. Non-cancerous effects impact the cardiovascular, pulmonary, immunological, neurological, and endocrine systems. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) set a new arsenic standard for drinking water at 10 ppb (parts per billion) to protect consumers against the effects of long term, chronic exposure to arsenic in drinking water. All public water systems in cities, towns, apartments, mobile home parks, nursing homes, and factories will be required to reduce the arsenic concentration in their drinking water systems which will lower cancer deaths, chronic disease, and save hundreds of millions of dollars in health care costs.

Trihalomethanes (THMs) are chemicals formed by the action of chlorine with naturally occurring organic matter in water. In January 2000, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease, published a study associating several different types of birth defects with the ingestion of Trihalomethanes (THMs). Also, exposure to THMs occur through exposure from showering, washing dishes, and flushing toilets. According to Erik Olson of the Natural Resource Defense Council, water supplies have as much as one-and-a-half to two times the amount of chlorine added in the summer months, increasing short term exposure and health risks.

The discovery of these toxins in munincipal drinking water is causing concern for many Americans. One of the most important things to do to protect yourself is install a water filtration system in your home. There are a variety of filters available that remove specific toxins and material. Filters can be placed at the source of water for the entire house, or at each faucet. The first step is awareness!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

The Vaccine Debate

Jennifer Morganti, ND, Director of Education for NEEDS

The media had a field day in 2009 over flu vaccines, particularly vaccines for the H1N1/Swine Flu. Because there is so much information and misinformation in the media, it may be difficult to discern what is right for you and your family. I certainly don’t have all the answers, but I do have many questions and a little research has revealed some interesting facts. This topic will certainly remain one of the most controversial ones this year, but hopefully the facts and quotes below will shed some light on the topic.

When considering if you want to get a vaccine, drug, or anything, you should investigate its safety and its effectiveness.

This leads me to question how extensively the H1N1 vaccine has been tested. Unfortunately, it appears that safety testing has been limited. Generally, before a medication or vaccine is introduced to consumers, there are large, double-blind placebo controlled clinical studies to determine safety and efficacy. This was not the case with the H1N1 vaccine because the FDA wanted to introduce it to the market as quickly as possible, due to the perceived pandemic.

It may also be disconcerting to some that the CDC strongly recommended the vaccine to pregnant women (because they are at increased risk of dying from the swine flu), however, no studies have been completed to prove the vaccine is actually safe for pregnant women or their fetus. My question then becomes: “Does the fact that they have increased risk of catching the flu (and possibly dying from it) consequently prove that the vaccine is actually safe for pregnant women, when the safety hasn’t been properly evaluated?” Clearly, we are still lacking solid evidence. As of October 8th, 2009, the National Institute of Health was still in the process of recruiting volunteers to participate in a trial to test the safety of the H1N1 vaccine on pregnant women. “The purpose of this study is to evaluate an investigational 2009 H1N1 influenza vaccine to determine vaccine safety in pregnant women and how the body reacts to different strengths of the H1N1 influenza vaccine.” They are only in the early stages of the study, yet the CDC has been strongly recommending that pregnant women get this vaccine without hesitation.

Lastly, when considering safety, we must decide how we feel about mercury (thimerosal) exposure. The FDA clearly states on their website: “As with the seasonal influenza vaccines, the 2009 H1N1 vaccines are being produced in formulations that contain thimerosal, a mercury-containing preservative, and in formulations that do not contain thimerosal.”

Regarding the efficacy of the vaccine, regulators assume that this vaccine will have similar efficacy as other flu vaccines, however, they say that this H1N1 virus is much different from previous seasonal viruses. Most concerning, the CDC tells the public to assume that one in every 100,000 vaccine recipients will suffer serious side effects, yet the FDA only requires the vaccine to be effective in three out of 10 recipients.

The CDC says that the majority of people over 65 already have natural immunity to the swine flu due to previous exposure in the 1970s. Unlike the standard seasonal flu, the CDC is not classifying this population as an “at risk” population for the swine flu.

The last big question in my mind is: “How big of a threat is the swine flu?” We tend to only hear about the severe cases of the swine flu. However, the CDC states that the severity of this swine flu is on par with other viral infections we have seen in the past decade. The World Health Organization (WHO) states, “the overwhelming majority of persons worldwide infected with the new H1N1 virus continue to experience uncomplicated influenzalike illness, with full recovery within a week, even without medical treatment.”

Are people more fearful of the swine flu than necessary? Perhaps. Recall the SARS virus. The British Medical Journal makes this sensible point: “The SARS outbreak showed that large numbers of infected people are not necessary to generate concern and fear over disease. The SARS virus is known to have affected only 8096 people globally, but the fear of infection, involuntary quarantine, travel restrictions and subsequent political antagonisms, and at least $18 billion in losses were felt by far more. It was not the virus but the response to it that caused these social and economic harms.”

Unfortunately, despite the lack of compelling evidence of vaccine safety and efficacy, the FDA and FTC are tightly restricting the dietary supplement industry from making any claims that natural products may help prevent the flu, and any mention of the swine flu has brought threats of severe penalties.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Heart Health Advice from Dr. Sherry Rogers’ Is Your Cardiologist Killing You?
By Shannon Morehouse, MA, CHHC

In her latest book, Is Your Cardiologist Killing You?, Dr. Sherry Rogers empowers you to protect your heart with the help of nutrients as opposed to drugs (in most cases). She points to recent research as evidence of the effectiveness of nutrients over commonly prescribed heart “protection” medications. She boldfaces the research evidence and cites the specific studies, which makes this book a great tool for those who value the scientific backing of natural therapies.

Whether you have high blood pressure, high cholesterol, a type of arrhythmia, or even heart failure or a previous heart attack, Dr. Rogers offers many nutrient suggestions that can help you boost your heart health long-term. While Dr. Rogers discusses nutrient protocols that are very specific to each heart-related health condition, she emphasizes the important roles that magnesium and omega-3 essential fatty acids play across the board. She provides an immense amount of scientific evidence to back up these recommendations.

For high blood pressure, doctors often prescribe diuretics or fluid pills, which are harmful and may make your condition worse according to Dr. Rogers. Diuretics cause your body to lose potassium and magnesium. Mineral deficiencies are often the cause of high blood pressure in the first place, hence the reason why a diuretic may make your condition worse. Dr. Rogers points the reader to several studies that have found that more than half of Americans are deficient in magnesium and that the average American diet offers less than 1/10th the amount of magnesium that people need. The most potent form of magnesium that Dr. Rogers recommends is a magnesium chloride solution.

After prescribing diuretics for high blood pressure, doctors often prescribe calcium channel blockers. Dr. Rogers cites a study that found that calcium channel blockers actually shrink the brain and can cause a drop in IQ. The reason doctors prescribe calcium channel blockers in the first place is because cell membranes stop working due to nutrient deficiencies. Dr. Rogers recommends feeding omega-3 essential fatty acids (EPA and DHA) to your cell membranes using fish oil. She also recommends that you stop feeding your cell membranes harmful fats (such as the trans fats found in many packaged food products). Repairing your cell membrane with fish oil can also lower high cholesterol.

If you have arrhythmias, guess what? Magnesium and essential fatty acids can help you too! Dr. Rogers cites studies that have found that magnesium deficiency is one of the most common causes of the common arrhythmia known as atrial fibrillation. Even the USDA published a study in 2007 with strong evidence that magnesium deficiency induces arrhythmias. In fact, several studies have found magnesium to be more effective than any prescription drug at treating arrhythmias. Dr. Rogers recommends the magnesium chloride solution, for people who have arrhythmias.

One of the downfalls of living in an industrial society is that it’s difficult to escape some of the causes of heart damage, one of them being vehicular and industrial exhaust. Dr. Rogers cites studies that have found that “environmental chemicals damage the autonomic nervous system and can create any arrhythmia imaginable.” However, Dr. Rogers says there is hope; one teaspoon a day of fish oil can prevent chemicals from getting into the heart. She also cites studies that have found that fish oil can turn off arrhythmias if omega-3 is the causative deficiency.

Congestive heart failure is the most dangerous disease in our country. Close to 70 % of those diagnosed die within five years. NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) quadruple your risk for heart failure; NSAIDs include aspirin, which many cardiologists recommend to stop unwanted blood clots. Just like the heart disease precursors discussed earlier, your heart needs essential fatty acids for protection. Again, Dr. Rogers recommends fish oil for those with congestive heart failure. One study found that cod liver oil was 10 times more effective than statins for those with heart failure. If you have high C-Reactive Protein (CRP) levels, you are at risk for heart failure. Correcting hidden magnesium deficiencies can lower your CRP levels

For those who’ve had heart attacks or stents, the importance of magnesium and omega-3 essential fatty acids is paramount. Sherry Rogers frankly claims “Magnesium is a major determinant of who walks out of the hospital in a few days [after a life-threatening arrhythmia or heart attack] and who is carried out in a body bag.” Dr. Rogers reiterates that there is a link between magnesium deficiency and many diseases beyond heart disease such as: asthma, migraines, depression, insomnia, irritable bowel, and more. As for the link between magnesium deficiency and heart disease, in addition to the research findings cited earlier, another study found that magnesium can cut coronary artery pain after exercise by as much as 21 %. Dr. Rogers believes that anyone who has had a heart attack or a stent needs 1000 mg of magnesium a day. Dr. Rogers says that fish oil is a must for anyone who has had a heart attack or stent.

Is Your Cardiologist Killing You is a great resource even for those who have never been to a cardiologist. If you have any risk factors for heart disease (such as high cholesterol, high levels of stress or anxiety, overweight, high blood pressure, alcohol consumption, and diabetes), you would certainly benefit from adding magnesium and fish oil into your supplement regimen, in addition to several other nutrients that Dr. Rogers discusses in this remarkable read!