Caring for your Heart at the Expense of your liver

By Dr. Edison de Mello

The recent push by the pharmaceutical industry to sell over-the-counter cholesterol-lowering drugs, or statins, (which include Lipitor, Zocor, Crestor and Pravachol), seem predicated on the recent report issued by the National Institute of Health and American Heart Association which suggest that more aggressive statin treatment leads to better results for people at moderate to high risk of heart disease, (defined as those with advancing age, high blood pressure or a family history of premature heart disease).

As the drug industry pushes for federal approval to sell statins over the counter, I am one among many doctors calling for caution. Although side effects are reported as being relatively uncommon, my own experience with patients taking these drugs has been quite different. Side effects such as elevated liver enzymes, generalized muscular pain, fatigue, headache and in severe cases, rhabdomyolsyis, which can lead to kidney failure and death are much more common than otherwise reported. In fact, one statin, Baycol, manufactured by Bayer, had to be recalled in 2001 after 31 people died from this disease.
While Statins play a significant role in saving patients lives, they should not be a substitute for a physician-monitored diet and exercise regimen for people with NO HISTORY of cardiac disease and whose cholesterol are mildly to moderately elevated. The first line of defense begins with a very proactive approach to self care which includes exercise, a healthy diet and stress-management. A synthetic statin should be considered only when taking such an initiative has failed to lower your cholesterol. And even then, considerations such as dosage and drug combinations need to be closely monitored.
If your physician has recommended statins for you, I encourage you to take an integrative approach toward your road to wellness.
First and foremost, find a physician who is willing to listen to you. The most skilled physicians know how to integrate the emotional, physical, psychological and spiritual aspects of you. When you visit your physician, consider these Akasha Center for Integrative Medicine initial guidelines to help him or her map your lifestyle so that you may both partake in a treatment plan that will optimize your health and healing:
Have your cholesterol panel checked (HDL and LDL)
Discuss your lifestyle in detail with your doctor (alcohol, tobacco, stressors, sleep, relationships, sex life, money etc).
Consider the changes you will need to make in your life style, particularly with regard to diet and exercise
Engage in a meditative or spiritual practice for stress management. A spiritual practice may be as simple as practicing yoga, watching the sunset, walking on the beach, hiking on the mountains, planting a garden, etc
Have a physician or nutritionist tailor a dietary supplement plan as needed
Feed your heart with mindfulness, gratitude, hope, self-compassion and deep breaths.

Questions? Comments? Contact Dr. de Mello.