High cholesterol is a health problem for an estimated 71 million Americans. However, new treatment guidelines released last Tuesday by two major heart organizations are being criticized by health care professionals.
The American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association unveiled new treatment guidelines for high cholesterol aimed at people who are at high risk for heart disease caused by atherosclerosis.
Atherosclerosis is a disease in which plaque made up of fat, cholesterol, calcium and other substances found in blood build up inside the arteries, narrowing them and preventing oxygen-rich blood flow from reaching the body. It can cause heart attack, stroke or sudden death.
The new guidelines recommend cholesterol-lowering drugs called statins to four groups of patients who have the greatest odds of preventing heart attack and stroke on the drugs:
- People who have heart disease
- People with an LDL (bad) cholesterol level of 190 mg/dL or higher
- People with Type 2 diabetes who are between 40 and 75 years old
- Patients ages 40-75 with an estimated 10-year risk of heart disease of 7.5 percent or higher
Previous guidelines emphasized a series of goal targets for LDL cholesterol that would determine whether a patient is at high risk, but also factored in diabetes status and other risk factors. Doctors were advised to take a “lowest dose is best” approach for prescribing statins and to combine those low doses with other cholesterol drugs. The new guidelines are much more aggressive.
However, the new guidelines have come under fierce criticism for overestimating the number of people who should be prescribed cholesterol-lowering statins, prompting the two groups to launch an emergency review of the treatment guide.
Two heart researchers from Brigham and Women’s hospital tested a risk assessment tool just after it was published in the new guidelines and found that it greatly overestimates the risk of developing cardiovascular disease and may result in millions of people being unnecessarily given statins to prevent heart attacks and strokes.
The risk calculator—which takes into account age, race, gender, and heart risks such as high blood pressure and cholesterol— overpredicted risk by 75 to 150 percent, depending on the population. A man whose risk was 4 percent, for example, might show up as having an 8 percent risk. With a 4 percent risk, he would not warrant treatment — but the new guidelines say treatment is advised for those with at least a 7.5 percent risk and can be considered for those whose risk is as little as 5 percent.
“It’s stunning,” said cardiologist, Dr. Steven Nissen, chief of cardiovascular medicine at the Cleveland Clinic and past president of the American College of Cardiology. “We need a pause to further evaluate this approach before it is implemented on a widespread basis.”
When Dr. Nissen entered the figures for a 60-year-old African-American man with no risk factors — total cholesterol of 150, HDL (good) of 45, systolic blood pressure of 125 — who was not a diabetic or a smoker, he ended up with a 10-year risk of 7.5 percent, meaning he should be taking cholesterol-lowering statins despite being in a seemingly low-risk group.
Dr. Nissen also calculated the figures for a healthy white man, age 60, and got the same risk factor of 7.5 percent. “Something is terribly wrong,” he said. Using the calculator’s results, “your average healthy Joe gets treated and virtually every African-American man over 65 gets treated.”
If you’re already taking cholesterol-lowering statins, you know there are side effects and risks that come with doing so. Statins can lead to muscle and joint aches (most common), nausea, diarrhea and constipation. Other more serious potential side effects include liver damage, muscle pains, neurological side effects like memory loss and increased blood sugar that may lead to Type 2 diabetes. In 2012, the FDA added labels to statins that warn of memory loss and confusion and elevated levels of blood sugar.
Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) is a substance that’s found naturally in the body and helps convert food into energy. CoQ10 is found in almost every cell in the body, and it’s a powerful antioxidant. Studies have found that people with high cholesterol tend to have lower levels of CoQ10. Those levels are even lower for people taking statins as the medication reduces natural levels of CoQ10. There is evidence suggesting that CoQ10 supplementation can reduce the side effects from statins by bringing levels back to normal. Plus, studies show that CoQ10 may decrease the muscle pain associated with statin treatment.
If you are one of the estimated 32 million Americans taking statins, you need CoQ10. Try EZMelts CoQ10 from Dr. Newton’s Naturals. The delicious tablets dissolve rapidly right under your tongue to deliver CoQ10 into your system quickly. Plus they’re packed with Vitamin D-3. Serving size is one tablet and each box contains 30 servings.