Natural Medicine Q&A
Ask Dr. P
by Kasra Pournadeali, ND
Natural Medicine Specialist
Now that spring is setting in, it's time for renewal, and rejuvenation. Have you done something nice for yourself recently? Have you been meaning to start a new exercise plan, or are you trying to improve your eating habits? There's no better time than now to start working toward optimal health. Remember that it does not have to be a chore, and it can be done in simple, easy to follow steps. Being the best you can be isn't hard. Start today! This month's column starts a series on heart health, an important topic, of which we each need to become more aware.
Q: Dr. P., I've had high cholesterol for many years now, and the drugs don't seem to be working. What should I do? Ed
Ed, Favorable cholesterol (lipid) status is important to reduce your risk of heart disease. Chances are you could benefit from natural approaches. Some examples, of Natural Medicines that have been effective in improving lipid status, are garlic, soy, niacin (vitamin B3), Commiphora, Trigonella (fenugreek,) calcium, and most recently red yeast rice. We typically see a 35% reduction of LDLs (the bad cholesterol) in my patients using the right combination of these natural options. I haven't used red yeast rice yet, as it is newly available. However, studies have shown it to reduce LDLs by 44%, without side effects. This is profound, because the highly prescribed cholesterol reducing drugs, which have numerous side effects, and cost about 4 times as much, aren't any more effective.
Q: Dr. P., I've heard some bad things about the cholesterol reducing "statin" drugs my doctor has me taking. Can they be harmful? Alan
Alan, As with many drugs, with only one main mechanism-of-action, the "statin" drugs also have side effects. The problem is that when drugs have only one main mechanism, they have to be used in fairly concentrated amounts to work. Because of this, drugs have more side effects than say a plant medicine, which might work on a number of different mechanisms and therefore doesn't have to be as concentrated. The good thing about "statin" drugs is that they reduce cholesterol rapidly. The bad thing is that they do it by blocking an enzyme in the liver (HMG CoA Reductase.) By blocking this enzyme, the formation of CoQ10 a very important nutrient for the heart, is also blocked. What's worse is that CoQ10 depletion leads to heart failure, which somewhat defeats the purpose of trying to protect the heart by reducing cholesterol. Another problem with the "statin" drugs is that a 1996 animal study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, found "statin" drugs to cause tumor growth at doses similar to what is prescribed in humans-- also fairly undesirable! If you're concerned about taking a drug, I would suggest you talk to your doctor about the alternatives available. If you're doctor is unfamiliar with the alternatives, ask for a referral to someone who is. If your doctor is unwilling, it's time to find a new doctor.
Q: Dr. P., my doctor wants me to take blood thinners, but I don't tolerate any. Are there any alternatives? Mona
Mona, Although natural alternatives will not have the same "blood thinning" (anticoagulant) effects as Coumadin or heparin, they can help with abnormal coagulation, especially if the prescription blood thinners are not an option for you. If this is the case, alternatives might include standardized extracts of garlic, Ginkgo biloba, ginger, feverfew, or the white willow bark species of plant medicines. Vitamin E may also help normalize the "stickiness" of your red blood cells, so that undesirable clotting does not occur. Keep in mind that blood clotting (coagulation) is a VERY serious health issue, and should not be treated without expert supervision. Be sure to consult with a Naturopathic Physician before trying any Natural Medicines for this purpose, and always consult with your mainstream physician prior to quitting or adjusting any prescription blood thinners.
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