Is it possible to avoid statins with diet?

Please note- Always discuss your cholesterol lowering options with your medical practitioner. 

When I was studying for my degree in the 90s, I spent a day at a local hospital along with my fellow students, helping a researcher who was trying to establish whether or not there was a genetic link to high cholesterol levels. These days it is well known that there can be a genetic link which is known as familial hypercholestremia. Ironically the following month my husband had a heart attack at age only 39 - his cholesterol was really high and he believed this was an inherited condition. This was the first of three heart attacks and he died at age only 46 in spite of being on statins.  We were not as clued up on nutrition in those days- I have since studied nutrition and nutritional therapy and I know now that it is not just a matter of cutting out saturated fat from the diet.  

There has been a great deal of press in recent years about putting even healthy people on statins.  This is a result of NICE (National Institute for Health and Care Excellence) in 2014 recommending that people who have a 10% risk of heart disease over the following 10 years should be put on statins whereas previously the recommendation was for people with a 20% risk.  

So what is cholesterol and how does it lead to cardiovascular disease?  Cholesterol is made mainly in the liver. Cholesterol does have an important role in the body - it is used to produce bile and steroid hormones such as progesterone in women and testosterone in men.  It is only when cholesterol levels get high in the blood that the problems start. There are two types HDL (Healthy cholesterol which has a protective effect carrying cholesterol away from arteries to the liver) and LDL (Lethal cholesterol which is the more dangerous form of cholesterol which can form plaques which may block the arteries which supply the heart. This is what leads to a heart attack).   

I know you are probably fed up of me saying this but it is really important to avoid inflammation in your body. Please see 'How can vegans eat to beat inflammation?'-  Refined carbs are digested quickly loading the body with simple sugars.  If they are not used immediately for energy they are converted to pro-inflammatory saturated fat - this is why you should have slow release carbs in your diet - wholemeal pasta, wholemeal bread, brown rice, etc . which release slowly and are more likely therefore to be used for energy.  If the linings of arteries become inflamed plaques stick to the inflammation like a 'sticking plaster', eventually blocking the artery. 

Soluble fibre is key to healthy. Soluble fibre found in oats which forms a gel like substance, beta-glucans in the gut which binds to cholesterol and bile in the gut - the liver then produces more bile using up cholesterol.  Other sources of soluble fibre include peas, beans, lentils.

All fibre is important however because it slows down the release of simple sugars into the blood regulating blood sugar as discussed above.  Include plenty of fruit, vegetables, nuts and seeds in your cholesterol lowering diet. Soy products can lower LDL cholesterol.

Avoid saturated fats and transfats which raise LDL cholesterol levels but include heart healthy fats such as omega3s.  Please see 'Where do vegans get their omega 3s from?'-

Also avoid alcohol and smoking - alcohol can increase triglyceride levels in the blood and smoking can lower the protective HDL.

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