Here's an email I got from one of my patients the other day. I'll call her Lynn. Lynn is 62 years old, has a great lifestyle, and is in great shape. Her Bio-Energy scores are high, and as I have told you before, I have never seen anyone get sick from anything at any age with high Bio-Energy scores. Nonetheless, Lynn was concerned. Here's the email she sent me:
"Hi Dr. Shallenberger,
"I desperately need your guidance on whether I should start taking statins. I recently had an ultrasound and was told that stenosis of the left carotid artery has progressed from 40% to 60%, and my doctor here is really insisting I take a statin to avoid a stroke. Following your advice my LDL is 98 and HDL is 58 or so. My doctor here thinks the LDL is still too high and I should be on a statin drug. She says it can prevent a stroke. Do I have any other options?"
I have to say I was shocked! An LDL cholesterol of 98 with an HDL of 58 is amazingly good. To lower it would be dangerous. Many doctors and people tend to think of LDL cholesterol as the "bad" cholesterol because of the brain washing they have had from Big Pharma. Our bodies, especially our brains, depend on having enough LDL. But this doctor apparently was not going to be satisfied no matter how low it was. She just had to prescribe a statin no matter what. But what if she has a point? After all, my patient's carotid test had worsened. Maybe the statin was a good idea? So I looked it up.
It didn't take me long to find out just what I was looking for. An article entitled, "Statins for stroke prevention: disappointment and hope" had been published in the peer reviewed journal Circulation in 2004. In the article, the authors point out that "Epidemiological and observational studies have not shown a clear association between cholesterol levels and all causes of stroke." So they set out to discover if lowering cholesterol levels was an effective way to decrease the risk for strokes.
The researchers combined the data from nine different trials that studied the effect of statin drugs to reduce strokes. The trials included 70,070 men and women. The findings were worse than dismal for the drugs. Overall, statin drugs decreased the risk less than 1% of the time. The authors concluded, "Statins have not yet been shown to reduce stroke risk in the typical general population, nor have they been shown to prevent recurrent stroke in patients with prior stroke." I think that pretty much says it all. But there's more to this story.
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Regardless of the fact that statin drugs will not reduce Lynn's chance of getting a stroke, why did her carotid tests get so bad? What is going on? There are two choices here. One is that something is rapidly clogging up her arteries and we'd better figure out what it is and what to do about it. Or two, maybe the carotid tests she had were not accurate. I chose to investigate the latter possibility because in Lynn's case, it made more sense. What I found out might surprise you.
One study looked at how reliable carotid artery ultrasound was when comparing different tests done by different technicians on possibly different equipment. Here's what they found out. The test results only agreed about 75% of the time. 25% of the time they were different. And when it came to measuring plaque on the arteries, the authors had this to say: The "measurements of plaque thickness are subject to considerable measurement error." So there is a one-in-four chance that one of Lynn's carotid tests was way off. And there's one more reason to be skeptical of all this.
Even if carotid testing was, in fact, a reliable measurement of plaque on the artery, what exactly does that mean? For a screening test to be worthwhile, it has to do much more than just pick up an abnormality. It also has to show that the abnormality increases risk. But an abnormal ultrasound of the carotid in a patient who is healthy and feels great has very little predictive value for that patient. These tests are worthwhile when used by doctors to help diagnose patients with symptoms or patients at high risk, but when used to screen the general population of healthy people, they are likely to be useless or even to do more harm than good.
Even if the ultrasound says that the artery is 60-99% blocked, surgery may reduce the risk of stroke only by a pitiful 1% a year. And the surgical risks may outweigh any benefit. So when it's all said and done, here's what I said to Lynn.
"Forget the statin drug. The risks are too great for the one in a hundred chance that it will help prevent a stroke in you. Two, have your carotids checked again in a year and see what the next result turns out to be. For all we know, it might be back to the 40% level due to the unreliability of the test. Three, if you are really concerned about preventing a stroke, start a course of 20 weekly EDTA chelation therapy IVs. And when you're finished with that, follow it up with one chelation IV every month for the rest of your life. Just by doing this you will all but completely guarantee that you will never have either a stroke or a heart attack."
To your health, naturally,
Frank Shallenberger, MD
Amarenco P, Tonkin AM. Statins for stroke prevention: disappointment and hope. Circulation. 2004 Jun 15;109(23 Suppl 1):III44-9. Review
Joakimsen O, Bønaa K. Reproducibility of Ultrasound Assessment of Carotid Plaque Occurrence, Thickness, and Morphology The Tromsø Study. Stroke.1997; 28: 2201-2207.