Elevated Cholesterol and Cytokine Storms
Recent research adds urgency to these efforts, suggesting that elevated cholesterol can also be a risk factor in Covid-19. One study shows that statins, a widely used class of cholesterol-lowering drugs, may offer protection against Covid-19 severity.1 These findings add to the data showing how inflammatory conditions including opens in a new windowcardiovascular disease, increase the risks of life-threatening complications such as opens in a new windowcytokine storms, which frequently occur in Covid-19 cases. Infections, autoimmune conditions, and immunotherapy treatments (e.g., for leukemia) are additional triggers of cytokine storms. Signs include inflammation (e.g., redness and swelling), severe fatigue, high fever, and nausea — if you have any of these symptoms, seek immediate medical attention, as symptoms can worsen quickly.
Statin Side Effects
While statins may offer important benefits — controlling cholesterol and lowering inflammation — they also come with a number of side effects. Patients often ask for alternative recommendations after their primary doctor prescribed a statin to lower cholesterol. These patients are in a bind. They need to get their cholesterol levels down, but they don’t want a drug with possible side effects. Side effects may include2–10:
- Muscle pain, weakness, and damage
- Damage the liver
- Digestive problems
- Poor cognitive function/memory loss
- Metabolic problems that can lead to type 2 diabetes
- Peripheral neuropathy
- Low mood — if your cholesterol dips too low on a statin, it can lead to depression; studies show that low cholesterol is linked with depression and even suicide
- CoQ10 deficiency — this nutrient-like compound plays a crucial role in heart health and energy production; statins have been shown in multiple studies to deplete CoQ10, which also naturally reduces with age. Supplementing with CoQ10 is essential if you are on statin drugs
- Cancer — some research shows a connection with statins
Oxidized Cholesterol: The Real Enemy
I rarely, if ever, recommend statins to my patients. In my experience, there are much safer and more effective integrative options that lower the risks of heart disease and related issues.
Before we explore these alternatives, however, let’s take a look at cholesterol’s roles in the body. We actually do need it for hormone production, brain health, and more. But it all depends on what type of cholesterol — and what we’re finding is that it’s the oxidized cholesterol, and specifically subclasses of lipids and lipoproteins such as Lipoprotein (a), which are the real problem.
Oxidized cholesterol is created when LDL (bad) cholesterol mixes with inflammatory compounds, harmful free radicals, and toxins in the circulation. These oxidative stress compounds actually turn the cholesterol “rancid,” leading to increased inflammation, arterial plaque, and atherosclerosis.
The Role of Blood Filtration in Heart Health — and Beyond
Unfortunately, people who may need statins the most — especially those with a genetic predisposition to high cholesterol — often don’t respond to statin drugs.
These patients may require a life-saving clinical treatment called LDL apheresis. During apheresis, about 3 to 4 liters of blood are drawn from the patient over several hours, and separated into blood cells and plasma. The plasma is passed through a special filter that removes LDL, oxidized LDL, and other degenerative, pro-inflammatory compounds that fuel cardiovascular disease and other degenerative conditions — including cancer. The “cleaned” plasma and blood are the returned back to the patient.
In my practice at Amitabha Medical Clinic, we’ve pioneered the use of apheresis for a number of inflammatory, degenerative conditions beyond high cholesterol —such as chronic kidney disease and chronic heart disease among others — and have seen remarkable results.
Apheresis can offer benefits not just for cardiovascular patients, but also for those with cancer, infections, and other inflammatory conditions. Used alone, or combined with other regenerative therapies, apheresis blood filtration can be a powerful, life-changing therapy for patients who previously had few, if any, options.
Natural Heart Health Solutions
What is most dangerous for your heart is chronic inflammation combined with high LDL cholesterol. There are a handful of researched natural solutions I recommend that effectively control inflammation and protect cardiovascular function, support circulation, and help balance cholesterol, among other important benefits.
One excellent supplement is CoQ10 — an antioxidant that supports cellular energy production. One study found that CoQ10 both decreases inflammatory markers and increases the activity of other antioxidants such as vitamin E.
Another extensively researched anti-inflammatory formula, is a classical Tibetan Herbal Formula backed by more than 20 published clinical studies and decades of research. This ancient healing blend contains antioxidant-rich botanicals, and it has been shown to reduce inflammation, support circulatory and cardiovascular health, and promote optimal immunity, in addition to a number of other protective benefits.
Controlling Galectin-3 in Heart Health and Beyond
One of the most dangerous proteins involved in chronic inflammation and heart disease, is an “alarm protein” called galectin-3. Thousands of studies show how galectin-3 fuels inflammation, fibrosis, congestive heart failure, cancer, and other degenerative conditions. As an upstream “alarm protein,” galectin-3 drives the cytokine signaling cascade, fueling out-of-control inflammation and fibrosis that hardens organs and tissues — with serious life-threatening consequences.
One study showed that galectin-3 promotes vascular fibrosis, a driving force behind arterial blockages and hardened arteries. Importantly, the study also showed that inhibiting galectin-3 using researched Modified Citrus Pectin (MCP) helps control the formation of plaque in arteries.11 This study also highlights the importance of controlling inflammation in order to reduce plaque buildup in your cardiovascular system.
Currently, MCP (PectaSol) is the only available agent shown to block and even reverse the harmful effects of unhealthy galectin-3 — in heart disease, as well as kidney and liver disease, cancer, neurological conditions, and many other health issues.
Healing vs Harmful Foods for the Heart
You probably already have a general sense of what to eat and what to avoid for cardiovascular health. Any diet centered on anti-inflammatory foods benefits the heart. There are a handful of inflammatory foods and ingredients that are particularly harmful to cardiovascular health. The worst offenders include trans fats/hydrogenated fats, refined sugars, prepacked foods high in sodium, and reduced-fat/powdered milk, which contain oxidized cholesterol.
Build your diet around fresh vegetables, lean protein, healthy fats, and low-sugar fruits. There are numerous essential nutrients for heart health. A few standouts that you may want to address through your diet:
- Copper-rich foods — copper deficiency is linked to an increased risk of heart disease. Good food sources include organ meats, fish, shellfish, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and dark chocolate.12,13
- High-magnesium foods — rolled oats, spinach, pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, almonds, cashews, peanuts, soymilk
- Folate — oranges, dark leafy greens (e.g., spinach, romaine, turnip greens), asparagus, eggs, beans, and whole grains
- Vitamin C-packed foods — citrus, strawberries, tomatoes, bell peppers, and cruciferous veggies (e.g., broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower)
- Vitamin D — cod liver oil, beef liver, salmon, tuna, sardines, and swordfish
- Omega-3 fatty acids — cold-water fish (e.g., salmon, mackerel, sardines), chia seeds, flaxseeds, and walnuts
It’s important to remember that cardiovascular health involves more than controlling cholesterol. By designing a program around a healthy diet, regular exercise, healthy stress relief, and research-based anti-inflammatory interventions, you can support long-term cardiovascular function and optimize wellness and vitality in the process.
2022 ANESTHESIOLOGY® 2022 annual meeting: https://www.asahq.org/about-asa/newsroom/news-releases/2022/10/regular-use-of-common-cholesterol-lowering-drug-linked-to-reduction-of–covid19-severity.
Gaist D and others. Neurology 2002 May 14;58(9):1321-2.
Memory: Eleanor Laise. The Lipitor Dilemma, Smart Money: The Wall Street Journal Magazine of Personal Business, November 2003
Langsjoen PH. The clinical use of HMG Coa reductase inhibitors (statins) and the associated depletion of the essential co-factor coenzyme Q10: a review of pertinent human and animal data. Biofactors 2003;18(1–4):101-111.
Partonen, T. British Journal of Psychiatry. 1999 Sep;175:259-62.
Low Cholesterol Linked to Depression. BBC Online Network, May 25,1999
Leung BP and others. J Immunol. Feb 2003 170(3);1524-30; Palinski W. Nature Medicine Dec 2000 6;1311-1312.
J Pharm Technol 2003;19:283-286. Singh S and Loke YK, Drug Safety, Vol 29, o 12, 2006, 1123-1132 (10)
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Muldoon MF and others. Am J Med 2000 May;108(7):538-46.
Ibarrola, J., Matilla, L., Martinez-Martinez, E., et al. Myocardial Injury After Ischemia/Reperfusion Is Attenuated by Pharmacological Galectin-3 Inhibition. Scientific Reports. 2019 July;9:9607
Klevay, LM, Cardiovascular disease from copper deficiency — a history. Journal of Nutrition. 2000 Feb;130(2S Suppl):489S-492S.
Liu, Y., Miao, J. An Emerging Role of Defective Copper Metabolism in Heart Disease. Nutrients. 2022 Feb;14(3):700. F