“My primary doctor says my cholesterol is too high, and he wants to put me on a statin drug.”
That primary doctor, however, did not look further. He did not see that our patient is also gaining weight, losing her hair, and dreading the upcoming winter chill because her hands and feet turn to icicles.
Most conventionally-trained doctors claim that high cholesterol (known as hyperlipidemia) is primarily genetic; if your relatives have it, then you will, too. Alternatively, they may blame your saturated fat intake.
However, that’s not exactly the case. A growing number of people have high cholesterol that has nothing to do with diet or genes.
It might be your thyroid.
Roughly 12% of Americans will develop a thyroid condition during their lifetime, according to the American Thyroid Association. An estimated 20 million Americans already have a thyroid disorder of some type, and about 60% are completely unaware of a thyroid issue.
Most of these people are women; thyroid dysfunction affects about 1 in 8 women.
Cardiovascular Disease and Women
Most of us don’t realize it, but heart disease is the leading cause of death for women in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. As of 2016, according to the American Heart Association, one-third of female deaths were attributed to Cardiovascular Disease. Most of these women will either feel no symptoms at all, or perhaps vague, nondescript symptoms that aren’t readily associated with a heart attack.
Cholesterol, especially LDL cholesterol and triglycerides, are cited as primary risk factors for Cardiovascular Disease.
The Link Between Thyroid Dysfunction and Cardiovascular Disease
How well your thyroid gland works can have a significant impact on your cholesterol levels. This includes Total cholesterol, HDL cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, VLDL cholesterol, and triglycerides. If your thyroid is sluggish, this increases your cholesterol levels.
In fact, according to a 2011 review published by The Open Cardiovascular Medicine Journal, which reviewed the work of 141 published research papers, hypothyroidism is one of the most common causes of dyslipidemia, or abnormal cholesterol levels.
Thyroid Disease and Statin Drugs
Does this mean that people with hypothyroidism should be given statin medications to reduce their cholesterol levels?
Surprisingly, the answer is NO.
This is because hypothyroidism is associated with elevated levels of an enzyme known as Creatine Kinase, which is found in the muscles, brain, and heart. Creatine Kinase increases after an injury to any one or combination of these organs. It acts as a red flag, signaling the death of brain, heart, or muscle cells.
Unfortunately, statin drugs also have this effect: they increase blood levels of Creatine Kinase. This is why at least 10-15% of patients taking a statin drug experience muscle pain as a “side”-effect. (This figure is likely underreported, since many people may not be “in tune” with their bodies, or they may dismiss such symptoms as aging or a sign of their chronic disease.)
Additionally, this may also explain the FDA’s warning about the risk of memory loss or confusion while taking statins.
So, if cholesterol-lowering drugs cause symptoms that include cognitive dysfunction and muscle pain, what are they doing to the heart? After all, the increased Creatine Kinase comes from all three organs. Lists of side effects already include symptoms involving two of those three.
Taking statin drugs when you also have an (unknown) underlying thyroid condition delivers a “one-two punch” or double-whammy to your brain, muscles, and heart. In essence, it’s like throwing gasoline on a fire.
Evaluate and Treat Thyroid Dysfunction First.
You must get your thyroid checked and correct any dysfunction before beginning any statin drug therapy. If done correctly, and if the thyroid itself was causing the high cholesterol, then you may not even need statin medications at all!
Evaluating thyroid dysfunction is not as simple as ordering a TSH test. At least 7 more biomarkers combine to create roughly 24 patterns or types of dysfunction, each of which has its own root causes and appropriate treatment approaches. This means that there can be 24 different reasons for hypothyroidism!
TSH, or Thyroid-Stimulating Hormone, is only 1 of 8 pieces of a thyroid puzzle, and it doesn’t appear abnormal in all 24 patterns.
This is where Functional Medicine comes in. Most conventionally-trained healthcare providers only order a TSH test and possibly T4 (Thyroxine), if you’re lucky, because that’s usually all that health insurance policies will “cover”.
However, this only makes up 25% of the total thyroid picture; by ordering only one or two tests, a significant portion of thyroid gland and hormone health goes completely unaddressed and ignored.
Functional Medicine as a Wholistic Approach:
In Functional Medicine, we look at multiple aspects of a person’s health. I routinely order all eight thyroid markers, as well as a complete lipid panel, among other evaluations. I obtain as much information as possible regarding your total state of health. Currently, none of my patients require statin medications!
Working with Dr. Sweeney, you’ll learn:
- Your particular thyroid health/dysfunction pattern
- Your overall cardiovascular risk, including genetic and environmental factors
- What type of thyroid or cardiovascular support you actually need
- Myths and facts about certain types of foods and their links to thyroid and cardiovascular dysfunction, including a healthy, tasty food plan
- Whether or not you actually do need T4 and/or T3 hormone replacement or statin medication
- Important factors that everyone on statin medications should also be taking to avoid dementia and body pain (these are almost always neglected by conventionally-trained providers!)
If you or someone you know is dealing with symptoms of thyroid dysfunction or a family history of heart disease, please know that you do not have to suffer or walk through life on eggshells. Please call us today at (210) 844-0277 to get started!
Research review paper from The Open Cardiovascular Medicine Journal
Cardiovascular Disease In Women (American Heart Association)
Women and Heart Disease Fact Sheet (CDC)
Muscle Damage From Statins May Evade Blood Tests (WebMD)
Statin Side Effects: Weigh the Benefits and Risks (Mayo Clinic)
The Risk For Significant Creatine Kinase Elevation With Statins (Research paper)