Blog: Swapping your statin for natural products – are you doing the right thing?
There are lots of naturopaths who will tell you that you need cholesterol, for vit D, squalene and for making hormones and that you should avoid statins at all costs because they reduce CoQ10 levels in the body. This is a potent antioxidant the body uses to protect healthy cells from damage. Indeed, there is some evidence that taking CoQ10 can help your heart if you have had damage as a result of doxorubicin chemotherapy, but wait…before you all start hoofing a ton of it, be aware that an observational study showed that people who took CoQ10 before during and after treatment for cancer had higher levels of recurrences and worse overall survival.
There are many integrative physicians who demonise statins, they will tell you that they cause dementia (which is reversible when they are stopped, but note that statins reduce Alzheimer’s risk) and that they cause muscle aches. Other side effects can be more serious, such as new onset type 2 diabetes (mitigated by taking either berberine or metformin at the same time), liver problems or renal toxicity, Believe me I am not suggesting you take them forever. If you have a low vitamin D status you may well be more prone to side effects and using a decent extra virgin olive oil in the diet can provide the squalene.
So if you are unlucky enough to have some heart damage from treatments like doxorubicin, Perjeta or Herceptin (for HER2), should you or should you not take a statin? Taking a statin before treatment was shown to prevent the cardiotoxicity, so clearly the toxicity it is not all about the CoQ10. But supplement with CoQ10 if you feel you really must and you are concerned about your heart function.[i]
It is important to remember statins do not have just one mode of action, they are known as ‘pleiotropic’, masters of many guises. They are anti-inflammatory, can perform as antioxidants as well as pro-oxidants, they are also immunomodulatory serving to improve the efficacy of immunotherapy drugs and because they starve the cancer stem cell of lipids, they synergise with many other traditional treatments. In fact some researchers are now suggesting that the major anticancer activity of statins comes from its very ability to lower COQ10 and provide a more pro-oxidant environment. This is something I discuss in my ferroptosis chapter. Recent media reports are now waking up to the anticancer effects of statins, finally suggesting that in the future they will routinely be added to traditional treatments in the UK.
Natural cholesterol-lowering supplements include lycopene, bergamot, amla, red yeast rice, berberine, niacin; all have excellent anti-cancer effects, reducing cholesterol and lipids in different ways alongside other cancer-starving effects. Some compounds stop the absorption of cholesterol in the gut or they lower lipid levels by affecting the bile acids to sweep out excess cholesterol more efficiently, while others block the manufacture of cholesterol within the cell. While the attraction of a natural option sounds great, some of these, such as lycopene, can be powerful antioxidants, this will prevent you from activating a pro-oxidant kill phase. So a direct swap may not be a good idea if you plan to incorporate a ferroptosis or pro-oxidant kill phase in your programme – something I strongly suggest you should consider if your cancer is progressing more rapidly and is stage 3 or 4.
People pushing the natural alternatives and denouncing statins often have agendas, many will be selling natural supplements on their websites or they are carving a niche for themselves as supposed ‘truth tellers’ like Dr Malcom McKendrick who still refuses to look at the evidence for statins and cancer. Same for doctors who denounce metformin, widely acknowledged as one of the safest drugs on the market. There is a lot of outdated misinformation about metformin on the web. I will save that for another blog.
Niacin and berberine can be particularly effective at lowering lipid levels, but be aware that taking them together with statins can raise the risk of rhabdomyolysis, said to affect 1.5 people per 100,000 statin users, an extremely rare but potentially dangerous condition which is fortunately reversible if caught and recognised early.
Many people taking statins will imagine muscle side effects, such is the weight of media scaremongering[ii]. If you are getting a few aches and pains (but not weakness) it is a sign that the statins are working to reduce CoQ10 and enhancing the anticancer effect, it is not a reason to immediately drop them.
But is it the exogenous cholesterol (i.e. dietary source) or is it the endogenous source (i.e. the manufacture of cholesterol inside the cancer cell) that you need to block?
The mevalonate (cholesterol synthesis) pathway is implicated in every cancer. Cholesterol is an integral part of the cancer membrane, needed for sending signals into cells, for an alternate source of energy for the cancer cell and for creating new membranes for its daughter cells. Some cancers have extra-large cholesterol blobs on its surface, such as found in prostate cancer. In fact the correlation with prostate cancer is so strong that cholesterol esters could be used as a marker of malignancy.
Most cancers create cholesterol in large amounts, manufacturing it within the actual cancer cells themselves. It is not a case of just lowering cholesterol in the diet. For years I have tried to emphasise this fact and that checking your cholesterol levels may not be that useful to determine your need for a statin, even if you have a good ratio of HDL to LDL.
The other major reason cancers churn out a lot of cholesterol is to help fuel metastases to other areas such as the lung and brain. Can lycopene block this? I doubt it,[iii] however it does reduce peroxidation, but that is the opposite of what you want to achieve for ferroptosis. Contrary to lycopene, niacin can assist ferroptosis.
One last point, a recent claim that statins increase dangerous lipoprotein A by about 9% has been written about, with apparently ‘no medicines known to lower Lipoprotein A.’
The same person also reported there were no drugs to rid the cancer stem cell a few years ago until my book came out. Note that this same biochemist has also recently reported that Professor Ben Williams took mebendazole and metformin as part of his cocktail for GBM. He didn’t (or at least his book says he didn’t), he took tamoxifen, verapamil, melatonin and Accutane. Be careful trusting what you read!
See the article below on the Lipoprotein A lowering effect of aspirin, it has a big effect on those at most risk. This could account for one of the major reasons it helps prevent atherosclerosis.
We know aspirin has a host of anticancer effects but is often forgotten in the mix. Niacin will also help lower lipoprotein a[iv] and this in my mind makes it a good addition to most cocktails, niacin was something I took when I was fighting stage 4 cancer.
One of the problems of statins is that they may increase ‘T regs’, these are immune cells that promote cancer, but the addition of loratadine (aka Claritin, available over the counter) will help solve this problem and enhance immunotherapy responses.[v] Statins are not all bad for immunotherapy, they can potentiate results by other methods, although the reasons are yet to be fully elucidated. In non-small cell lung cancer, survival was greatly enhanced by the combination:
So if your naturopath or health advisor asks you to swap from a statin to lycopene, weigh up the pros and cons carefully and know whether you are in a starve phase or whether you need a pro-oxidant kill phase. Reducing CoQ10 levels to help trigger ferroptosis won’t happen overnight, to get results you will need to be on statins for several weeks.
Having said all that, statins are not for everyone, but do not be put off by a few aches and pains if you take them but keep a look out for muscle weakness, especially around the shoulders and if your urine changes colour to brown, red or tea-coloured (a sign of rhabdomyolysis) and ask to have your urine checked for myoglobin if you are concerned.
Bergamot is a good alternative to statins, it blocks the mevalonate pathway but without lowering the CoQ10 levels, so perhaps think about alternating bergamot with a statin, especially if you have HER2 breast cancer.
Remember, like I always say, it is all about the cocktail!
If you want to understand more about why statins work for cancer or what natural options may work instead, don’t forget I have my online tutorials on Teachable –a lifetime access of invaluable lifesaving info for only $97.
[i] Abdel-Qadir H, Bobrowski D, Zhou L, Austin PC, Calvillo-Argüelles O, Amir E, Lee DS, Thavendiranathan P. Statin Exposure and Risk of Heart Failure After Anthracycline- or Trastuzumab-Based Chemotherapy for Early Breast Cancer: A Propensity Score‒Matched Cohort Study. J Am Heart Assoc. 2021 Jan 19;10(2):e018393. doi: 10.1161/JAHA.119.018393. Epub 2021 Jan 6. PMID: 33401953; PMCID: PMC7955306.
[iv] van Capelleveen JC, van der Valk FM, Stroes ES. Current therapies for lowering lipoprotein (a).J Lipid Res. 2016; 57:1612–1618. doi: 10.1194/jlr.R053066.
[v] Fritz I, Wagner P, Olsson H. Improved survival in several cancers with use of H1-antihistamines desloratadine and loratadine. Transl Oncol. 2021 Apr;14(4):101029. doi: 10.1016/j.tranon.2021.101029. Epub 2021 Feb 5. PMID: 33550204; PMCID: PMC7868613.