By Dr. Lina Sakr

Writing a prescription for statins to lower cholesterol is one of the most common responses for those at increased risk of heart disease.

It’s practically a modern medical mantra, but the functional medicine approach to cardiovascular health compels us to look beyond statins.

According to the Institute for Functional Medicine (IFM), statins are effective in preventing only one out of every 100 heart attacks.

The IFM further notes that 50% of people who have a heart attack have normal cholesterol levels. That means one of every two people who suffer a heart attack may not have had their risk factors adequately addressed by a clinician.

At the Naples Center for Functional Medicine, we go beyond statins to take a holistic approach to patient care, treating the whole patient rather than focusing primarily on surface-level symptoms.

We will still check your cholesterol levels. But we will also dive deep to better detect a patient’s risk of cardiometabolic disease, including through the use of advanced lipid assays and markers of oxidative stress, measuring inflammation and hormone levels, and conducting a comprehensive body composition analysis.

You still may need to take cholesterol-lowering prescription drugs. But the functional medicine approach to cardiovascular health demands we look beyond statins, whose side effects can include muscle pain, digestive problems, decreased mental acuity and in rare cases, liver damage.

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Your arteries at work

The build-up of fats, cholesterol and other substances in and on the artery walls – known as atherosclerosis – can restrict blood flow and cause blood clots when that plaque bursts. It’s a form of arteriosclerosis, more commonly known as hardening of the arteries.

As you look to move beyond statins, be aware of the risk factors for artery ailments, including:

  • Blood sugar dysregulation
  • Diets high in sodium and saturated fat
  • High blood pressure
  • Smoking
  • Sedentary lifestyle
  • Chronic stress
  • Genetic factors

In a functional medicine approach to cardiovascular health, we compile detailed patient histories while also accounting for environmental impacts for a 360-degree view of patient well-being.

The good news? When it comes to a healthy heart, lifestyle is the ultimate anti-inflammatory. Strive for daily physical activity, with continuous movement throughout the day and at least 20 minutes of moderate to high-intensity exercise three to five days a week.

READ MORE: Lifestyle: the ultimate anti-inflammatory

A plant-based Mediterranean diet will deliver foods rich in antioxidants and anti-inflammatories as you work to move beyond statins. It’s also high in fiber. Staples of this diet include olives and olive oil, whole grains and little to no red meat.

Other lifestyle choices that will help keep your heart healthy are seemingly obvious, but bear repeating: Get a good night’s sleep. Take up meditation or practice deep breathing. Put down the cell phone and go for a walk.

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What about supplements?

As with all medical decisions, always consult your health care professional first when it comes to managing your care, including consideration of whether to move beyond statins. That said, there are a number of dietary supplements that can boost your cardiovascular health:

  • Omega-3 fatty acids, which help reduce blood pressure, inflammation and triglycerides
  • Bergamot, a citrus extract that reduces cholesterol and fat accumulation in the liver
  • Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10), an antioxidant found in many foods, including fruits and vegetables
  • Red rice yeast, a fermented food that contains a compound that mimics statins by lowering lipid levels in patients with high cholesterol

As we age, keeping your heart and vascular system in tip-top shape requires an active lifestyle, healthy choices and a keen understanding of what makes us tick. Statins and other prescription drugs are often part of that treatment plan, but don’t rely on a pill alone for your well-being.

As always, consult with your physician prior to making any substantial lifestyle, health or nutritional changes. For questions, please contact our office at 239-649-7400.

About the author:

Dr. Lina Sakr is a board-certified internal medicine physician at Naples Center for Functional Medicine with nearly 40 years of experience. She specializes in metabolic and nutritional medicine, anti-aging medicine and women’s health.