Located in Sterling, VA (703) 421-1200

July 2018

The Truth about Statin Drugs by Matthew Romans

We live in an increasingly pharmacratic society, where it seems like it's becoming easier and easier to obtain medication for ailments such as pain, depression, attention-deficit disorder, and a whole host of other real or imagined maladies. Just turn on your television for an hour and I'll bet that you will see no less than five commercials funded by pharmaceutical companies promoting the next breakthrough drug. You've no doubt seen commercials over the years for drugs named Zocor, Crestor, and Lipitor, all of which tout the benefits and importance of lowering your cholesterol. These are a classification of drugs called statins. While the medical establishment and pharmaceutical industry sing the praises of these statin drugs, is this praise justified? Are these drugs safe and effective? I learned a lot about statin drugs by reading an excellent book written by Dr. Malcolm Kendrick called "The Great Cholesterol Con", and chapter eight of that book discusses statins and heart disease. Let's take a closer look at these so-called "wonder drugs."

The first thing we need to understand is how statins work. These drugs block an enzyme called HMG CoA Reductase that the liver uses to make cholesterol. It is true that statins do reduce the mortality level in men with existing heart disease. If you are a male suffering from coronary artery disease, or have previously had a heart attack, it might make sense to take a statin drug. However, properly-conducted studies have shown that females who take statins, whether they have risk factors or not, will not increase their life expectancy by even one day. Further, Kendrick says that "statins do not reduce the mortality in men who do not already have diagnosed heart disease, which represents more than 90 percent of the male population." The conventional wisdom is that elevated cholesterol levels are a major risk factor for heart disease, and that elevated cholesterol is a result of eating a high-fat diet. This myth has been disproved; in fact, consumption of a diet rich in sugars and processed carbohydrates is far more unhealthy than eating large amounts of essential fats. While we frequently hear about the importance of lowering our "bad" cholesterol (low-density lipoprotein), and raising our "good" cholesterol (high-density lipoprotein), statin drugs actually lower both. We also need to understand that cholesterol in and of itself is not a bad thing. According to Kendrick, "the brain contains over 25 percent of the total cholesterol in the body, and over 2 percent of the total weight of the brain is cholesterol." By taking a drug to lower your cholesterol, you could also lower your brain's ability to function.

At this point you might think that statins really provide little benefit, but surely they can't be that harmful. Actually, statins can cause a whole host of physical problems, some of which are irreversible. One such condition is called polyneuropathy, which can be characterized by facial weakness, difficulty walking, loss of muscle function, and joint pain. Statins can also cause muscle damage; rhabdomyolysis is the breakdown of skeletal muscle, and the byproducts from this process can damage the kidneys and lead to kidney failure. Liver damage is another condition that can occur, as statins raise liver-enzyme levels in the bloodstream. There is also an increased risk of cancer in people with very low cholesterol, and statins have been shown to cause cancer in rodents. Statins block the production of Coenzyme Q10 (often referred to as CoQ10), which can lead to heart failure. Finally, as low cholesterol levels reduce serotonin levels in the brain, statins can cause depression, confusion, dizziness, and memory loss. While they are a marginally effective treatment option for a small percentage of the population, statin drugs can kill. Simvastatin caused 416 deaths in the U.S. over a six year period. Also, as Dr. Kendrick said, "Cerivastatin, the drug withdrawn by Bayer, was implicated in the deaths of at least 100 people before it got withdrawn." Despite the positive statistics that are put forth in advertisements for these products, we need to realize that these statistics are misleading. The pharmaceutical companies associated with these drugs usually pay for these studies; therefore, they control access to the data that is compiled. They determine what data will be published and what conclusions will be drawn.

All medication, even over-the-counter medication, has side effects, and some medication has a narrower therapeutic window than others. In the case of statins, I believe for most people the potential danger far outweighs any minor benefit.

Posted July 18, 2018 by Matthew Romans

The Dirty on Soap

Is it as healthy and necessary as most assume to lather up every day in the shower? Or, have we gone overboard trying to maintain health, promote hygiene, and limit body odor? I would argue we don't need nearly as much soap and shampoo and it is not nearly as beneficial as most believe. Of course, we need to wash hands after using the bathroom, clean off any grease or dirt that accumulates on our bodies from work or play, and generally keep ourselves publicly presentable. However, we only need a fraction of the amount of soap that most use, and we do not need to apply soap to "non-dirty" areas of our body (ex. arms, back, legs). In fact, overuse of soap can cause dry skin, kill beneficial bacteria that reside on our bodies, and irritate our eyes, nose, and even our gut. When we overwash our bodies, we can also strip our skin of a protective sebum (an oily substance secreted from the sebaceous glands), which can cause unhealthy bacteria to grow and cause acne and other issues.

Soap works at getting oil and dirt off our bodies because of it's useful molecular structure. One end of a soap molecule is hydrophilic which is attracted to water, and the other end of the molecule is lipophilic which attracts and attaches to oil. By applying soap and water to our bodies, the dirt and oil gets suspended, or emulsified, in the water molecules, and then gets washed away. If there is no oil or dirt on your arm or your chest, what are you trying to wash away? Additionally, simple water and a wash cloth will wash off any light to moderate dirt and oil on the surface of the skin. Soap is really only needed for the more deeply entrenched oils.

Most of us do not work as auto mechanics, landscapers, coal miners, or any other job where we are getting seriously dirty every day. Most of us work in offices or at home. We may sweat a bit due to the heat or the clothing we are wearing, and we might get our hands and/or our feet dirty by touching dirty surfaces. For us office and home dwellers, showering with water and a wash cloth over most of our bodies is more than adequate to clean ourselves in a healthy (and odor free) manner. Areas of the body more prone to body odor and sweating can be cleaned with a small amount of soap.

Hopefully, I won't scare away any friends and family, but although I shower most days, I use little to no soap unless I have been doing yardwork or some other dirty activity. Additionally, I do not use shampoo more a few times per year, and only if I have to wash something out of my hair (ex. salt and sand from swimming in the ocean). Otherwise its just water and a wash cloth. The results? I have no body odor to speak of (at least not that my wife has mentioned). My skin and hair are clean and healthy. I do not get sick much at all. I save a lot of money on useless and possibly harmful cleaning and beauty products. As an added bonus, I am sending a lot less chemicals down the drain every day, so I am actually helping the environment a little.

Somehow, the use of massive amounts of soap and other personal cleaning products has become part of the cosmic firmament, at least here in the U.S. I would encourage you question that practice and try this: drastically reduce the amount of soap you use on your body - let's say 20% of what you currently use. You will save money, probably improve the health of your skin, reduce your shower time and use less water, and I promise you will not look or smell terrible. On the contrary, you may just become more appealing to your significant other!

Posted July 13, 2018 by Matthew Romans

You don't move enough! Look to Stonehenge for clues

Do you think you could walk 100 miles? How about 200 or more? Could you do that carrying clothes, food, and shelter? How about doing this in the middle of winter? Could you even walk 20 miles without serious physical repercussions? Our ancestors were not only capable of this, but many of them did it on a regular basis. I recently watched a program on the Smithsonian Channel about the prehistoric visitors and builders of Stonehenge, near Salisbury in Southwest England - Stonehenge Program. Stonehenge was built over 4000 years ago and people were visiting the site of Stonehenge at least 1000 or more years before that. (I visited Stonehenge in 1992 on a trip to England and it was a fascinating place). Modern Scientists at Stonehenge have used forensic anthropology, chemical analysis such as carbon dating, genetic testing and other techniques to discover amazing details about these neolithic people.

Stonehenge was a ritual burial site where people from all over England came to bury the cremated remains of loved ones. Scientists have determined the people came from Wales and many other further locations by foot in the months leading up to the winter solstice each year. They brought their own livestock (mostly pigs), all the clothes and tools they needed, as well as the previously mentioned cremated human remains. Later on, the "stones" of Stonehenge were quarried and the structures we now know werre built both as markers for the dead as well as a monument to visually frame the winter solstice sunset and summer solstice sunrise.

According to scientists, these travelers to and builders of Stonehenge were intelligent, healthy in terms of known diseases, and quite physically active. They apparently ate quite well, feasting on many thousands of pigs each year, as well as other meats, various cereals, and fresh water. Many hundreds and thousands of people apparently traveled from near and far each winter. As we know, there was no British Airways, no BritRail, no cars, not even Uber! These people walked wherever they went and they engaged in some heavy lifting as well(tree trunks used for funeral pyres and living structures, as well as the physical labor that must've gone into building the Stonehenge structure). I doubt one in one hundred modern humans could handle these challenging physical tasks. However, these neolithic Englanders did so and thrived for thousands of years.

To me, the most interesting point of everything we have learned about these early people is modern humans share much of the same genetic code(recent genetic testing of remains shows that these early inhabitants of England were actually olive skinned and descended from central Europeans - most similar genetically to modern Sardinians; however, all humans have more than 99% of our genes in common). We have evolved from these ancestors with the same physical capacity they had - the capacity to move much more than we do, to lift much more, and to spend more time outdoors than most of us even think about. As homosapiens evolved over hundreds of thousands of years living outdoors, moving constantly at low intensity, occasionally straining their musculature by lifting heavy things, we adapted genetically to thrive in such an environment.

It makes sense that these neolithic humans thrived in England 5000 years ago because their lifestyle was in tune with their genetics. It would also stand to reason that we modern humans would thrive more by emulating some practices of the ancient people of Stonehenge. I am not talking about recreating a late stone age lifestyle (ex. living outdoors, killing your dinner, no modern medical care, etc. ) However, if you want to feel great every day, have mental clarity and physical energy, sleep well, be capable of all you would like to do, then you should follow in the footsteps of our ancestors.

How do you do this? You have to move about much more. How much? There is no set answer, but I would say walking 2-4 miles a day is a good starting point. Do you think that is too time consuming? Think again! What is time (and money) consuming is spending time in a Doctor's office for diabetes, a heart condition, or obesity related issues. What is time consuming is being incapacitated by being overweight or out of shape. Not to mention the fact that many of these conditions can take years off your life. If you want to get some of your daily movement to be through golf, or tennis, or biking or swimming, or playing frisbee, or hiking, that is great. The point is daily movement is both necessary and ideal.

In addition to moving more, there are a few other practices you must incorporate in order to thrive. You have to sit less. If you work a desk job, alternate standing with sitting. Watch less TV and video games. Also, you need to strain your muscles once or twice per week. Why? There are a variety of physiological benefits you get from lifting heavy things that you can not get from general low level movement. You have to eat moderate amounts of real food. Finally, you have to sleep more. Ancient humans likely slept from soon after the sun went down to just before sunrise, in tune with their natural circadian rhythms.

The prehistoric people who built and traveled to Stonehenge were quite amazing people. While I am sure they struggled for survival like most humans throughout most of history, they also lived in accordance with their genetic makeup and as a result they were strong, healthy and very productive humans. In the long history of humanity, modern mostly sedentary, largely indoor living has been just a blip of time. Our genetic code is ill-suited to modern living. Learn from these ancestors as you plan your daily activities and your lifestyle. With a bit of tweaking, you can maximize your stone-age genetics and at the same time enjoy the comforts and conveniences of the modern world.

Posted July 12, 2018 by Matthew Romans