If you have high cholesterol, statin drugs may come to mind as something you must necessarily take.

As to whether or not high cholesterol is an automatic green light for taking statins:

“Absolutely not! Since half the people with high cholesterol never have heart disease, we are overprescribing medications with significant costs and side effects,” explains Dr. Larry Santora, MD, cardiologist, medical director of cardiac CT, and medical director of the Vascular and Wellness Center, Saint Joseph Hospital, Orange, CA, and author of “OC Cure for Heart Disease.”

Dr. Santora continues, “If you have high cholesterol and a zero coronary calcium scan, you can safely be treated with diet and exercise for five years.”

My brother’s coronary calcium score was not zero (he won’t reveal the number), but he did say that the score prompted him to “aggressively” treat his condition, and the treatment includes a statin.

My mother never had a coronary calcium scan; she had a catheter angiogram which revealed near-complete blockage in all major coronary arteries – she underwent quintuple bypass surgery only a few hours after the angiogram.

Immediately after, she was put on a statin and continues to take the statin today. Her cholesterol profile, pre-surgery, was poor.

It has since improved significantly, despite no change in eating habits.

Dr. Santora continues, “On the other hand, if you have normal cholesterol, but one other risk factor like diabetes, etc., you may be one of the potential heart attack victims who has normal cholesterol.

“If you get a heart scan and have plaque or calcium, being on cholesterol meds will reduce dramatically the heart attack risk.”

Risk factors for heart attack that many people cannot name are: sleep apnea, insomnia, less than six hours of sleep a night, chronic mental stress, insulin resistance or pre-diabetes, and excess belly fat even though the rest of the body is not “overweight.”

Dr. Santora adds, “The new paradigm approach for cholesterol should be: 1) This person has high cholesterol; can this patient get a heart scan and not be put on medications?

“2) This patient has normal cholesterol; should this patient be on cholesterol medications?

“The $300 or less for a scan will more than pay for the savings in medications and lives.”

Even if your insurance will cover the cost of statins, statin drugs serve up a lengthy list of possible side effects, some of which are serious (though rare).

Why would a person with normal cholesterol, but a high calcium scan score, be put on a statin?

Because statins are also designed to slow the progression of coronary plaque buildup.

Many natural supplements have the same cholesterol-lowering effects of statins, such as vitamin B3 (niacin), plant sterols, aged garlic extract, fish oil, green tea extract and turmeric.

Exercise also has the same effect, especially intense exercise.

Dr. Santora’s areas of interest include interventional cardiology – coronary stenting, cardiac CT – CT angiography, and coronary calcium screening with EBCT.
Lorra Garrick has been covering medical, fitness and cybersecurity topics for many years, having written thousands of articles for print magazines and websites, including as a ghostwriter. She’s also a former ACE-certified personal trainer.