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pill bottle with warningI’d like to bring your attention to two recently published studies which highlight the dangers of antidepressant drugs and maintaining low cholesterol levels.

Low Serum Cholesterol May Be Associated With Suicide Attempt History

I’ve written before about the association of low cholesterol with aggressive and violent behavior as well as an increased risk of suicide. A recent study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry adds weight to the already considerable body of evidence suggesting that low cholesterol is dangerous to your health.

In this study ‘low cholesterol’ was defined as less than 160mg/dL (4.16 mmol/L). This level has been noted several times in the medical literature as a level below which suicide is more likely. And you should note that this level is well within what is considered ‘healthy’ by a cholesterol-lowering, drug pushing health industry.

This is consistent with studies showing that low blood cholesterol levels are associated with suicide and that cholesterol levels in certain areas of the brain are lower in those who commit suicide by violent means than in those who commit suicide by non-violent means.

Cholesterol is a health-promoting substance. It is a critical component of cell membranes, the precursor to all steroid hormones, a precursor to vitamin D, and the limiting factor that brain cells need to make connections with one another called synapses, making it essential to learning and memory.

If you understand the vital role cholesterol plays in health – especially in the brain – it’s not difficult to figure out why low cholesterol could increase the risk of suicide and violent behavior.

This is yet another reason to avoid cholesterol-lowering statin drugs. If you haven’t read it already, you might want to check out my post called Cholesterol Doesn’t Cause Heart Disease.

(J Clin Psychiatry October 21, 2008: e1-e8; pii: ej07m03866)

Two Antidepressants Taken During Pregnancy Linked To Heart Anomalies In Babies

In another disturbing study, researchers from Israel, Italy and Germany found that pregnant women taking two popular antidepressants, paroxetine (Paxil) and fluoxetine (Prozac), were three and four times more likely to give birth to children with heart problems.

Researchers have advised women taking the drugs to continue unless they are advised to stop by their doctor or consultant.

I’ve written extensively here about the risks of antidepressant drugs, especially for pregnant women. In my recent post Statins For Pregnant Women and Kids? I presented evidence that statin drugs can cause birth defects and changes in the brain that predispose the child to emotional problems later in life. Here’s a brief excerpt:

Back in 2004, a report in the New England Journal of Medicine showed that the use of statins in the first trimester of pregnancy was associated with birth defects, especially severe central nervous system defects and limb deformities. In fact, 20 out of 52 women exposed to statins gave birth to offspring with such defects, which represents a birth defect rate of 38 percent, nearly 20 times the background rate of birth defects!

If you’re pregnant or considering getting pregnant, please – for the sake of your baby – speak to your psychiatrist or doctor about getting off antidepressant drugs before you conceive.

One of my favorite researchers, Chris Masterjohn, has just launched a new blog called “The Daily Lipid” where he writes about fats, cholesterol and health. Chris is pursuing a Ph.D. in Molecular and Cell Biology and is one of the most knowledgeable contemporary writers on cardiovascular health that I’m aware of. With his permission, I am cross-posting the first two articles on his blog – which you should definitely consider adding to your blogroll!

pregnant woman

Statins for pregnant women?

Statin manufacturers, the sycophantic researchers they pay, and the shameless hucksters who sell them are always up to no good, but their recent attempts to market them to pregnant women are simply horrifying.

According to a recent news article published in Mail online, researchers from liverpool believe that taking statins during pregnancy might help women avoid caesarean sections by promoting more robust uterine contraction. They hope to begin human trials in three to five years.

Somehow, the author of this article failed to react with the shock and horror appropriate to the situation — which should be the same shock and horror with which we would react to the suggestion that pregnant women should take thalidomide to avoid morning sickness.

Back in 2004, a report in the New England Journal of Medicine showed that the use of statins in the first trimester of pregnancy was associated with birth defects, especially severe central nervous system defects and limb deformities. In fact, 20 out of 52 women exposed to statins gave birth to offspring with such defects, which represents a birth defect rate of 38 percent, nearly 20 times the background rate of birth defects!

Even before this report was published, researchers already knew that statins caused birth defects in animal experiments, and the FDA already required the drugs to carry a label warning pregnant women to stay away from them. The article linked to above stated the following:

“FDA took this action because it was recognized that fetal cholesterol synthesis was essential for development, and because animals given statins during pregnancy had offspring with a variety of birth defects,” [one of the study's authors] said.

Less than a year later, Merck and Johnson & Johnson jointly asked the FDA for permission to market an over-the-counter statin. One of the concerns about the proposal was the risk to pregnant women. USA Today reported:

The FDA classifies Mevacor and other statins as pregnancy category X, which means they are not supposed to be taken by pregnant women. Not only have category X drugs been linked to fetal abnormalities in animal or human studies, but the FDA also has declared that the benefits of taking them do not outweigh potential risks.

According to the same article, Merck made a disturbing admission:

“Of course, there will be women who take it off-label,” acknowledges Merck executive Edwin Hemwall, referring to the use of non-prescription Mevacor by women under 55.

And what could prompt women to use statins during pregnancy against recommendations? Certainly a news article declaring that statins might prevent the need for caesarean sections and their associated complications could prompt some women to do so.

So what ground-breaking research made these Liverpool researchers so confident that taking drugs associated with twenty times the normal rate of major birth defects during pregnancy might be a good idea that they put out a press release declaring this confidence to the public before any trials were even under way?

Well, according to the article:

Tests have already shown that raising levels of cholesterol interferes with womb tissue’s ability to contract.
Really. Raising levels of cholesterol. You might wonder how they accomplished that. Did they use cholesterol-raising drugs? I don’t know of any drugs that do that. Did they use egg yolks, or the dreaded dietary villain — gasp — saturated fats?

No, the story is quite different.

The apparent basis for this ridiculous statin cheerleading is a 2004 study published by researchers from the University of Liverpool in the American Journal of Physiology — Cell Physiology entitled “Increased cholesterol decreases uterine activity: functional effects of cholesterol alteration in pregnant rat myometrium.”

Rather than feeding anything to pregnant women or pregnant rats, the researchers took pregnant rats and killed them. So the first thing we can say is that statins might help you deliver a baby if your doctor kills you first.

Then they extracted the uterine tissue and either extracted cholesterol from it with a chemical solvent called methyl beta-cyclodextrin, or enriched it either with cholesterol mixed with this solvent or with LDL (which they didn’t measure for oxidation prior to use). Then they added drugs to induce contraction under either cholesterol-depleted or cholesterol-enriched conditions, and found that contraction was greater under cholesterol-depleted conditions.

So now we know that — wait, what is it we know?

Well, quite clearly, we don’t know anything that we can have any confidence has any physiological relevance at all. That is, except the fact that statins cause birth defects in animals, and they increase the rate of birth defects in humans by nearly twenty times, primarily by causing severe defects of the central nervous system and limb deformities.

To add to that, we also know that the vast majority of humans conceived with Smith-Lemli-Opitz Syndrome (SLOS), a genetic inability to synthesize enough cholesterol, die of spontaneous abortion in the first 16 weeks of gestation. Those who live long enough to be born suffer from mental retardation, autism, facial and skeletal malformations, visual dysfunctions and failure to thrive.

Statins for pregnant women? I don’t think so.

Article written by Chris Masterjohn

Statins for 8-year old children?

child with drug

The American Academy of Pediatrics recently announced new recommendations for giving cholesterol-lowering drugs to children as young as eight years old. They also recommend giving low-fat milk to infants as young as one year old.

The New York Times published several articles on this, first announcing the recommendation the day the academy made it, then describing the backlash of saner doctors and other members of the public against it, and finally editorializing that while they were first “appalled” at the recommendation, after reading the report they were more dismayed at the state of our children’s health.

Concerning this frightful state of children’s health, the Times reported the following:

“We are in an epidemic,” said Dr. Jatinder Bhatia, a member of the academy’s nutrition committee who is a professor and chief of neonatology at the Medical College of Georgia in Augusta. “The risk of giving statins at a lower age is less than the benefit you’re going to get out of it.”

Dr. Bhatia said that although there was not “a whole lot” of data on pediatric use of cholesterol-lowering drugs, recent research showed that the drugs were generally safe for children.

An epidemic of what? High cholesterol? Not according to the academy’s report, which states that cholesterol levels in children declined between 1966 and 1994 and stayed the same between 1994 and 2000.

No, we are in an epidemic of obesity. As the Times reported:

But proponents say there is growing evidence that the first signs of heart disease show up in childhood, and with 30 percent of the nation’s children overweight or obese, many doctors fear that a rash of early heart attacks and diabetes is on the horizon as these children grow up.

Is there any evidence that statins lead to weight loss? If there is, I am not aware of it.

The point is immaterial, because the academy doesn’t claim to have any evidence for its position in the first place. For example, its report states the following:

Also, data supporting a particular level of childhood cholesterol that predicts risk of adult CVD do not exist, which makes the prospect of a firm evidence-based recommendation for cholesterol screening for children elusive.
And further down:

It is difficult to develop an evidence-based approach for the specific age at which pharmacologic treatment should be implemented. . . . It is not known whether there is an age at which development of the atherosclerotic process is accelerated.

In other words, they don’t know what level of cholesterol is risky and at what age it starts posing a risk, but they will nevertheless assume that there is some level that does start to pose a risk at some age and they will thus have to make a guess just what that level and what that age is.

The report discusses evidence that the “metabolic syndrome” and the “recent epidemic of childhood obesity” are tied to the risk of diabetes and heart disease and evidence that even modest weight loss at a level of five to seven percent is sufficient to prevent diabetes. Yet somehow instead of making a recommendation about how to more effectively lose weight the authors derive from this data a much less logical but much more profitable conclusion that 8-year-olds should be put on statins.

As to the recommendation to feed infants low-fat milk, the Times reported the following:

The academy also now recommends giving children low-fat milk after 12 months if a doctor is concerned about future weight problems. Although children need fat for brain development, the group says that because children often consume so much fat, low-fat milk is now appropriate.

This is rather remarkable, because the academy attributed the drop in childhood cholesterol levels to the successes of the anti-fat, anti-cholesterol campaign that began in the 1950s. But now children no longer need milkfat because they are getting plenty of fat. Well which is it? Are they getting more fat now or less fat?

Of course milkfat is also a source of choline, along with liver and egg yolks, which is essential to brain development.

But even this misses the point. Cholesterol is essential to brain development!

One of the first articles I added to my section on the functions of cholesterol was an article entitled “Learning, Your Memory, and Cholesterol.” It discusses the evidence uncovered eight years ago that cholesterol is the limiting factor for the formation of synapses, which are the connections between neurons that allow learning and memory to take place.

Lowering brain levels of cholesterol can be detrimental at any age beacause of this, but the consequences for children — whose brains are still developing at a much more rapid rate — could be much more dire.

No doubt, most researchers and medical doctors mean well and are honestly trying to help our children. But surely someone in these drug companies must know that cholesterol is necessary for brain development, and that cholesterol-lowering drugs reduce mental performance in adults. Surely they must know that if we raise our next generation of children on statins during the critical periods of brain development, we may raise a whole generation with compromised intelligence.

And if that’s the case, are they trying to dumb us down? Sometimes it seems like that’s the case.

Article written by Chris Masterjohn

pregnant woman

THS reader Roselle sent in this question:

Is vitamin/mineral supplementation truly beneficial before & during pregnancy for women with a healthy diet?

The first thing I’d like to emphasize is the importance of this question. Adequate maternal nutrition prior to conception and during pregnancy can protect the baby from diabetes, stroke, heart disease, kidney disease and memory loss later in life.

Intuitively, most mothers know that what they eat will have a significant impact on the developing fetus. And traditional cultures have been aware of this for millennia. Special preconception and pregnancy diets have always emphasized foods that are particularly rich in certain nutrients known to promote healthy growth and development. In some cases, these groups provided special nutrients for fathers preparing to conceive as well.

Traditional cultures with access to the sea used fish eggs. Those that consumed dairy products used high-quality milk from the spring and fall when grass was green and rapidly growing. African groups whose water was low in iodine used the ashes of certain plant foods to supply this important element. These foods were always added to a foundational diet rich in liver and other organ meats, bones and skin, fats, seafood and whatever local plant foods were available.

In the Winter of 2007, Chris Masterjohn published a fantastic article called “Vitamins for Fetal Development: Conception to Birth” in the Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts Journal. Masterjohn remarks:

“Although modern science still has much research to accomplish in order to fully elucidate the value of traditional wisdom, it has already confirmed the fact that many of the nutritional factors that we now recognize as the most important to embryonic and fetal development are the same ones emphasized in traditional pregnancy and preconception diets.” (p.26)

What are these nutrients that both modern science and traditional wisdom recognize as essential? Briefly, they include:

  • Vitamin E: originally named “Fertility Factor X” in 1922 because rats could not reproduce without it. Recent research indicates it is almost certainly required for human reproduction.
  • Vitamin A: vitamin A is necessary for the differentiation and patterning of all the cells, tissues, and organs within the developing body. It is especially important for the development of the communication systems between the sense organs and the brain. Vitamin A deficiency during pregnancy has been shown to produce spontaneous abortion in several different species of animals.
  • Vitamin D: Vitamin D plays a role in lung development, and protects the newborn from tetany, convulsions and heart failure. Vitamin D probably plays a much larger role in fetal development than currently understood due to its interaction with vitamin A.
  • Vitamin K: relatively little is known about vitamin K’s role in embryonic and fetal development compared to vitamins A & D. However, cases of birth defects that occurred with mothers taking Wafarin (which depletes the body of vitamin K) suggest that vitamin K plays an essential role in the development of proper facial proportions and the fundamental development of the nervous system.
  • DHA: DHA may be necessary for the formation of neurons and for the synthesis of the important brain lipid phosphatidylserine. It is also the precursor to an important compound that protects the neurons from oxidative stress. The fetus hoards DHA from the mother and incorporates it into its brain at ten times the rate at which it can synthesize it.
  • Biotin: biotin is a B vitamin that has also been called “vitamin H”. Researchers have recently discovered that marginal biotin deficiency during pregnancy is extremely common. Biotin deficiency has been shown to cause birth defects in rats. Whether this extends to humans is currently unknown, but there is little reason not to increase biotin intake during pregnancy as a precaution.
  • Folate: the importance of folate during pregnancy is widely known. It is necessary for the production of new DNA, and new DNA is needed for new cells. Adequate folate intake prevents spinal cord and brain defects and increases birth weight. It may also prevent spontaneous abortion, mental retardation and deformities of the mouth, face and heart.
  • Choline: a low intake of choline during pregnancy is associated with a four-fold increased risk of spinal cord and brain defects. Choline plays a direct role in the development of the brain; in particular, for the formation of neurons and synapses.
  • Glycine: the amino acid glycine is “conditionally essential” during pregnancy. This means that while we can normally make enough of it ourselves to meet our needs, during pregnancy women must obtain it from the diet. It is required for protein synthesis in the fetus, and is almost certainly a limiting factor for fetal growth.

Based on the established role of the nutrients listed above, Masterjohn makes the following recommendations:

Nutritional recommendations for preconception and pregnancy

  • Take a daily dose of high-vitamin cod liver oil (available online from Radiant Life and Green Pasture) to obtain 20,000 IU of vitamin A and 2,000 IU of vitamin D, and 2 grams of omega-3 fatty acids (roughly 1 3/4 teaspoons per day).
  • Grass-fed animal fats supply vitamins E and K2; palm oil, fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts and freshly ground grains are also sources of vitamin E; fermented foods (cheese, yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, etc.) are also good sources of vitamin K.
  • Biotin can be obtained from liver and egg yolks. Cooked egg whites can be obtained in moderation, and raw egg yolks (from organic, pastured chickens of course) can be added to smoothies and cream to boost biotin status.
  • Folate can be obtained from liver, legumes, beets and greens. Choline can be obtained from grass-fed dairy, egg yolks, liver, meat, cruciferous vegetables, nuts and legumes.
  • Muscle meats and eggs should be used along with skin, bones and gelatin-rich broths to obtain glycine.

The answer to Roselle’s original question largely depends upon what is meant by “a healthy diet”. The low-fat, nutrient-depleted diet that is currently considered to be “healthy” by the medical establishment is likely to be deficient in several key nutrients, particularly the fat-soluble vitamins A, D & K and the omega-3 fatty acid DHA. However, even a nutrient-dense, whole foods diet may need to be supplemented with additional foods or additional servings of foods already in the diet.

Most of these can and should be obtained from local and organic foods. The exception is cod liver oil, which one of nature’s highest sources of vitamins A & D and a rich source of DHA as well. Not all cod liver oil is created alike, however. Most commercial brands contain synthetic vitamin A & D, which are known to be toxic at high doses. Unfortunately, this means you will have to order high-vitamin cod liver oil from a reputable company online. The brands I recommend are Green Pasture High-Vitamin Fermented Cod Liver Oil or High-Vitamin Cod Liver Oil, and Radiant Life Cod Liver Oil.

Finally, I highly recommend obtaining the Winter 2007 “Wise Traditions” journal and reading the full article by Chris Masterjohn. It will eventually be available on the Weston A. Price Foundation website, but it can take up to one year from the original publication time for an article to be posted to the website.

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