A recent review of medical research dating back to the 1970’s has found clear links between the use of statin drugs to lower cholesterol and the development of depression.
Previous research has shown that chronic depletion of cholesterol interferes with the release of serotonin in the brain. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter carrying nerve impulses between brain cells, enabling them to communicate and keeping our moods stable and balanced. Cholesterol is a building block for cell membranes, keeping the membrane fluid, flexible and able to release chemicals such as serotonin. When cholesterol is depleted, the membranes cannot function properly and serotonin is not released.
Statins are one of the biggest selling drugs in history, with over 5 million people taking them in the UK alone. Side effects are common and include nausea, upset stomach, headaches, muscle pains, memory problems and depression. The drugs work by inhibiting cholesterol production in the liver but this has the knock on effect of disrupting cell membrane function, hormone pathways and neurotransmitter production.
A safer, natural approach for managing elevated cholesterol levels is to look at the eliminatory pathways, in particular, the bowel. If excess cholesterol is not passed from the body via the stools it can be re-absorbed and re-circulated round to the liver. Plant sterols are plant compounds that bind to excess waste cholesterol in the bowel and make sure it leaves the body. To complement their actions, lecithin can be used to support liver function and naturally regulate fat metabolism.
Another side effect of statins is their blocking of not only cholesterol production in the liver, but also co-enzyme Q10 (CoQ10) manufacture. CoQ10 is a vital nutrient used to make cellular energy (ATP) and is particularly important for cardiovascular health. The great irony of statin use is that CoQ10 itself can regulate cholesterol levels and also provide antioxidant protection to the cholesterol circulating in our bloodstream!
As the many side effects of statin drugs become more apparent it makes sense to consider the natural approaches to maintaining heart health and cholesterol balance.
You H. et al (2013) The relationship between statins and depression: a review of the literature Expert Opinion on Pharmacotherapy 14(11):1467-76 View abstract
Shrivastava S et al (2010) Chronic cholesterol depletion using statin impairs the function and dynamics of human serotonin receptors Biochemistry 49(26):5426-35 View abstract