My father served in the military in World War II, and like so many men his age, had great respect for authority. He considered his doctor an expert in his field; it never occurred to him to question his suggestions. Dr. Anderson prescribed a statin drug for him in the mid-1990s, when Dad was in his mid-seventies. When I learned about this, I was horrified, of course. I copied the package insert and sent it to him, with all the side effects underlined, followed by The Cholesterol Myths by Uffe Ravnskov.
But I was no match for Dr. Anderson, who told my father that if he discontinued statin drugs, he would have a stroke. I didn’t try to persuade him after that—suppose he discontinued the statins and then had a heart attack or stroke the next day? My family would never have forgiven me.
Dad was extremely organized and conscientious in his habits. He kept a pill sorter on his desk—with little boxes for each day of the week—and filled it religiously every Monday morning.
After he died I went through the collection of prescriptions in his medicine cabinet. There were the requisite blood pressure pills, a drug for Parkinson’s, a painkiller for his back pain, and several others I did not recognize. . . plus two statins!
Mom was more rebellious. She took her pills if someone was watching, but she often threw them behind the fireplace screen or into a potted plant! We found stashes of them when we tidied up after her funeral.
I am sure my parents were typical of American seniors these days. Most elders take at least one medication and 36 percent take at least five prescription drugs per day. Moreover, one in six older adults is taking a combination that could cause a major interaction.1
Few seniors escape a prescription for statin drugs. Estimates of the number of Americans taking these cholesterol-lowering medicines range from twenty to thirty-two million. A big “problem” for the industry is what it calls “non-compliance.” These drugs make people feel terrible, especially after several months, and many seniors just stop taking them. One study found that “compliance” was only 25.4 percent in the elderly without coronary disease after two years of treatment.2
Statin side effects mimic the effects of aging; they include fatigue and weakness, memory loss and reduced mental capacity, neuropathy and slowed reactions, muscle wasting leading to back pain and heart failure, intestinal disease, pancreatic problems, diabetes, reduced libido, depression, accidents, suicide and cancer.
Recently scientists have found that statins interfere with our stem cells, which work to repair damage to our bodies and protect us from muscle and joint pain as well as memory loss.
A study from Tulane University found that statins prevented stem cells from performing their main functions, namely reproducing and replicating other cells in the body to carry out repairs; in particular, statins prevented stem cells from generating new bone and cartilage.3
According to Professor Reza Izadpanah, a stem cell biologist and lead author of the research, “Our study shows statins may speed up the aging process. . . People who use statins as a preventative medicine for health should think again as our research shows they may have general unwanted effects on the body which could include muscle pain, nerve problems and joint problems.”4
And to what purpose? The twenty-year Honolulu Heart Program study compared changes in cholesterol concentrations over twenty years with all-cause mortality. It found that those individuals who had low cholesterol levels were at increased risk of death.
“Our data accord with previous findings of increased mortality in elderly people with low serum cholesterol, and show that long-term persistence of low cholesterol concentration actually increases risk of death. Thus, the earlier that patients start to have lower cholesterol concentrations, the greater the risk of death. . . . Those individuals with a low serum cholesterol maintained over a twenty-year period will have the worst outlook for all-cause mortality.”5
Similar findings were published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, which found that low cholesterol levels are a “robust predictor of mortality” in the elderly.6 How much longer will you live if you faithfully take the statin drug your doctor prescribes? Dr. Malcolm Kendrick looked at six studies for primary prevention (those who have not had a heart attack) and five for secondary prevention (those who have previously had a heart attack or stroke).
He calculated approximately one single day of increase in life expectancy for each year of taking a statin—slightly more in secondary prevention, slightly less in primary prevention. This means that if you were to take a statin for thirty years you could expect to live about two months longer—put another way, you could suffer from statin side effects two months longer.6
The truth is that high cholesterol levels are very protective in the elderly. They help the body heal, protect against infection, protect against cancer, support hormone production, help regulate blood pressure, support brain function and ward off depression. High cholesterol levels in the elderly are associated with a longer (and happier) life!
The challenge for seniors is to prevent doctors from prescribing statins, especially those in nursing homes or receiving hospice care. Statins will be routinely prescribed, whatever the patient’s cholesterol levels. Instructions not to receive statin drugs should be included in your advanced health care directive or living will, and your trustees and loved ones should be instructed to write “No Statins” on all admittance papers. Even these measures are no guarantee that statins won’t be included in the pill cup, so loved ones should frequently remind the staff about the patient’s wishes regarding cholesterol-lowering drugs.
BLOOD PRESSURE MEDICATIONS
Almost half of men and 61 percent of women age seventy-five or older take blood pressure medications.7 The rationale is that high blood pressure is bad for the brain and increases the risk of stroke and dementia. While higher blood pressure is related to higher rates of stroke, high blood pressure may actually protect against dementia.
In a new study from the University of California-Irvine, researchers found that high blood pressure is associated with healthy brain aging. Participants who reported they had high blood pressure in the years before the study began were 42 percent less likely to develop dementia during the period of the study.8
The researchers stated, “In this first-of-its-kind study, we find that hypertension is not a risk factor for dementia in people age 90 or over, but is actually associated with reduced dementia risk.”
Apparently, the body increases blood pressure as we age to ensure adequate blood flow to the brain. In the elderly, the walls of the arteries become thicker and the heart gets weaker, resulting in less blood flow to the brain and other organs. Increased blood pressure is a way to overcome these limitations.9
Doctors prescribe several different types of drugs to lower blood pressure. ACE inhibitors contain a compound originally isolated from the venom of the Brazilian pit viper, which prevents an enzyme in your body from producing angiotensin II, a substance that narrows your blood vessels and releases hormones that can raise your blood pressure. They have many side effects including trouble breathing, dizziness or lightheadedness, irregular heartbeat, hives, fainting, dry cough, headache and swelling of the face, lips, tongue or throat (see illustrations below).
Calcium channel blockers prevent calcium from entering cells of the heart and blood vessel walls, relaxing and widening blood vessels, resulting in lower blood pressure. Side effects include lightheadedness, low blood pressure, slower heart rate, drowsiness, constipation, increased appetite, GERD, bleeding gums and sexual dysfunction. While ACE inhibitors can cause swelling in the tongue and face, calcium channel blockers can cause swelling of the feet, ankles and legs.
Beta blockers work by blocking the effects of the hormone epinephrine, also known as adrenaline. When you take beta blockers, your heart beats more slowly and with less force, thereby reducing blood pressure. The list of beta blocker side effects is long: congestive heart failure, fatigue, dizziness, depression, slower heartbeat, cold extremities, pins and needles, shortness of breath, drowsiness, lethargy, insomnia, headaches, poor memory, nausea, diarrhea, constipation, colitis, wheezing, bronchospasm, Raynaud’s syndrome, cramps and muscle fatigue, lowered libido and impotence, poor posture and hypoglycemia.
Finally, diuretics act by increasing the excretion of sodium by the kidneys into the urine. When the kidneys excrete sodium, they excrete water from the blood along with it. That decreases the amount of fluid flowing through the blood vessels, which reduces pressure on the walls of the arteries. Diuretics also have side effects, including dry mouth, thirst, weakness, lethargy, drowsiness, restlessness, muscle pains, cramps, confusion, seizures, muscle weakness, low urine production, racing heart, digestive problems, gout, increased uric acid—and death due to sodium deficiency.
The point is that all types of blood pressure medication can cause serious side effects. Seniors should be wary of taking them, especially as blood pressure, like cholesterol levels, goes up naturally and gradually with age.
What is normal blood pressure for seniors? For many years, the guideline number was 140/90. Then under new guidelines, researchers defined 120/70 as “borderline hypertension.” One twenty over seventy is a healthy blood pressure for people who are young and fit, but not necessarily for seniors. In fact, the old formula, “age plus one hundred over ninety,” probably serves seniors the best.
Anything in excess of this may warrant a blood pressure drug, but not before making changes in the diet. Elimination of processed food, including refined sweeteners and industrial seed oils, and incorporation of unrefined salt, cod liver oil and healthy animal fats will often bring blood pressure down. Epsom salts baths to provide magnesium and moderate outdoor exercise may also help.
And please note: if you want to go off blood pressure medication, don’t do it suddenly. Discontinue slowly. Cold turkey withdrawal can lead to very high blood pressure, heart attack and even sudden death.
Antacids like Zantac, Pepcid, Prevacid and Nexium are among the most widely prescribed medications in the world. However, they also can have serious side effects, especially for the elderly. Studies have linked antacid use in older patients to an increased risk of pneumonia, gastrointestinal infections, antibiotic resistance and severe diarrhea. Because they can block calcium assimilation, prolonged use may cause weak bones and fractures; and because they lead to decreased absorption of many nutrients, they can cause nutritional deficiencies of many vitamins and minerals.
Antacids work by neutralizing stomach acid. Normal stomach acid is a requirement for protein digestion, the assimilation of vitamins and minerals and protection against infection. When stomach acid is neutralized by antacids, health can decline in many ways.
Instead of antacids, the best course for seniors is to avoid processed food and consume digestive aids like bone broth, sauerkraut, Swedish bitters and unrefined salt.
Depression is common in seniors—often the result of taking statins, blood pressure medication and antacids. Enter the SSRIs and other antidepressants. Antidepressants, such as SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors), work by slowing or blocking the sending neuron from taking back released serotonin (the body’s natural feel-good chemical). In that way, more of this chemical is available in the synapse. The more of this neurotransmitter that is available, so the theory goes, the more likely that depression is reduced.
One in ten Americans (including children) currently takes antidepressants. Doctors also prescribe them for such elder complaints as anxiety, bipolar, fibromyalgia and neuropathic pain. Most believe the pharmaceutical industry propaganda, which promotes SSRIs as having few side effects.
But the side effects are many, including nausea, weight gain, insomnia, fatigue and drowsiness, dry mouth, blurred vision, constipation and dizziness. While SSRIs are supposed to make you feel better, they can actually cause agitation, irritability, anxiety, suicidal thoughts and suicide.
Moreover, they are addictive and very hard to quit. In fact, like blood pressure medications, it is dangerous to quit antidepressants cold turkey; withdrawal must be gradual.
Weak bones and bleeding risk are not usually listed as side effects of SSRIs, but all these drugs have warnings about fractures and excessive bleeding (including intracranial hemorrhage). When taken with antacids, the risk of fractures increases, and when taken with NSAIDs, the risk of internal bleeding increases. Seniors taking both SSRIs with antacids or NSAIDs can be seriously injured even with a minor fall.
Opiates (heroin and morphine), cannabinoids and cocaine come from the plant world. Our bodies produce all these chemicals and have receptors for them. Endorphins (endogenous morphine) like serotonin and dopamine are produced by the central nervous system and pituitary gland. Good gut flora can produce a variety of endorphins, including seratonin.
Endocannabinoids are formed during neurotransmission and endogenous cocaine corresponds to a neuropeptide and neurotransmitter called CART.
The key to a sunny outlook is a good diet that allows the body to produce its own endorphins, cannabinoids and CART, and that means a diet containing lots of healthy animal fats and fat-soluble vitamins. Animal fats like butter, lard, egg yolks, cream and cod liver oil are needed for thinking, remembering, adjusting, planning, enjoying, learning, loving and completing tasks. Animal fats provide arachidonic acid (AA), a direct precursor to the endocannabinoids; vitamin D, which supports the conversion of AA to endocannabinoids; vitamin A, which supports dopamine receptors; vitamin K, which supports neurological function; cholesterol, needed for neuron function and all the receptors in the brain; and saturated fat, critical for hormone production and many other processes.
In addition, lacto-fermented foods are key to good mental health in seniors, as they support the production of endorphins in the gut.
Nourishing bone broth helps regulate dopamine levels so they are neither too high (making concentration difficult) or too low (resulting in depression). Chicken soup to the rescue! Finally, if these foods don’t completely dispatch depression, try St. John’s wort, an herb proven to help.
In worst case scenarios, seniors turn to opioid drugs, like Duragesic, OxyContin, Percodan and Percocet, which are legal heroin. Almost five million Americans are addicted to these opioids, or about 2 percent of the population. The side effects are horrendous—not a good way to spend one’s final years.
Again, the alternative is the Wise Traditions diet, rich in animal fats, fermented foods and bone broth. Avoiding MSG, which is in all processed foods, will also help.
A final indignity foisted on our seniors is flu shots. Common toxic ingredients in flu shots include polymyxin, beta-propiolactone, formaldehyde, squalene, barium, hydrocortisone, thimerosal (mercury), polysorbate 80 and neomycin. Many of these ingredients are known carcinogens. And most flu shots don’t even work—or worse, can give you a serious case of the flu!
Flu shots are routinely given to seniors when they enter a hospital or hospice. Seniors need to make sure their loved ones are instructed to write “No Vaccinations, No Flu Shots” on their paperwork when they are admitted to a hospital or extended care facility.
Unfortunately, decades of disastrous dietary advice have created a demand for drugs where none should exist and allowed the powerful pharmaceutical industry to take over the practice of medicine. This industry has no qualms about selling as many drugs as it can, without regard to the consequences to human life and suffering.
As we read in the Biblical book of Revelations: “All this will happen because your merchants were the nobility of the earth, because all the nations were deceived by their sorcery. . . ” (Rev 18:23). The word for “sorcery” in the Greek Bible is pharmakeia.
All drugs work by “robbing Peter to pay Paul,” taking nutrients from one area of the body and using them in another—a kind of quick solution or sorcery that eventually depletes and leads to side effects. What our seniors need is good nutrition, especially generous amounts of animal fats, to support them physically and mentally as they grow older; their aging bodies should serve as receptacles for nutrient-dense food, not dumping grounds for drugs.
MOST COMMONLY PRESCRIBED DRUGS
Generic Zocor (simvastatin) Cholesterol-lowering
Lisinopril ACE inhibitor Blood pressure
Generic Synthroid Thyroid hormone
Generic Norvasc calcium channel blocker Blood pressure/angina
Generic Prilosec proton pump inhibitor Indigestion
Generic Glucophage Diabetes
Hydrochlorothiazide diuretic Blood pressure
ANIMAL FATS FOR SENIORS
Nothing serves our elders better than nutrient-dense animal fats, needed for:
Mineral absorption Cell function Organ function
Repair Pain management Feel-good chemicals
Protection against chronic disease and infectious illness
Animal fats uniquely provide:
Arachidonic acid—healthy gut & skin, feel-good chemicals
Vitamin D—all body systems, feel-good chemicals, anti-pain
Vitamin A—anti-cancer, repair, brain function, hormones
Vitamin K—anti-heart disease, brain function, much more
Cholesterol—repair, brain function, cell function
Saturated fat—supports cell function, hormones, immunity
ALL these protective factors are in butter; NONE are in industrial fats and oils.
NATURAL FLU REMEDY
• Take a very hot bath.
• Immediately wrap up in warm clothes.
• Get into a warm bed.
• Take a hot drink of lemon juice and honey to develop a sweat.
• Allow a fever to take hold.
• You should feel recovered by morning.
NUTRIENT-DENSE FOODS FOR SENIORS
RAW MILK: Highly digestible and delicious, raw milk provides a complete nutritional package for seniors. Raw milk supports the immune system and provides highly absorbable calcium for strong bones and teeth. Glutathione in raw milk provides protection against toxins and numerous components in raw milk help keep the gut wall healthy and strong. Oligosaccharides in raw milk encourage the growth of beneficial flora.
BONE BROTH: Homemade, gelatinous bone broth supports healthy collagen throughout the body, giving strength and flexibility to the bones and joints and integrity to the skin and gut wall. Moreover, glycine in broth helps the body regulate dopamine, for a sunny outlook.
BUTTER: Nature’s perfect fat, not only for growing children but also for the elderly. Butter on everything will make food more digestible and taste good.
SAUERKRAUT: Sauerkraut and other lacto-fermented foods aid digestion and provide friendly bacteria to the intestinal tract. There are more friendly critters in one tablespoon of raw sauerkraut than in a whole bottle of probiotic pills.
EGGS: A complete nutritional package, eggs can be prepared in a variety of delicious ways, from scrambled eggs served with bacon to egg yolk custard served with fresh fruit.
HOMEMADE SOUP: Chewing meat often becomes difficult for seniors, but meat finely chopped and added to soups goes down easily. Soups are a great vehicle for finely chopped liver, tender vegetables, cream and a variety of herbs and spices.
NATURAL COD LIVER OIL: Provides vitamins A and D so necessary for overall good health, including pain management, while DHA in cod liver oil supports good mental health and protection against debilitating inflammation.
3. Izadpanahand R et al. The impact of statins on biological characteristics of stem cells provides a novel explanation for their pleotropic beneficial and adverse clinical effects. Am J Physiol Cell Physiol, 2015;309(8):C522-531.
5. Schatz IJ and others. Cholesterol and all-cause mortality in elderly people from the Honolulu Heart Program: a cohort study. Lancet. 2001;358(9279):351-5.
6. Schupf N et al. Relationship between plasma lipids and all-cause mortality in nondemented elderly. J Am Geriatr Soc. 2005;53(2):219-26.
9. Corrada MM et al. Age of onset of hypertension and risk of dementia in the oldest-old: The 90+ Study. Alzheimers Dement. 2017 Feb;13(2):103-110.
This article appeared in Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts, the quarterly magazine of the Weston A. Price Foundation, Fall 2018.