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Heart Disease More Likely Caused by Cholesterol Deficiency Rather than Excess

By Dr. Mercola

Dr. Stephanie Seneff is a senior scientist at MIT where she's conducted research for over three decades, and has published hundreds of papers in the peer-reviewed scientific literature.

She also has an undergraduate degree in biology from MIT, and a minor in food and nutrition.

I've previously published two articles detailing Dr. Seneff's groundbreaking views on sulfur and cholesterol—both of which are important in relation to the discussion in this segment about statin drugs.

If you missed the previous two segments, I highly recommend reviewing them now in order to get a more complete picture of how vitamin D, dietary cholesterol, and statin drugs work in tandem to affect your health, for better or worse.

What makes Dr. Seneff uniquely qualified to talk about statins is not clinical experience but rather her expertise in mining and evaluating the available research to reach conclusions about health.

Why it's So Difficult to Learn the Truth about Statin Drugs...

One of the papers Dr. Seneff wrote was on the detrimental impact of low cholesterol and statin drugs on Alzheimer's disease.

"I was very interested in the connection between Alzheimer's and low cholesterol... and statins in particular because they lower cholesterol, [which is] going to make that problem worse," she says.

Her paper was summarily rejected.

"Part of the grounds of rejection had to do with the mention of statins," Dr. Seneff explains. "So we took out all the mentions of statins and resubmitted the paper to a different journal,and then it got accepted. You can read this paper in the European Journal of Internal Medicine."

This is a classic example of what's wrong with the current paradigm. The pharmaceutical industry effectively controls the entire health care system, from research to publication to education.

"I think many people are aware that they cannot get their paper published in one of the high end journals if it mentions something negative about statins," Dr. Seneff says. "It's extremely difficult to get such papers accepted by these journals because of the influence of the statin industry on the journal. I think that's a very serious problem."

Many Doctors are Shockingly Ill- or Misinformed about Statin Risks

Shockingly, one in four Americans over the age of 45 is now taking these drugs, and few are properly warned about the related health risks. Part of the problem is that many doctors are not even aware of all the risks. Needless to say, this is not entirely surprising when you consider how difficult it is for any researcher to publish negative findings about this class of drugs!

A study published last spring highlighted this dilemma.

Most disturbingly, the researchers found that physicians were lacking in awareness of the teratogenic risksi (ability to cause fetal malformations) of statins and other cardiovascular drugs they prescribed for their pregnant patients. The study followed an earlier reportii , which had concluded statins should be avoided in early pregnancy due to their teratogenic capability. An even earlier 2003 studyiii had already established that cholesterol plays an essential role in embryonic development, and that statins could play a part in embryonic mutations or even death...

Indeed, it's difficult to look at these facts and not reach the conclusion that the pharmaceutical industry is quite willing to sacrifice human lives for profit. Statins are in fact classified as a "pregnancy Category X medication"iv ; meaning, it causes serious birth defects, and should NEVER be used by a woman who is pregnant or planning a pregnancy.

"It disturbs me greatly that they are prescribing statins to women in their reproductive years and the doctor doesn't even bother to tell the woman that statins are class X for pregnancy, just like thalidomide," Dr. Seneff says. "[Statin drugs] cause severe damage to the neural tube in the embryo—likely leading to a miscarriage if you're lucky, because otherwise you'll have an extremely disabled child. I don't understand why they're not making this clear to women!"

Cholesterol is Essential for a Healthy Pregnancy

Besides the direct harm caused by the drug, it's also important to understand that cholesterol sulfate is essential for babies in utero, and this is one of the reasons Dr. Seneff states that you do not want your cholesterol levels to be too low.

A woman has about 1.5 units of cholesterol sulfate normally in her blood. When she gets pregnant, her blood levels of cholesterol sulfate steadily rise, and it also begins to accumulate in the villi in the placenta—which is where nutrients are transferred from the placenta to the baby. At the end of pregnancy the cholesterol sulfate in the villi rises to levels of about 24 units—a dramatic rise! This is also why it's especially important to get plenty of sun exposure before and during pregnancy, to make sure you're optimizing not only your vitamin D levels, but also your sulfur levels, as the two are connected.

Did You Know? Statins Can Also Cause Diabetes and Heart Failure...

Another discovery is that statins can cause diabetes. One of the most recent pieces of evidence for this came from a meta-analysis published in September last year.v The analysis looked at 72 trials which together involved close to 160,000 patients. It found that statin treatments significantly increased the rate of diabetes and liver damage.

But that's not all. Dr. Seneff also points out that statins make you age faster in general, causing muscle weakness, arthritis, mental decline, and even heart failure. It's worth noting that "heart failure" is a different disease category from "cardiovascular disease," despite the fact that both involve your heart.

"That's why I think they keep talking about cardiovascular disease," Dr. Seneff says. "They're careful to use that term… which is very convenient because then people don't realize it's the statins that are causing the heart failure!"

Indeed. Few would assume that a drug taken to prevent cardiovascular disease would be a major cause of heart failure, but that's exactly what appears to be happening. Considering the fact that conventional medicine has been telling us that heart disease is due to elevated cholesterol and recommends lowering cholesterol levels as much as possible, Dr. Seneff's claims may come as a complete shock:

"Heart disease, I think, is a cholesterol deficiency problem, and in particular a cholesterol sulfate deficiency problem," she says.

Through her research, Dr. Seneff has developed a theory in which the mechanism we call "cardiovascular disease" (of which arterial plaque is a hallmark) is actually your body's way to compensate for not having enough cholesterol sulfate. To understand how this works, you have to understand the interrelated workings of cholesterol, sulfur, and vitamin D from sun exposure.

Cholesterol sulfate is produced in large amounts in your skin when it is exposed to sunshine. When you are deficient in cholesterol sulfate from lack of sun exposure, your body employs another mechanism to increase it, as it is essential for optimal heart- and brain function. It does this by taking damaged LDL and turning it into plaque. Within the plaque, your blood platelets separate out the beneficial HDL cholesterol, and through a process involving homocysteine as a source of sulfate, the platelets go on to produce the cholesterol sulfate your heart and brain needs. However, this plaque also causes the unfortunate side effect of increasing your risk of cardiovascular disease.

So how do you get out of this detrimental cycle?

Dr. Seneff believes that high serum cholesterol and low serum cholesterol sulfate go hand-in-hand, and that the ideal way to bring down your LDL (so-called "bad" cholesterol, which is associated with cardiovascular disease) is to get appropriate amounts of sunlight exposure on your skin.

She explains:

"In this way, your skin will produce cholesterol sulfate, which will then flow freely through the blood—not packaged up inside LDL—and therefore your liver doesn't have to make so much LDL. So the LDL goes down. In fact... there is a complete inverse relationship between sunlight and cardiovascular disease – the more sunlight, the less cardiovascular disease."

What this also means is that when you artificially lower your cholesterol with a statin drug, which effectively reduces the bioavailability of cholesterol to that plaque but doesn't address the root problem, your body is not able to create the cholesterol sulfate your heart needs anymore, and as a result you end up with acute heart failure...Backing up this theory is the fact that in the first decade statin drugs were on the market, from 1980 to 1990, the incidence of heart failure doubled. And heart failure keeps going up right along with the increased use of statins...

"It is very clear to me that statins are causing heart failure," Dr. Seneff says.

Statins Impair Numerous Biological Functions

Statin drugs also interfere with other biological functions, including an early step in the mevalonate pathway, which is the central pathway for the steroid management in your body. Products of this pathway that are negatively affected by statins include:

  • All sterols, including cholesterol and vitamin D (which is similar to cholesterol and is produced from cholesterol in your skin)
  • All your sex hormones
  • Cortisone
  • The dolichols, which are involved in keeping the membranes inside your cells healthy
  • Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10), which is critical to the energy generation in the Krebs cycle in the cell

Why You MUST Take a CoQ10 Supplement if You're on Statin Therapy

The depletion of CoQ10 is particularly troublesome, and may be one of the primary driving mechanisms behind many of the more horrific side effects of statins. CoQ10 is used by every cell in your body, but especially your heart cells. Cardiac muscle cells have up to 200 times more mitochondria, and hence 200 times higher CoQ10 requirements, than skeletal muscle. So if you take a statin drug, taking a CoQ10 or ubiquinol (the reduced version) supplement is absolutely imperative in order to limit the damage. As mentioned by Dr. Seneff, premature aging is a side effect of statin drugs, and it's also a primary side effect of having too little CoQ10. Deficiency in this nutrient also accelerates DNA damage, and because CoQ10 is beneficial to heart health and muscle function this depletion leads to fatigue, muscle weakness, soreness and, again, heart failure.

As for dosage, Dr. Graveline, a family doctor and former astronaut, made the following recommendation in a previous interview on statins and CoQ10:

  • If you have symptoms of statin damage such as muscle pain, take anywhere from 200 to 500 mg
  • If you just want to use it preventively, 200 mg or less should be sufficient

In my view it is medical malpractice to prescribe a statin drug without recommending one take CoQ10, or better yet ubiquinol. Unfortunately, many doctors fail to inform their patients of this fact.

If You're Over 25, the Reduced Form of CoQ10 May be Better

If you're under 25 years old your body is capable of converting CoQ10 from the oxidized to the reduced form. However, as you age, your body becomes more and more challenged to convert the oxidized CoQ10 to ubiquinol. Aside from aging, numerous other factors can also impact this conversion process, including:

Increased metabolic demand

Oxidative stress

Insufficient dietary CoQ10 intake

Deficiency of factors required for biosynthesis and ubiquinol conversion

Potential effects from illness and disease

Age-related changes in your genes


If you're over 40, I would highly recommend taking the reduced form of coenzyme Q10 because it's far more effectively absorbed by your body. Some reports say your CoQ10 level decline becomes apparent as early as your 20's, however, so I generally recommend it from age 25 and beyond. If you're younger than 25, your body should absorb regular CoQ10 just fine.


  1. Teratogen Use in Women of Childbearing Potential: An Intervention Study, Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine, May to June 2011: 24(3); 262-71, K. A. Morrical-Kline, et al.
  2. Defects in Cholesterol Synthesis Genes in Mouse and in Humans: Lessons for Drug Development and Safer Treatments, Drug Metabolism Reviews, February 2011: 43(1); 69-90, S. Horvat, et al.
  3. Early Embryonic Lethality Caused by Targeted Disruption of the 3-Hydroxy-3-methylglutaryl-CoA Reductase Gene, The Journal of Biological Chemistry, October 31, 2003: 278; 42936-42941, Ken Ohashi, et al.
  4. Statins and Pregnancy, eMed TV.
  5. Adverse Events Associated with Individual Statin Treatments for Cardiovascular Disease: An Indirect Comparison Meta-Analysis, QJM, February 2012: 105(2); 145-57, M. Alberton, et al.