Statins & Blood Pressure Drugs: Concerns of Increasing Breast Cancer Risks
According to the National Cancer Institute, more than 232,000 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in the United States this year and more than 39,600 will die of the disease. It is a sad fact that many of these women may have been the victims of the cancer being caused by taking drugs to treat conditions that are often responsive to effective dietary, lifestyle and supplementation strategies.Chief among these drugs linked to breast cancer are blood pressurelowering drugs known as calcium channel blockers and the statin drugs to lower blood cholesterol levels.
Calcium Channel Blockers
Drugs to lower blood pressure are among the most commonly prescribed medicines in the U.S. More than 678 million blood pressure prescriptions were filled in 2010. All of the current classes of blood pressure-lowering drugs possess significant side effects. A new study published in the August 5, 2013 online issue of JAMA Internal Medicine indicates that women taking blood pressure-lowering drugs called calcium-channel blockers, like Norvasc (amlodipine), for 10 years or more had a 2.5 times higher risk of developing breast cancer than those who never took the medicine or who used other blood pressure treatments.
Calcium-channel blockers lower blood pressure by preventing calcium from entering cells, thereby relaxing blood vessels. Since calcium is required in the function of nerve transmission and muscle contraction, the effect of blocking the calcium channel is to slow down nerve conduction and inhibit the contraction of the muscle. In the heart and vascular system, this action results in reducing the rate and force of contraction, relaxing the arteries, and slowing the nerve impulses in the heart.Although calcium channel blockers have been shown to lower the risk of stroke, they have also been shown to produce an increased risk for heart attacks.
While much better tolerated than beta-blockers, ACE inhibitors and diuretics, calcium channel blockers still produce some mild side effects including constipation, allergic reactions, fluid retention, dizziness, headache, fatigue and impotence (about 20 percent of users). More serious side effects include disturbances of heart rate or function, heart failure and angina.
Examples of calcium-channel blockers include:
• Amlodipine (Norvasc)
• Diltiazem (Cardizem CD, Cartia, Dilacor Xr, Diltia Xt, Tiazac)
• Felodipine (Plendil)
• Lacidipine (Motens)
• Lercanidipine (Zanidip)
• Nicardipine (Cardene, Carden SR)
• Nifedipine (Adalat CC, Procardia
• Nimodipine (Nimotop)
• Nisoldipine (Sular)
• Nitrendipine (Cardif, Nitrepin)
• Verapamil (Calan, Covera-Hs, Isoptin, Verelan)
Previous studies indicated that blood pressure-lowering drugs may increase the risk for certain cancers. To evaluate associations between use of various classes of blood pressure medications and risks of invasive ductal and invasive lobular breast cancers among postmenopausal women, a study was conducted in the Seattle-Puget Sound metropolitan area. Participants were women aged 55 to 74 years. Results demonstrated that use of calcium-channel blockers for 10 or more years was associated with significantly higher risks of both ductal breast cancer and lobular breast cancer. The relative risk for developing breast cancer was 2.5 times (250 percent) greater among users of calcium channel blocking drugs.
Millions of prescriptions are filled yearly with the hope of reducing people’s risks of cardiovascular disease (CVD).But, looking at the results from detailed studies, the majority of people on statin drugs, especially women, are achieving no real benefit from these drugs. In fact, relying on these drugs and not focusing on effectively reducing heart disease risk through diet, lifestyle and proper nutritional supplementation is costing many people their lives. The reality is that statins are very expensive medicines, provide very limited benefit and carry with them considerable risks for side effects. Some of the side effects noted with statins include:
• Liver problems and elevated liver function tests
• Interference with the manufacture of coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10), a key substance responsible for energy production within our body
• Rhabdomyolysis (the breaking down of muscle tissue that can prove fatal)
• Nerve damage is a real risk as the chances of nerve damage are 26 times higher in statin users compared to the normal population
• Impaired mental functions can occur in some patients with prolonged use
• Possible increased risk of cancer and heart failure with long-term use
Another new study based upon women living the Seattle-Puget Sound region published in the August 21, 2013 issue of Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers and Prevention showed that long-term statin use was also associated with ductal and lobular breast cancer in women 55 to 74 years of age.Current users of statins for 10 years or longer were nearly twice as likely to develop breast cancer compared to women who never used statins.
The results of these studies are a significant cause for concern and underline the importance of using effective natural, non-drug approaches to lowering blood pressure and cholesterol levels in women. The increased risk of breast cancer noted in long-term users of calcium channel blockers and statins may reflect nutritional consequences of these drugs. For example, calcium channel blockers are known to produce depletion of vitamin D and possibly CoQ10, while statins definitely lower CoQ10 levels.
To reduce the risk of breast cancer as well as live a longer, healthier life, every effort should be made by women to control their blood pressure and cholesterol levels through dietary, lifestyle and nutritional supplementation strategies.
Bringing Down Blood Pressure An elevated blood pressure (BP) is a major risk factor for a heart attack and stroke. Since more than 80 percent of patients with high BP are in the borderline to moderate range, most cases of high BP can be brought under control through changes in diet and lifestyle.Here are some important considerations:
• The “Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension” (DASH) clinical studies funded by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) have clearly demonstrated that diet can lower high BP. The DASH diet is rich in fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy foods, and low in saturated and total fat. It is also low in cholesterol, high in dietary fiber, potassium, calcium and magnesium, and moderately high in protein.
• A high potassium to sodium intake is associated with lower BP.
• Relaxation techniques such as deep breathing exercises, biofeedback, autogenics, transcendental meditation, yoga, progressive muscle relaxation and hypnosis have all been shown to have some value in lowering BP.
• Population-based and clinical studies have shown that the higher the intake of vitamin C the lower the BP.
• CoQ10 deficiency has been shown to be present in 39 percent of patients with high BP and supplementation with CoQ10 can lower BP. The dosage is 100 mg two to three times daily.
• More than 60 double-blind studies have demonstrated that fish oil supplements exert some effect lowering BP.The recommended dosage is 3,000 mg EPA+DHA daily.
• Celery seed, hawthorn, olive leaf and hibiscus extracts have shown mild BP-lowering effects in clinical studies.
For example, in one study that used an olive leaf extract standardized to oleuropein (16 to 24 percent), 232 patients with high BP were given either the olive leaf extract (500 mg twice daily) or the conventional antihypertensive drug Captopril (12.5 mg twice daily).Averages of systolic BP reduction from baseline to the end of study were -11.5 and -13.7 mmHg in olive and Captopril groups, respectively; and those of DBP were -4.8 and -6.4 mmHg, respectively.Hence, the olive leaf extract exerted nearly the same clinical benefit without side effects.
As far as lowering cholesterol levels with natural products, there are many options, but three supplements really stand out:
• Sytrinol. This special extract of citrus peel standardized to contain greater than 30 percent polymethoxylated flavones addresses high cholesterol, high LDL cholesterol (the “bad” cholesterol) and high triglyceride levels.Clinical results have shown that this extract exerts effects very similar to statin drugs, but without side effects. In fact, it has been shown to lower total cholesterol levels up to 30 percent, LDL cholesterol levels up to 27 percent, and triglyceride levels up to 34 percent within four to 12 weeks of use.
• Niacin (vitamin B3). Niacin is the best-researched natural cholesterollowering agent. Consider this: Several studies have shown niacin to produce better overall results than cholesterollowering drugs. Niacin typically lowers total cholesterol by 18 percent, LDL by 23 percent and triglycerides by 20 percent.At the same time, it raises HDL levels by 31 percent. To reduce skin flushing experienced with niacin use, use one of the newer time-released formulas labeled “intermediate release” niacin.
• Garlic. Studies demonstrate that garlic supplements can lower total cholesterol by about 10 to 12 percent, lower LDL by 12 to 15 percent and raise HDL levels by 10 to 12 percent.Based on a great deal of clinical research, garlic products should provide at least 4,000 mcg of allicin potential daily. Allicin is the active ingredient is garlic.
Keep in mind that cholesterol levels don’t change overnight. However, by taking these research-backed dietary supplements, customers should notice an improvement in their numbers in about four to six weeks.
Michael T. Murray, ND, is widely regarded as one of the world’s leading authorities on natural medicine. He is a graduate, former faculty member and serves on the Board of Regents of Bastyr University in Seattle, WA. The author of more than 30 books on health nutrition, Murray is also director of product development and education for Natural Factors Nutritional Products. For more information, visit www.doctormurray.com.