A little over two years ago, I got a nasty parasite while adventuring in the tropics that landed me in the hospital so fatigued I could barely move. Fortunately for me I finally found out what the parasite was and my health is back to normal. At the time, because of my age and being overweight, they promptly put me in the cardiac ward. The head of cardiology (along with 9 interns) prescribed Lipitor (a statin*) to lower my cholesterol. I immediately said, “are you crazy?” My cholesterol is very low with a healthy ‘good cholesterol’ (HDL) to ‘bad cholesterol’ ratio. I also asked if any of the 10 doctors in front of me had cholesterol that good. They answered no, but they still thought I should take a statin. “Everyone over the age of 62 should take statins,” said the head of cardiology. I refused the drug and they thought I was crazy. I knew that my medicinal mushrooms were way better anyway. Later that evening one of the interns came back to me and thanked me. It was the first time that he had seen anyone stand up to the cardiologist.
A year later I got a new GP as I moved. He asked why I wasn’t on statins. I told him because my cholesterol was quite low I didn’t need them. He is in fairly good health and mid-50s, with healthy cholesterol, but he takes Statins just in case. He thought everyone should. Are the pharmaceutical companies leading most doctors (and thus most of the Western world) down a not so healthy path? They make over $30 billion dollars a year from them.
Over the last few weeks there have been several studies showing that this just might be the case. One study that came out last week in the British Medical Journal said that: “Cholesterol does not cause heart disease in the elderly and trying to reduce it with drugs like statins is a waste of time.” In a review of research involving nearly 70,000 people it was found that there was no link between what has traditionally been considered “bad” cholesterol and the premature deaths of over 60-year-olds from cardiovascular disease. It found that 92 percent of people with a high cholesterol level lived longer.
“Lowering cholesterol with medications is a total waste of time” said Professor Sherif Sultan, University of Ireland.
The authors have called for a re-evaluation of the guidelines for the prevention of cardiovascular disease and atherosclerosis, a hardening and narrowing of the arteries, because “the benefits from statin treatment have been exaggerated”.
Of course this has caused quite a stir in the medical community. Co-author of the study Dr. Malcolm Kendrick, an intermediate care GP, acknowledged the findings would cause controversy but defended them as “robust” and “thoroughly reviewed”.
“What we found in our detailed systematic review was that older people with high LDL (low-density lipoprotein) levels, the so-called “bad” cholesterol, lived longer and had less heart disease.”
Vascular and endovascular surgery expert Professor Sherif Sultan from the University of Ireland, who also worked on the study, said cholesterol is one of the “most vital” molecules in the body and prevents infection, cancer, muscle pain and other conditions in elderly people. . . whereas altering your lifestyle is the single most important way to achieve a good quality of life,” he said.
Lead author Dr Uffe Ravnskov, a former associate professor of renal medicine at Lund University in Sweden, said there was “no reason” to lower high-LDL-cholesterol.
This is not the first time this has come up; I have been saying this to patients for at least 10 years. One of the reasons is that statin drugs often come with many side effects. I started looking at this more seriously when I had several female patients come in with severe muscular pain, some being diagnosed with fibromyalgia. They were also on statins, which has the well-known side effect of muscular pain and sometimes even causing muscular damage, especially in women. After stopping the statin for even a few weeks, their muscular problems completely went away. Of course this made me look deeper into problems related to statins. With an estimated 1 in 4 people over 40 years old taking stains, we should look at some of the significant side effects.
- Statins interfere with the production of coenzyme Q10, which supports our immune and nervous systems, boosts heart and other muscle health, maintains normal blood pressure, and much more.
- Statins weaken the immune system, making it difficult to fight infections.
- Make it harder to concentrate or remember words, and are linked to muscle and neurological problems, including Lou Gehrig’s Disease.
- Can inhibit the beneficial effects of omega-3 fatty acids by promoting the metabolism of omega-6 fatty acids, which increases insulin resistance and the risk of developing diabetes.
- There is evidence that statin use blocks the benefits of exercise.
- Reduce the body’s ability to produce cholesterol, which is essential to brain health—the brain is 2% of the body’s weight, but contains 25% of the entire body’s cholesterol.
- Statin users have a higher incidence of nerve degeneration and pain, memory loss, confusion, depression, and a higher risk of ALS and Parkinson’s, according to Dr. David Williams in his July 2014 Alternatives newsletter.
- They might be driving us to overeat: a twelve-year study published in JAMA Internal Medicine found that statin users increased their calorie intake by 9%, and fat consumption by 14.4%, over the study period.
- An animal study linked statin use to muscle damage; with 226% more muscle damage than those not given statins.
- They affect the quality of sleep.
- Statins increase the risk of prostate and breast cancer.
- They are known to cause liver damage by increasing the liver’s production of digestive enzymes.
- Statins also speed aging and lower sex drive.
- They have been linked to aggressive and violent behavior in women.
It appears that there may become even more widely prescribed use of statins. New cholesterol guidelines, introduced last November, could push that number to as many as 1 in 2 adults over age 40, according to a recent analysis in the New England Journal of Medicine.
“The prevailing dogma has been that statins are almost harmless and that they’re wonderful drugs,” says Tom Perry, MD, a pharmacologist and internist in Vancouver, Canada.
Perry is part of a team of doctors at the University of British Columbia that looks at the evidence for and against drugs. They publish their findings in a free bi-monthly bulletin called Therapeutics Letter. The latest issue urged doctors to be more mindful of side effects when writing prescriptions for statins.
It is always important to look closely at anything that you are prescribed either natural or pharmaceutical. Life style changes have been proven to be the best for cardiovascular health, but sometime we need a bit of a help to get there.
*Statins include medications such as atorvastatin (Lipitor), fluvastatin (Lescol), lovastatin (Altoprev), pitavastatin (Livalo), pravastatin (Pravachol), rosuvastatin (Crestor) and simvastatin (Zocor). Lower-cost generic versions of many statin medications are available.