Cardiovascular disease such as heart attacks and strokes is the leading cause of death among men worldwide. And as such, pharmaceutical companies are vying for your attention and your money with their drugs that are supposed to prevent or cure cardiovascular disease. The most popular of those drugs is a class called statins. They are so popular, in fact, that the most filled prescription in the United States is for statin drugs. That spells big profit for drug manufacturers. In fact, in 2010 pharmaceutical company – just one of the many manufacturers of statin drugs – announced that it profited $12 billion in that one year from a single statin drug!
You’re a man, and the older you get, the greater your statistical risk of cardiovascular disease grows. That means that your doctors are trained to start pushing statins on you, and with each passing year, the pressure grows. But what’s the deal? Are statins a panacea or do they contain hidden dangers? And, in fact, do they even address the underlying causes of cardiovascular disease?
The Story of Statins
Although the government was still pushing the discredited idea that dietary cholesterol caused cardiovascular disease, in 1971 scientists knew better. They knew that dietary cholesterol had practically no influence on blood cholesterol levels. Still, it was noticed that high blood cholesterol levels in humans were associated with (but not necessarily causative of) cardiovascular disease. So pharmaceutical companies were researching ways to prevent natural cholesterol synthesis in the human body.
One such company was Sankyo, a Japanese pharmaceutical company. A research scientist working for Sankyo discovered a substance produced by some bacteria that inhibits a key enzyme involved in the production of cholesterol. He and his team were able to isolate the substance, called mevastatin. Although the substance did prevent the synthesis of cholesterol, it also produced some unpleasant side effects such as muscle loss, tumors, and a minor symptom called death. But this discovery paved the way for the development of other statin drugs by other pharmaceutical companies that are now manufactured and pushed on the public.
Here’s the trouble: that cholesterol in the blood causes cardiovascular disease has never been proven. And, in fact, there are other leading theories that have better evidence supporting them. For example, oxidative stress is now thought to be one of the most likely causes of cardiovascular disease. And it may be that elevated cholesterol (which is an antioxidant) could be part of the body’s natural defense system against the dangers of oxidative stress. In other words, elevated cholesterol might even be protective rather than not.
The truth is that no one really knows what causes cardiovascular disease, and as we’ll see, statins do sometimes seem to provide some benefits. But whether that is because of the lowering of cholesterol or some other factor or if it is pure coincidence is yet to be determined. And, unfortunately, as we’ll see, statins aren’t entirely benign. The truth is that pharmaceutical companies have conspired to create a market for statins by funding sizeable campaigns to persuade the public that cholesterol causes cardiovascular disease and that statins can prevent that, but that campaign was founded upon questionable claims and distortions of science.
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The Harm Caused By Statins
As mentioned, statins are not entirely benign drugs. Two clinical trials have found that statin use is associated with cognitive decline. That includes things like memory loss and confusion. The FDA has addressed this concern by claiming that the effects are reversible upon discontinuation of the drugs. That is all fine and good, assuming it’s true, but since most doctors push statins to be used indefinitely, it’s hardly any consolation.
Muscle pain has also been identified as a serious side effect, affecting as many as 15 percent of users. These effects may be for a variety of reasons, but some of the effects have been attributed to drug-induced muscle inflammation which, in rare cases can even produce organ failure. And sometimes the effects may be caused by drug-induced muscle cell destruction. In fact, one statin drug (Cerivastatin) was withdrawn because of the severity of the risk.
Perhaps one of the most serious and ironic side effects of statins is that they significantly increase the risk of developing diabetes. This is, as I say, ironic, because statins are often prescribed to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease events in those who have diabetes. But so-called “preventative” use of statins in those with no history of cardiovascular disease may actually precipitate cardiovascular disease by producing diabetes.
Oh, and another “minor” side effect of statins is…sexual dysfunction.
Are There Benefits?
With so many negative effects, perhaps a good question to ask is this: are there any benefits to be had from statins?
The answer would have to be that it’s hard to tell through all the hype and lies pushed by the pharmaceutical companies and their biased studies. While it would be a bad idea to completely dismiss the possibility that statins may sometimes offer benefits, we should at least take a more balanced look at the evidence.
Unbiased studies have routinely concluded that there is no convincing evidence that statin drugs reduce disease or cardiovascular disease events. And, in some cases they even indicate that statins may be associated with increased risk and harm. For example, the Honolulu Heart Program study concluded that statins may produce “increased mortality in the elderly” by lowering cholesterol. In other words, cholesterol may be protective of health, and lowering it may be harmful.
Other large scale studies such as MIRACL, ALLHAT, Heart Protection Study, PROSPER, and others found that there was no difference between statin users and non-statin users in terms of cardiovascular disease events and deaths.
Of course, whether to use statin drugs or not is your decision. No one else should make that decision for you. However, hopefully this newsletter has given you some important information so that you can make an informed decision, and unfortunately these days it is rare for a doctor to provide you with a truly balanced view to help you make the decision for yourself.
Regardless of your choice, there are some things you can do to improve your health.
- Reduce polyunsaturated fats – particularly omega 6 fatty acids – such as found in vegetable seed oils from your diet to reduce your inflammation
- Get enough vitamin D from sunlight and food
- Reduce smoking and alcohol
- Move some on a regular basis, but don’t over exercise
- Prioritize quality sleep every night
- Eat plenty of fruit and vegetables along with quality meats, eggs, and dairy
- The nutritional supplement called coenzyme Q10 has been shown to have very beneficial effects for cardiovascular health
Now you have some good, balanced information that you can use to make an informed decision regarding statins. And, by following these simple guidelines you can support your health and hopefully improve your cardiovascular health.
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