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The Truth about Statin Drugs by Matthew Romans

We live in an increasingly pharmacratic society, where it seems like it's becoming easier and easier to obtain medication for ailments such as pain, depression, attention-deficit disorder, and a whole host of other real or imagined maladies. Just turn on your television for an hour and I'll bet that you will see no less than five commercials funded by pharmaceutical companies promoting the next breakthrough drug. You've no doubt seen commercials over the years for drugs named Zocor, Crestor, and Lipitor, all of which tout the benefits and importance of lowering your cholesterol. These are a classification of drugs called statins. While the medical establishment and pharmaceutical industry sing the praises of these statin drugs, is this praise justified? Are these drugs safe and effective? I learned a lot about statin drugs by reading an excellent book written by Dr. Malcolm Kendrick called "The Great Cholesterol Con", and chapter eight of that book discusses statins and heart disease. Let's take a closer look at these so-called "wonder drugs."

The first thing we need to understand is how statins work. These drugs block an enzyme called HMG CoA Reductase that the liver uses to make cholesterol. It is true that statins do reduce the mortality level in men with existing heart disease. If you are a male suffering from coronary artery disease, or have previously had a heart attack, it might make sense to take a statin drug. However, properly-conducted studies have shown that females who take statins, whether they have risk factors or not, will not increase their life expectancy by even one day. Further, Kendrick says that "statins do not reduce the mortality in men who do not already have diagnosed heart disease, which represents more than 90 percent of the male population." The conventional wisdom is that elevated cholesterol levels are a major risk factor for heart disease, and that elevated cholesterol is a result of eating a high-fat diet. This myth has been disproved; in fact, consumption of a diet rich in sugars and processed carbohydrates is far more unhealthy than eating large amounts of essential fats. While we frequently hear about the importance of lowering our "bad" cholesterol (low-density lipoprotein), and raising our "good" cholesterol (high-density lipoprotein), statin drugs actually lower both. We also need to understand that cholesterol in and of itself is not a bad thing. According to Kendrick, "the brain contains over 25 percent of the total cholesterol in the body, and over 2 percent of the total weight of the brain is cholesterol." By taking a drug to lower your cholesterol, you could also lower your brain's ability to function.

At this point you might think that statins really provide little benefit, but surely they can't be that harmful. Actually, statins can cause a whole host of physical problems, some of which are irreversible. One such condition is called polyneuropathy, which can be characterized by facial weakness, difficulty walking, loss of muscle function, and joint pain. Statins can also cause muscle damage; rhabdomyolysis is the breakdown of skeletal muscle, and the byproducts from this process can damage the kidneys and lead to kidney failure. Liver damage is another condition that can occur, as statins raise liver-enzyme levels in the bloodstream. There is also an increased risk of cancer in people with very low cholesterol, and statins have been shown to cause cancer in rodents. Statins block the production of Coenzyme Q10 (often referred to as CoQ10), which can lead to heart failure. Finally, as low cholesterol levels reduce serotonin levels in the brain, statins can cause depression, confusion, dizziness, and memory loss. While they are a marginally effective treatment option for a small percentage of the population, statin drugs can kill. Simvastatin caused 416 deaths in the U.S. over a six year period. Also, as Dr. Kendrick said, "Cerivastatin, the drug withdrawn by Bayer, was implicated in the deaths of at least 100 people before it got withdrawn." Despite the positive statistics that are put forth in advertisements for these products, we need to realize that these statistics are misleading. The pharmaceutical companies associated with these drugs usually pay for these studies; therefore, they control access to the data that is compiled. They determine what data will be published and what conclusions will be drawn.

All medication, even over-the-counter medication, has side effects, and some medication has a narrower therapeutic window than others. In the case of statins, I believe for most people the potential danger far outweighs any minor benefit.

Posted July 18, 2018 by Tim Rankin