Statins were hailed as miracle drugs when they were introduced in 1987. Heart disease was the leading cause of death in the U.S., and the American College of Cardiology says that statin therapy, which lowers cholesterol levels, reduces the risk of heart attack and stroke in patients who have or are at risk for atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease (ASCVD).
Currently, about 25 percent of adults 45 years of age and older take statins, according to the National Center for Health Statistics, and the percentage of Americans with high cholesterol levels has declined, which is attributed to the use of cholesterol-lowering medications.
But heart disease is still the No.1 cause of death in America. Critics of statins say that studies showing that reductions in cholesterol reduce cardiovascular disease are framed in the best possible light. The BMJ gives the example:
Experts say that for every 1 percent drop in cholesterol, there will be a 2 percent reduction in coronary heart disease. But that’s deceptive, says The BMJ, because they are referring to a reduction in relative risk, rather than absolute risk.
“For example, you could be told of a statin that is safe and will significantly ‘reduce the risk’ of having a heart attack if taken every day for the next five years,” the researchers wrote.
“A study is cited showing that over five years, patients on this statin had 34 percent fewer heart attacks than controls on a placebo, which is correct, since this is relative risk reduction.
“What you are not told is that 2.7 percent of patients on the drug had a heart attack compared to 4.1 percent on placebos, so that the absolute risk reduction is only 1.4 percent. Also not revealed is that if this statin is taken by 71 people every day for five years, it will prevent one person from having a heart attack.”
A 2017 study found that older adults who don’t have a history of cardiovascular problems don’t benefit from taking cholesterol-lowering statin drugs, even if they have high blood pressure and moderately high cholesterol.
Researchers from New York University School of Medicine studied the data from 2,867 older adults and found that those who took statins had the same risk of dying as seniors who didn’t take statins, and also suffered the same amount of heart attacks and strokes.
In fact, the study found that statins may have caused more harm than good since more deaths occurred in the group taking statins.
“This study doesn’t surprise me at all,” says Dr. David Brownstein, a board-certified physician and editor of the newsletter Dr. David Brownstein’s Natural Way to Health.
“Seniors depend on adequate cholesterol for a host of reactions in the body, including proper brain function and proper hormonal production,” he says.
“Some studies have shown that statins increase the risk of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, even if you take CoQ 10 to help cope with some of statins’ side effects, because statins lower cholesterol.
“The highest concentration of cholesterol in the body is in the brain,” Brownstein says. “The brain actually produces its own cholesterol, and it needs cholesterol to function properly.
“Since statins have been shown to fail in 97 to 99 percent of the people who take them, I can’t imagine — with those odds — why anyone would consider taking this drug when they know the side effects are severe and many.”
However, other studies have found that statins have benefits beyond lowering cholesterol, including improving libido, slashing the odds of sepsis, slowing the progression of prostate cancer, and reducing the risk of Parkinson’s disease.
On the other side of the coin, numerous studies doubt the effectiveness of statins. A 2017 study of older adults without a history of cardiovascular problems found that they don’t benefit from taking cholesterol-lowering statin drugs. Seniors who took statins had the same risk of dying as seniors who didn’t take the drugs, and they also suffered the same number of heart attacks and strokes.
And a 2016 study published in the British Medical Journal found that seniors with high cholesterol levels may live as long — or longer — than their peers with low levels.
In addition, studies have found that statins may cause multiple dangerous — even deadly — health problems. They include:
• Dying. A study published in Critical Care Medicine found that the lower a patient’s cholesterol levels, the higher the risk of dying during the 30-day period following a heart attack. One expert pegged the increase at an astronomical 990 percent for those with the lowest cholesterol levels!
• Diabetes. Scientists from Albert Einstein School of Medicine found that taking cholesterol-lowering statin drugs can raise the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes by 30 percent. Statins were associated with an increased risk regardless of the potency of the statin prescribed.
• Calcification of arteries. A study published in the journal Atherosclerosis found a 52 percent increase in calcified coronary plaque — a hallmark of cardiovascular disease — when compared to non-users.
• Cataracts. Statins appear to raise the risk for cataracts, according to Canadian researchers. A study published in the Canadian Journal of Cardiology found that Canadians who took statins for at least a year increased their risk of developing cataracts severe enough to need surgery by 27 percent.
• Sprains. Statins increase the risk for musculoskeletal injuries and diseases, according to a study published in JAMA Internal Medicine. When compared to patients who didn’t take statins, the medications increased the overall risk of strains, sprains, and dislocations by 19 percent.
• Flu vaccine effectiveness. A study conducted at Houston’s Baylor College of Medicine examined the medical records of more than 7,000 seniors. Three weeks after taking the flu vaccine, the level of antibodies to flu, which is a measure of the vaccine’s effectiveness, was as much as 67 percent lower in those who took statin drugs, such as Lipitor and Crestor.
• Heart failure. Researchers at the East Texas Medical Center found that after taking the statin drug Lipitor for six months, 66 percent of patients developed heart problems similar to those that can lead to heart failure. They speculated the cause was probably statin’s side effect of depleting the body’s store of CoQ10, a crucial antioxidant that’s needed for cells to function properly.
Questions about statins have been around for years, but they’re mostly ignored by mainstream medical professionals. Research published in The Lancet in 2001 studied mortality in elderly people, and found that low cholesterol was associated with a higher risk of dying.
“We have been unable to explain our results,” the researchers wrote. “These data cast doubt on the scientific justification for lowering cholesterol to very low concentrations in elderly people.”
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