Are Statins Worth The Price?
According to the American Heart Association (AHA), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and other government agencies, heart attacks are the leading cause of death in the US today. Heart disease is caused by a process called atherosclerosis in which fatty deposits called plaques gradually build up over many years in coronary arteries, causing blockages that restrict blood flow to the heart. One out of every 2 Americans over the age of 65 has atherosclerosis, even though it is not part of the normal aging process.
The medical establishment, drug companies and the media all blame high levels of dietary cholesterol for the escalating incidence of cardiovascular disease and heart attacks. However, blood cholesterol levels and atherosclerosis have very little to do with each other. In fact, cholesterol is not a fat at all. It is a waxy alcohol that makes up the outer protective membrane of every cell in our body. Without sufficient cholesterol, the body cannot repair our cells or make new ones - for instance, in hair, skin, nails, bone, muscle, blood cells and entire lining of the intestine, which are all constantly being renewed.
In 1936, the pathologist Dr. Kurt Lande and biochemist Warren Sperry were the first to report that there was no correlation whatsoever between blood cholesterol levels and atherosclerosis.
These findings were subsequently confirmed by several other studies, including a 1961 paper by KS Mathur and his colleagues in India on 20 recently deceased patients and 200 more cases from autopsy records. More recently, in 2003, 2 scientists from the Beth Israel Medical Center in New York reported that aggressive lipid-lowering by statins did not affect atherosclerosis.
Fast-forward to 2002 and the Framingham Heart Study, which looked at risk factors for heart disease in over 5,000 men and women over their lifetimes. They discovered that 80 percent of people who go on to have coronary artery disease have the same total cholesterol values as those who don't go on to have heart problems.
In other words, total cholesterol levels have absolutely nothing to do with the likelihood of developing heart disease. However, the prevalent myth is that high cholesterol is to blame for heart disease. So naturally, the first step of the solution takes the form of reducing dietary fat consumption. Most patients don't know how to do this effectively and most diets don't work in the long-term. So treatment with a statin drug to lower cholesterol is usually the next step in the treatment for patients with risk factors or symptoms of cardiovascular disease.
Statins lower blood cholesterol levels by blocking an enzyme needed to make cholesterol in the liver. When natural production is slowed, the body begins to draw cholesterol it needs from the diet, thereby lowering blood cholesterol levels.
In the meantime, these are some of the many adverse effects of statins on the body:
- Depletion of coenzyme Q10 - this potentially fatal side effect of statins is not mentioned by drug manufacturers. Coenzyme Q10 or CoQ10 is made naturally in our body. Along with being a potent antioxidant, it is intimately involved in energy production processes. It is found in large quantities in heart muscle, the hardest-working muscle in the body. Statins act on the exact same enzyme needed to make this molecule, and act to deplete CoQ10 with consequent harmful effects on heart function. Healthy elderly people, patients with heart problems and patients on statins are all recommended to take CoQ10 supplements.
- Liver damage - statins cause an increase in liver enzymes, which, if left unchecked, can lead to permanent liver damage. This adverse effect is exacerbated by other cholesterol-lowering drugs.
- Muscle damage and pain - statins cause tenderness and occasionally, breakdown of muscle cells. Combining statins with gemfibrozil, another drug used to lower lipid levels, can send the breakdown products of damaged muscle tissue to the kidney and damage them severely enough to make them fail. Dialysis is the only solution.
- Digestive problems - statins may rarely cause nausea, gas, diarrhea, or constipation.
In spite of these known adverse effects, statins are now being recommended as preventive medication for individuals without any prior history of heart disease, even though experts could not find any benefit of statin therapy in such instances in over 11 clinical trials with over 65,000 participants.
Further, a recently concluded meta-analysis examined 11 studies with over 39,000 patients with various cardiovascular problems who were administered omega-3 dietary supplements for a year. Omega-3 fats were found to significantly reduce risk of death due to cardiovascular disease and all other causes. Not only that, omega-3 fats have been shown to be more effective than statin drugs (32% reduction vs. 22% with statins) in reducing heart disease-related deaths.