You‘ve gotta hand it to Big Pharma. They‘ve been busy in the kitchen again, cooking up yet another use for their popular statin drugs.
For years, Big Pharma has been busy promoting "off label" benefits of these popular cholesterol-lowering drugs. Big Pharma wants you to know this: not only will their statin drug cut your cholesterol, but it will also improve your rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, bone mass, and Alzheimer‘s disease.
Every time one of these studies comes out, it makes a big splash in the headlines: "Statin drugs prevent Alzheimers! The world is saved!" But in my opinion, these studies look like they were written by PR hacks rather than real scientists. I‘ve yet to see any real significant data supporting the claim that a statin drug does anything besides modestly lower your cholesterol.
So when I read about this new statin drug study, I rolled my eyes and felt a little like Mr. Cleaver when Eddie Haskel showed up -- yet again -- at the door. What are we taking statin drugs for this time? Depression? ADHD? Prematurely graying hair?
Well, before I let that surprise out of the bag, let me remind you of a thing or two about these popular cholesterol busters.
Your friendly neighborhood statin drug
Today, millions of Americans take cholesterol-lowering drugs like Lipitor, Crestor, and Zocor. Yes, they lower your cholesterol. But why are we taking them? Do they significantly improve your rate of dying from heart disease or heart attack (as compared to just taking better care of yourself)?
The bottom line is: no, they don‘t.
In one massive study of 10,000 people, researchers compared the use of statin drugs to "usual care" in treating subjects with moderately high levels of LDL cholesterol. (Usual care meant that participants maintained a proper body weight, didn’t smoke, and regularly exercised.)
The results of the study showed that participants taking statin drugs lowered their cholesterol by 28%. While the "usual care" group lowered their cholesterol by only 11%.
But here‘s the kicker: both groups showed the same rates of death from heart attack and heart disease.
So -- yes -- statins can lower your cholesterol. But they don‘t work any better than "usual care" in preventing deaths from heart attack or heart disease. And given the slew of side effects associated with statin drug use -- including muscle pain, liver damage, neuropathy, memory loss, nausea, and difficulty sleeping -- you‘re much better off hitting the treadmill for 10 minutes a day and cutting out the fried chicken!
For the record, 1 + 1 does not equal 3
It‘s my belief that -- in most cases -- if you are following healthy eating habits, you shouldn‘t worry too much about your cholesterol. In fact, we all need a certain amount of cholesterol to function. Each and every cell in our body contains cholesterol. It helps maintain proper digestion, blood sugar, hormonal balance, and neurological function. Cholesterol also helps the body repair itself. In fact, scar tissue cells contain high amounts of cholesterol.
Plus -- lots of scientists believe high cholesterol doesn‘t increase your risk of dying from a heart attack (likewise, low cholesterol doesn’t protect you from suffering a heart attack). In fact, in one important study, scientists found that roughly 50 percent of all heart attack patients have what are considered to be normal, healthy cholesterol levels.
So why are we trying so feverishly to lower our cholesterol, if it‘s not protecting us from heart attacks?
Well, that question seems to keep the Big Pharma execs up at night. So -- as I said earlier -- they‘ve been busy in the kitchen cooking up other uses.
Going after what keeps men up at night
The new studies out on statin drugs involve prostate cancer and erectile dysfunction, two worries men often have as they get older. (As men over 50 are the prime candidates for statin drugs, why does this new study not surprise me?)
In this study, researchers looked at data over the last 15 years for 2,447 men ages 40 to 79. They discovered that men taking statin drugs were less likely to develop prostate cancer, compared to men who did not take statins. Men taking statin drugs for nine years were also less likely to have erectile dysfunction. But men who had been taking the drugs for fewer than three years didn‘t experience a decreased risk of suffering from ED.
There are a few of problems I have with this study. First of all, 2,447 men is hardly a large sampling. (Sure, I’ve cited smaller studies on certain vitamins to prove a point. But when you‘re talking about prescription drugs, with serious side effects, a large and diverse sampling is a must. Show me a study of 10,000 men, like the one mentioned earlier, and you‘ve got my attention.)
The study was not placebo controlled, meaning they didn‘t compare results of men taking statins versus men taking a placebo (or sugar pill). Again, it‘s a basic parameter I‘m looking for in any prescription drug study.
Plus -- all the men were white and living in Olmsted County, Minnesota. For Pete‘s sake, you can‘t draw any significant conclusions if all the men come from the same darn county! There might be something else underlying here that we don‘t know about that‘s making their prostate cancer rates go down.
Maybe everyone in this county drinks green tea. Who knows? It’s possible! And that‘s why you need a diverse sampling.
The last problem I have with this study is a big one. It was funded, in part, by Merck Pharmaceuticals. When you see a study that‘s funded by a pharmaceutical company, you might as well just flush it. Do you suspect that they set out to prove that statin drugs prevent prostate cancer and ED? Numbers can be finessed to say a lot of different things.
Take the reigns
To wrap up, let me just say that there is plenty you can do to prevent a heart attack without resorting to long-term statin drug use. If you really want to cut your risk, the first step is to stop smoking (if you smoke). The second step is to get your diet in order. Cutting out processed and fried foods is a must. The third step is to get moving. Even a 10 minute walk three times a week is a move in the right direction.
Lastly, begin to add a few important nutrients to your regimen. Here‘s what I recommend to help keep your ticker strong:
1. Add L-Carnitine: 1,000 mg
2. Coenzyme Q10: 100 mg
3. Magnesium: 500 to 800 mg
4. Vitamin E: 400 to 800 IU
(as mixed tocopherols)
As always, work with a trusted doctor or naturopath. These guidelines can and should be tailored to fit your individual needs.