Statins: Not the miracle drug they were once thought to be - Baobab Health

Statins: Not the miracle drug they were once thought to be

Before reading this post, I suggest you take a look at my 3 part series, explaining the real underlying causes of heart disease.

What are statins?

Statins are the most popular drugs in history. Drug companies made $26 billion selling statins alone in 2008. Millions of Australians are taking statins every year and the numbers are growing. You think their could be some invested interest here??????

Statins are a class of drugs widely used to lower cholesterol levels in the blood. They inhibit certain pathways that lead to cholesterol synthesis in the body. One way they work is by blocking the actions of an enzyme called HMG-CoA reductase that is needed for the production of cholesterol in the liver. In Australia they include:

  • atorvastatin
  • fluvastatin
  • pravastatin
  • simvastatin
  • rosuvastatin.

These are the generic (chemical) names. They are marketed under a variety of trade names such as, Crestor, Lipex, Lipitor and Pravachol.

They are indeed among the most commonly prescribed drugs in the world. However they are not the wonder drug that they are made out to be.

It is the inefficient metabolism (uptake) of LDL particles carrying cholesterol that cause cholesterol levels in the blood to be high, not an overproduction. Therefore, drugs that suppress cholesterol production (i.e statins) are not addressing the underlying cause of the problem and are treating the symptoms, which are just a manifestation of the underlying problem.

Decreasing the production of cholesterol, which is so important to the body, can be very dangerous. This is why these drugs have some serious side effects.

Furthermore, if you have still have high triglycerides and your LDL uptake is still compromised, decreasing cholesterol production will unlikely decrease the amount of LDL particles floating in your blood. It will certainly decrease the cholesterol passengers in these lipoproteins, however it will not decrease the amount of lipoproteins (cars) in the blood as these lipoproteins carry other things apart from cholesterol.

Small, dense LDL particles (cars) which are more likely to oxidize, will be unaffected by statins and cholesterol reduction. Therefore, they will not dramatically decrease your risk of heart disease because as we have discussed, elevated LDL particles and the oxidation (crashing) of these particles are the driving factors behind heart disease, not cholesterol production. By taking these drugs they will for sure show a decrease in cholesterol (passengers) on a blood lipid test, which is why they are such a popular drug for doctors, because it is believed that high cholesterol is the cause of heart disease.

Statins are not a miracle drug!

Due to the reasons discussed above, it is understandable why statins have not significantly been shown to prevent heart attacks and deaths from heart disease in those without pre-existing heart disease.

This is shown in an analysis by Dr. David Newman in 2010, which drew on large meta-analyses of statins. He found that statins do reduce the risk of heart disease among those with pre-existing heart disease that took statins for 5 years. However the results were very modest:

  • 96% saw no benefit at all
  • 1.2% (1 in 83) had their lifespan extended (were saved from a fatal heart attack)
  • 2.6% (1 in 39) were helped by preventing a repeat heart attack
  • 0.8% (1 in 125) were helped by preventing a stroke
  • 0.6% (1 in 167) were harmed by developing diabetes
  • 10% (1 in 10) were harmed by muscle damage.

There’s little doubt that statins are effective in reducing heart attacks and deaths from heart disease in people who already have heart disease. However, this is not due to their cholesterol lowering effects, rather, statins help dilate blood vessels, reduce blood clotting and they prevent plaques from dislodging and causing blockages in the brain, lungs and heart. They also have anti-inflammatory/antioxidant properties (which we know chronic inflammation drives heart disease), which is why they help people with existing heart disease. Although statins may lower cholesterol levels, they will not have any significant impact of particle numbers or density of particles (i.e. number of cars).

Dr. David Newman also found that that statins do reduce the risk of cardiovascular events in people without pre-existing heart disease. However, this effect is very, very, very modest modest.

  • 98% saw no benefit at all
  • 1.6% (1 in 60) were helped by preventing a heart attack
  • 0.4% (1 in 268) were helped by preventing a stroke
  • 1.5% (1 in 67) were harmed by developing diabetes
  • 10% (1 in 10) were harmed by muscle damage

Also, statins have been shown to be extremely ineffective in preventing heart disease in women with particular risk factors.

The only demographic that they seem to help is men over 65 with pre-existing heart disease. However, this is the issue with research sometimes, we generalize results of a certain sub group of the population, to the whole population.

Lastly, although statins may decrease the risk of heart disease in some people, it does not have an effect of their overall mortality. So while your risk of heart disease may be slightly lower, you may be at risk from dying from another condition.

The adverse side effects of statins

Not only do statins interfere with the production of cholesterol, but they also interfere with the body’s production of Co enzyme Q10. This enzyme is firstly one of the anti-oxidants that the liver packages LDL particles with, which helps protect us from heart disease. It is also very important for energy production in the body and especially the functioning of your muscles. Therefore, many people on statins experience muscle aches and pains, which is due to the blocking of Co enzyme Q10. Furthermore, your heart is the most important muscle in your body, therefore it too can suffer from inadequate amounts of CoQ10, and people on statins have experienced heart failure.

A lot of the time people don’t realize how important cholesterol is to our body. We would die without it. I discussed in previous posts that those with high cholesterol levels usually have a decreased uptake of cholesterol into cells (decreased parking) as it is, therefore, when these individuals are given a statin to block cholesterol production, MANY vital functions in the body are severely compromised due to a cholesterol deficiency!

Lets take a look at some of the functions of cholesterol, in order to see how detrimental it can be to block the production of this important molecule.

  • Cholesterol is needed for the production of bile salts, which helps you absorb fats, vitamins (A,D,E,K) and caretenoids from your diet. Some of these vitamins and caretenoids are anti-oxidants which help to protect us from things like heart disease and help protect our LDL  from oxidation.
  • Cholesterol is needed for the synthesis of vitamin D. The absolute importance of vitamin D to health cannot be explained in one dot point, but just know it is super important and most people are deficient. Deficiencies in vitamin D have been linked to a whole range of diseases. Decrease calcium, increase OP. Increase risk T2DM.
  • Cholesterol is needed for serotonin uptake in the brain. Serotonin is our “feel good” hormone and it helps regulate our mood. People on statins have experienced depression because of the reduced amount of cholesterol.
  • Cholesterol is found in the cell membrane of every cell in our body, giving the cell wall rigidity and stability.
  • Cholesterol is an integral part of myelin sheaths, which insulate nerves in our body to help make nerve impulses smooth and efficient. Therefore with a lack of myelin around nerves people can experience severe cognitive impairment, mental disorders and brain fog. It also helps form new connections between neurons, allowing us to form memories and learn new things.
  • Cholesterol is a major part of brain tissue and needed for optimum brain function. This is why people on statins have often experienced brain issues like memory loss, brain fog and Alzheimer’s.
  • Cholesterol has shown to actually be an anti oxidant, which is why we produce more of it as we age.
  • Cholesterol is needed to synthesise all of the hormones produced by our adrenal glands such as aldosterone, cortisol, cortisone and androgens. These hormones help us deal with stress.
  • Cholesterol is also needed to make all our sex hormones like testosterone and estrogen. Therefore people on statins have had side effects of impotence, infertility, low sperm production, low libido, irregular menstrual cycles in women and decreased bone density in women.

Because cholesterol has such a diverse number of functions in the body, the amount of cholesterol that is produced on a day to day basis fluctuates greatly. Therefore depending on the day you took your cholesterol test may be the difference between you being put on a statin or not.

For example if you are stressed, your cholesterol levels may be high because you need cholesterol to synthesise cortisol, which is a stress hormone. Therefore the body produces more of it. The range may be higher compared to your last lipid test which could prompt your doctor to put you on a statin.

Another example can be seen in women during menopause. Because their estrogen levels drop, more cholesterol levels are produced to try and compensate. Therefore, it is no surprise that many women are put on a statin around menopause.

Also, what most people don’t know it that on any given day, your total cholesterol levels can fluctuate up or down by 0.9mmol/L. Your LDL levels can fluctuate up or down by 0.7. Also, your triglycerides can fluctuate up or down by 1. Research shows that if you get a blood lipid test one day and then a few months later get another, if your total cholesterol has gone up or down by more than 0.9 mmol/l, only then you can be 95% sure that cholesterol production in your body has actually increased or decreased rather than just a normal fluctuation that occurs on a day to day basis. The scary thing is that when doctors notice these large fluctuations, only after two blood tests, which can be perfectly normal, they might put a person on a statin. This is because these fluctuation are large enough for a doctor to warrant the prescription of a statin.

Although lipid tests are a good marker for heart disease, they are just a marker at the end of the day, not a disease. To determine a person’s risk of heart disease, it is necessary to look at the whole person. For example, a person with high cholesterol levels who eats well, lives a low stress lifestyle, sleeps 8 hours a night, exercises regularly, doesn’t smoke, drink or have high blood pressure would be at a much lower risk of heart disease then a person who is highly stressed, eats poorly, is sleep deprived, hardly exercises, sits all day, has high blood pressure, smokes and drinks. We must analyze risk factors in the context of the persons life.

Wrapping it up

I hope this series of posts has given you a new perspective on the whole cholesterol saga. If you could be at risk of heart disease or already have heart disease, I urge you to find a health practitioner that is aware of the new research about cholesterol and heart disease that I have outlined in these posts. And one that is wiling to take a holistic approach to your treatment and address underlying diet and lifestyle factors before turning to medications.

Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoyed!