We have steadily climbed to the point of discussing a class of drugs known as statins. These very powerful and costly medications has reached the height of pharmaceutical popularity. Essentially a sub-industry within an industry statin drugs account for $31 billion of annual sales alone. It is estimated from sales that a staggering 15 million Americans are currently on these cholesterol lowering drugs. All the while the majority of them are suffering from side effects that range from slightly annoying to absolutely debilitating. These side effects include impaired cognitive function, sexual dysfunction, increased risk of diabetes and heart disease, lethargy and low vitamin D levels (with its associated adverse health effects when vitamin D deficiencies occur).
The history of mankind has been filled with many medical oddities that now look completely absurd to us. As far back as 1500 BC mercury was used for whatever ailed you. During the 19th century the chief ingredient in cough syrup was heroin. And who can forget bloodletting used by the Greeks and the rest of the world right up to the 19th century. While all of this might elicit a chuckle or two as we think of how silly “those people” were for believing in that stuff history will chuckle at us when statin drug use is reviewed for the amusement of our more enlightened descendants.
One of the many issues that surrounds the use of statin drugs is the yet unproven hypothesis that blood cholesterol is a key contributor to heart disease. You read that correctly: Cholesterol being the chief contributor to heart disease is a yet unproven hypothesis. In fact almost all studies concerning the relationship between heart disease and cholesterol either points to another culprit (e.g. inflammation), exonerates cholesterol or both. During the late ‘80’s a Dr. Russell Smith wrote a two volume review of literature associated with heart disease and diet called Diet, Blood Cholesterol and Coronary Heart Disease: A Critical Review of the Literature. It took over 600 pages of research for him to state that in the vast majority of studies reviewed there was no difference in the number of deaths between people who reduced their cholesterol and those that did not. This point will become more important as we move along.
In 1991 Dr. Smith teamed up with Dr. Edward Pinckney, the editor of four medical journals, to publish a book called The Cholesterol Conspiracy. In the book they summarized studies conducted with cholesterol lowering drugs and concluded that these drug were effective at lowering cholesterol but not deaths. Of the eight randomized and blinded trials that met their standard for study six had participants where the rate of death among the group being treated with cholesterol lowering drugs was the same or higher than the control group. That’s not very promising but it gets worse. They also looked at sixteen studies looking at reducing cholesterol using a drug and diet approach. What they found was that the death rate from all-causes in the treatment group and control was the same. In addition, the rate of death from coronary heart disease was the same or greater among the treatment group in fifteen of the sixteen trials. Yes, you read that correctly. What the good doctors demonstrated, essentially, is that there was zero benefit to lowering cholesterol when it comes to preventing adverse coronary events including death. Outside of a very narrow group of people (white males at least 48 years old who have already had one heart attack) statins have proven to have no benefit but they have proven to be extremely toxic. Part II of the statin nightmare will address specific issues that statins cause in the body.
The Great Cholesterol Myth
The Cholesterol Conspiracy