The Lowdown on Statin Drugs

Filed Under: Heart Health
Last Reviewed 10/19/2015

The Lowdown on Statin Drugs

Despite what some doctors and Big Pharma would like you to believe, scores of studies have shown that statin drugs aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. In fact, I’ve been writing about the dangers of statin drugs and their overall lack of efficacy for years.

Yet, according to the latest treatments guidelines issued by the American College of Cardiology (ACC) and the American Heart Association (AHA) you don’t need to have a high cholesterol level to “require” a statin drug. Heck, you don’t even need to have heart disease. Diabetes and other risk factors for heart attack and stroke are enough to “qualify” you for a lifetime of dependency on moderate-to-high doses of statin drugs, which cost upward of $200 a month.

Measuring the Effectiveness of Statins With NNT

It’s easy to get taken in by the glowing statistics on statin drugs, how they save lives and reduce risk of heart attack. But as Mark Twain once said, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.” That’s why one of my favorite metrics for illustrating the utility of any medical intervention is “number needed to treat” (NNT). It simply tells you how many patients must be treated with a medication, surgery, or other medical procedure for one person to benefit.

For example, the NNT for headache relief within two hours for Imitrex (sumatriptin), a popular medication for migraines, is four. In other words, four patients would have to take this drug for one person to experience relief. When IV magnesium is given in the emergency room to patients in the throes of a severe asthma attack, one in three improves to the point that hospitalization is not required. Therefore, the NNT is three.

The ideal NNT is one, which would mean the therapy works for everyone. However, the higher the NNT, the less beneficial the treatment. An NNT above 40 is a crapshoot.

When it comes to the effectiveness of statins, many doctors believe they are helpful for “secondary prevention” for patients with serious cardiovascular disease who have already suffered a heart attack or stroke. This is the only group (besides Big Pharma, of course) ever shown to benefit. But even in this high-risk group, the NNT for statin drugs to save one life over five years is an unimpressive 83. Exercise, diet, and other lifestyle changes have a much lower NNT and are far safer than these drugs.

Most of the tens of millions of people targeted as appropriate candidates for statin drugs, however, are essentially healthy. They’ve never had a heart attack, stroke, or even been diagnosed with heart disease. As such, their likelihood of being helped by a statin is virtually nonexistent.

Research Shows Most People Don’t Benefit From Statin Drugs

Furthermore, according to a 2013 study published in the British medical journal BMJ, the NNT for the prevention of one heart attack or stroke in patients with a 20 percent or higher risk of developing heart disease over 10 years is 140. As for reducing risk of death, research indicates statin drugs are no help at all.

For example, in a meta-analysis also published in BMJ in September 2015, researchers reviewed 11 previous studies comparing statin drug therapy to placebo to determine what the estimated average postponement of death was for those taking statins for primary and secondary prevention. They found statin drugs postponed death in primary and secondary prevention users by an average of 3.2 and 4.1 days, respectively. This led them to conclude: “Statin treatment results in a surprisingly small average gain in overall survival within the trials’ running time. For patients whose life expectancy is limited or who have adverse effects of treatment, withholding statin therapy should be considered.”

Bottom line: Statins can’t prevent heart attacks in healthy people or save the life of someone who isn’t going to die—which is why I’m convinced that the push for medicating millions with statins is just for the money.

The Very Real Dangers of Statin Drugs

Efficacy aside, the list of side effects of statins is long and scary. A minimum of 18 percent of statin users report adverse effects, and one in five stop taking their medications, usually because of diffuse and sometimes debilitating muscle pain, weakness, and fatigue.

Many of the damaging side effects of statins are less obvious and either go unnoticed or are chalked up to other medical conditions. For instance, when older patients experience memory loss or develop cataracts—known complications of these drugs—these concerns are usually attributed to age rather than the drugs.

Statin drugs are also linked with liver damage, confusion, sexual dysfunction, mood disorders, rhabdomyolysis (complete muscle breakdown), and some types of cancer. And because statins block the synthesis of coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10), an essential factor in the production of cellular energy, every user is harmed, many seriously.

Statins have also been associated with increased risk of several other serious conditions. Let’s take a closer look at these specific dangers of statin drugs.

Dangers of Statin Drugs: Increased Risk of Diabetes

One of the conditions statin use is linked to is diabetes, which is a far more serious risk factor for heart disease than high cholesterol—particularly for postmenopausal women, whose likelihood of being diagnosed with diabetes increases by 71 percent!

The large-scale JUPITER study unearthed the satin-diabetes connection. Published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2008, it showed that people taking the statin drug Crestor (rosuvastatin) had a significantly greater incidence of diabetes than the placebo group. But this fact was lost in all the hoopla that called JUPITER “a breakthrough study” and “a blockbuster,” and encouraged even people without high cholesterol to start taking statin drugs.

Since then other research has been published on the diabetes-related side effect of statins. One study in the American Medical Association’s journal JAMA, which involved 32,752 patients, compared the diabetes risk of those taking a daily statin medication dose of 80 mg to the risk of participants taking lower doses. During the five-year study, 2,749 patients in both the high-dose and lower-dose groups developed type 2 diabetes—but those in the high-dose statin group had a 12 percent increased risk.

In another study conducted at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, researchers reviewed the records of more than 153,000 participants in the Women’s Health Initiative. They found that 10 percent of those using statin drugs at the start of the study developed diabetes compared to just 6.4 percent of the women not taking statins.

Dangers of Statin Drugs: Increased Risk of Memory Loss

One of the other side effects of statins, as I mentioned earlier, is memory loss. Several years ago, I wrote an article in my Health & Healing newsletter about the connection between statins and memory loss. In it, I talked about a retired professor of business law and computer science who was taking the statin drug Zocor (simvastatin) to lower his cholesterol, and was diagnosed with rapidly progressing probable Alzheimer’s disease. It got to the point he had trouble carrying on conversations and recognizing people he’d known for 20 years. But after stopping Zocor, his cognitive function returned to normal. 

Folks, statins are bad news for the brain in three ways. First off, your brain needs cholesterol to function properly. Take away that cholesterol and your memory and cognitive function falter. Second, statin drugs interfere with the production of CoQ10, which your brain cells need. Finally, statins appear to adversely affect tau, a protein made by brain cells that helps maintain their structure.

Dangers of Statin Drugs: Increased Risk of Heart Failure

Another troublesome side effect of statin drugs is their association with congestive heart failure. In a study published in the American Journal of Cardiology, Texas cardiologist Peter Langsjoen, MD and colleagues investigated patients who had high cholesterol but were free of heart disease. The researchers obtained blood levels of CoQ10 and echocardiograms of the patients’ hearts, and then started them on Lipitor, 20 mg per day for three to six months.

Guess what? Seventy-one percent of them developed diastolic dysfunction (a potential cause of congestive heart failure)! This subgroup was then treated with 300 mg of CoQ10 per day, in addition to Lipitor. After three months, 89 percent of these patients had reversal of at least one marker of diastolic dysfunction and 44 percent had reversal of all three markers measured.

Winners and Losers in the Statin Drugs Arena

Although most cardiologists and physicians blithely jump on the statin bandwagon, not everyone is so enthusiastic. Harvard researchers Paul Ridker and Nancy Cook have expressed doubts as to the accuracy of the methods used to determine risk of heart disease, stating they overestimate it—and thus numbers of potential statin prescriptions—by 75–150 percent.

Some question the validity of the statin research used to establish the latest treatment guidelines, which was conducted and paid for by drug manufacturers who have a sordid reputation for manipulating data to optimize study results. Others have noted conflicts of interest and financial ties between some members of the panel who wrote the guidelines and drug companies that stand to benefit—not to mention the longstanding financial support of the ACC and AHA by the pharmaceutical industry.

The clear winner here is Big Pharma. The losers are the trusting patients who dutifully fill their prescriptions. Only one person can protect you from this drug scam and its risks, and that person is you.

My Recommendations

There are many alternatives to statin drugs that are far safer and more effective than these dangerous, side effect–riddled pills. At the Whitaker Wellness Institute, we’ve helped thousands of patients prevent and treat cardiovascular disease with lifestyle changes, personalized supplement programs, EECP, chelation, and other therapies.

Everyone should start with a heart-healthy diet and regular exercise. Supplement suggestions include niacin, flaxseed, bergamot, berberine, and a botanical blend called Cholactiv® for lowering cholesterol; fish oil and curcumin for reducing inflammation; and CoQ10 for healthy heart function. Speaking of CoQ10, if you absolutely must take a statin drug, make sure you are supplementing with at least 200 mg of CoQ10 daily.

To learn more about the protocol we use at Whitaker Wellness, call 1-866-642-1018.

Now it’s your turn: Has your doctor ever mentioned these dangers of statin drugs to you?

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DISCLAIMER: The content of is offered on an informational basis only, and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the guidance of a qualified health provider before making any adjustment to a medication or treatment you are currently using, and/or starting any new medication or treatment. All recommendations are "generally informational" and not specifically applicable to any individual's medical problems, concerns and/or needs.

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