“Statins are drugs used to lower LDL cholesterol. LDL is often described as bad cholesterol and HDL as good cholesterol. This is because studies have shown that people with proportionally higher levels of HDL and lower levels of LDL in their blood are less prone to heart disease. That message has been pounded home by drug companies because their product, statins, only affects LDL cholesterol.
While there is no doubt that consumption of statins will reduce your LDL cholesterol there is no evidence that they will have any effect on your likelihood of suffering a fatal heart attack – unless you are a man who has already survived one.
Due to progressive widening of the definition of ‘abnormal cholesterol’, worldwide sales of the drugs broke through the US$ 34 billion mark in 2008. And one of the most popular statins, Lipitor is now responsible for one in every four dollars earned by the World’s largest drug company, Pfizer. But even that is not enough. The marketing machine continues to roll on.
Recent comprehensive reviews of all of the major high-quality trials on statins have concluded that for people without known heart disease (who make up around 90% of those being treated) taking statins did not alter the overall risk of dying at all.
If there were no side-effects from statin drugs then this would merely mean that we are all the victims of shameless (and shameful) profiteering. But there is now growing evidence of significant harm.
Statin use increases the risk of developing Type II diabetes by an average of 9% (but it could be as high as 50% in some women). One in ten statin users experience muscle damage with up to 75 per cent experiencing some form of muscle pain. And there is emerging evidence that the drugs are linked to memory impairment.
Doctors would be well advised to ensure their use of statins is as conservative as the evidence says it should be. In general the evidence says they should only be prescribed for men aged 30–69 who have a history of coronary heart disease – a very small subset of the approximately 1 million Australians currently taking the drugs.
Statins are not harmless placebos. They are powerful medications which significantly reduce our body’s ability to produce two of our primary repair molecules, cholesterol and co-enzyme Q10. They should not be handed out like lollies at the school fete. Patients given an ineffectual drug which causes lifelong harm (in the form of Type II Diabetes) will rightly seek redress from the medical professional who prescribed it.”