Statins: Not for everyone…maybe not for anyone
Part 2 of the Heart of the Matter aired last night in Australia. And not without a lot of courage on the part of ABC and Dr Maryanne Demasi, who conceived of and put the show together. This program, an absolutely devastating expose of the dangers and general uselessness of statin drugs, was fought tooth and toenail by the mainstream statinators. When you watch the show, you’ll know why.
For years I have been harping on this blog about how statins have been grossly oversold to both the doctors and the public. But this should not come as a surprise since statins as a group are the largest selling class of drugs in the world accounting for God only knows how much profit to the pharmaceutical industry. I’m the last person to gripe about someone making money, but in this case, I have a real problem. Why? Because there is so much Big Pharma money out there that it affects everything. It seeps into doctors lives starting with their medical training right through to retirement.
When the pharmaceutical industry first developed cholesterol-lowering drugs, the approach was to sell the patients on them. Scare them to death about their cholesterol levels, and get them to ask their doctors about a prescription. Way back then doctors weren’t taken in by this cholesterol-has-to-be-below 200 mg/dl nonsense, and told their patients not to worry. Then Big Pharma did the sales job on physicians.
MD and I got invited to one of their sales weekends. We, along with about a hundred other docs, were put up in suites at an exclusive resort. Everything was paid for, and, let me tell you, the meal spreads were lavish. We all lounged around over the weekend having multiple receptions of one kind or another – including fabulous food and all the drink one wanted – and a whole lot of laying-by-the-pool time. There was an afternoon of propaganda we all had to attend.
The whole herd of us sat through about three lectures on the evils of elevated cholesterol and how the lipid hypothesis wasn’t really a hypothesis but was the hard truth. They didn’t actually say that in those words, but that was the implication. And they finished off with the now-famous bit about how every percent increase in LDL levels brought about a two percent increase in risk for heart disease. Which, of course, is all hogwash, and was obviously hogwash to anyone paying attention who had a modicum of knowledge about how to interpret a scientific study. Sad to say, most physicians don’t fall into that category. During the farewell reception, where drinks flowed, I could tell that most everyone was sold on the notion of widespread cholesterol checking and aggressive treatment not of a disease but of a lab value. It was truly depressing.
I’ve written about the general uselessness of statins in numerous posts on this blog over the past seven or eight years. The Australian show pretty much confirms everything I’ve written with a few extra dollops of outrage.
I’m almost never surprised when when I learn the lengths to which Big Pharma will go to sell drugs. But some of the revelations in this show stunned even me.
I have had readers write me that their docs were going to fire them as patients if they didn’t take a statin drug for even minor elevations of cholesterol. Having been in practice a many years, I found this almost unbelievable. But now I’ve got a better inkling of what is really going on.
Dr. Beatrice Golomb, an academic physician at the University of California San Diego, is one of the world’s leading researchers on statin drugs. Here is her stunning explanation of why many docs almost force statins on their patients:
Some of them tell us that their doctors fire them as patients if they discontinue their statins, which I really wonder about the ethics of. Some of the people that we hear from also say that their doctor didn’t believe them, that their problem couldn’t be due to statins, and based on how patients perceive it, badger or bully them into resuming or continuing the medication. That’s not an acceptable way for medicine, as a system, to be run.
I think they often intentionally hide those risks because there are often physician incentives that benefit the physician for having more patients on statins. So it pits physician self-interest against patient benefit. This particular woman contacted me, and she had left the practice that she was at because they insisted that at least… I believe it was 80% of her patients be on statins. This has actually been written up in media as something that is actually considered legal and acceptable. I can’t see any way in which that’s acceptable. I’m literally the only researcher I know who studies this class of drugs who has a policy not to take money from industry.
Now you know why those docs were so adamant you take a statin. Many had to meet their quotas to keep getting Big Pharma swag.
Dr. John Abramson, a Harvard physician who often testifies as an expert witness in litigation agains drug companies, makes the following case against statins, which is the same case I’ve made over the years in the pages of this blog. Statins don’t do anything for overall health and longevity. All they really do is trade one set of risk factors for another;
People are more than their cardiovascular system, and what we really want to do is improve people’s overall health, longevity and the risk of serious illness. If you look at overall health, we haven’t done anything for them. Now, do people want to take a statin to trade one cardiovascular event for some other very serious illness – in other words, no net benefit – and expose themself to the risk of harm from the statins? Do you want to do that? I think it’s a bad deal. If somebody has a particular fear of heart disease and says, ‘Look, I don’t care if I get diabetes, I don’t care if I have muscle symptoms, I don’t care if I can’t exercise the way I want to exercise, I do not want to have heart disease,’ fine, take a statin. But understand that that’s why you’re taking a statin, not because it’s going to improve your overall health.
If, after watching the show below, you want more info on not just statins, but other overprescribed drugs that have been shown to be useless or even harmful, take a look at Dr. Abramson’s book Overdosed America: The Broken Promise of American Medicine. If you are on any number of worthless prescription drugs, the info in this book can save you vast multiples of its modest cost.The book goes into much greater depth on the statin issue along with other commonly prescribed drugs in to a much greater extent than can be done in a half hour show. You will be as outraged after reading it as you will be after watching the show below.
Here is the take home message on statins:
Statins do not decrease all-cause mortality in the vast majority of people. Long-term studies have never been able to demonstrate that women of any age or with any degree of heart disease live longer by taking statins. The same long-term studies show that men over the age of 65 live no longer by taking statins. Men under 65 who have never had heart disease – and were talking actual heart disease here, not just an elevated cholesterol level – gain no longevity benefit from taking statins. The only small group of people who have been shown to benefit from statins are men under 65 who have had a heart attack. But unfortunately that benefit is small.
Multiple studies have shown that taking statins does reduce both the incidence and severity of heart attacks. But these same studies don’t show any increase in longevity for those taking statins (other than the small benefit for men under 65 who have had heart attacks). Why. Statins simply trade one risk for another. Take them and you reduce the risk of a heart attack but increase your risk for cancer, diabetes, kidney failure, and side effects related to the drugs themselves. Many people die each year from statin-induced side effects. Despite what anyone may tell you, statins are not benign drugs.
Dr. Ernest Curtis, who is prominently featured in the show, wrote a terrific book on the world’s obsession with cholesterol titled The Cholesterol Delusion. Whenever I see statistics about the number of people taking statins, I’m haunted by a paragraph in this book considering the future that perhaps may await these individuals:
As severe as some of these short-term side effects can be [Dr. Curtis had been discussing statin side effects], they pale into relative insignificance when compared to the potential long-term problems. The chief difficulty here is that no one knows what the long-term effects may be from altering the basic biochemistry of the human body over a period of time. Because cholesterol is the key element in the formation of cell membranes, which are the protective coat for the cells, it may be that blocking cholesterol’s production will weaken the protective barrier and allow the entry of toxins or carcinogens that were previously excluded. There are disturbing reports of increased cancer in some cholesterol-lowering studies, but, in fact, this process make take many years to play out. It’s enough at this point to acknowledge that the long-term effects are completely unknown. This is a risk that should receive serious attention before half the population is placed on these drugs that, in effect, accomplish nothing more than low-dose aspirin or an extra glass or two of water each day.
A sobering thought.
Let me know of any stories you might have of doctors trying to force statins on you. Or of side effects you’ve experienced.