By Dr. Mercola
Statins, drugs that lower your cholesterol levels, are one of the most widely prescribed drugs in the world.
In the US, a staggering one in four over the age of 45 is now taking this unnecessary drug!
Statins act by blocking a crucial enzyme in your liver responsible for making cholesterol.
But that's not all this enzyme is responsible for.
This enzyme also makes CoQ10, which is essential for mitochondrial health.
Perhaps it's not so surprising then that many potentially dangerous side effects go hand-in-hand with statin drug use.
To date, there are no less than 900 studies proving their adverse effects, which run the gamut from muscle problems to diabetes, to birth defects and increased cancer risk.
Statins May Increase Prostate Cancer Risk
One recent study sought to determine whether the use of statin drugs was associated with prostate cancer risk.
The researchers looked at close to 400 prostate cancer patients who had a first-time diagnosis during the period between 2005 and 2008.
They found that use of any statin drug, in any amount, was associated with a significantly increased risk for prostate cancer.
In addition, there was an increasing risk that came along with an increasing cumulative dose.
"The results of this case-control study suggest that statins may increase the risk of prostate cancer."
Statins Have Been Linked to Increased Cancer Risk for More Than a Decade
While the evidence still appears a bit all over the map, with study results ranging from increased cancer risk to reduced risk, to no noticeable risk at all, what IS clear is that conventional medicine still does not understand the full ramifications of artificially lowering your cholesterol levels, and they simply don't know whether or not the use of these drugs may be adding fuel to an already out of control cancer epidemic.
In short, with well over 30 million Americans now taking statin drugs, we're witnessing a massive ongoing 'live' experiment.
Over 10 years ago, research indicated that besides lowering cholesterol, statins could also promote the growth of new blood vessels. And, although this effect may help to prevent heart attacks and other forms of heart disease, it may also promote cancer as well by increasing the growth of blood vessels in cancerous tumors. Meanwhile, other studies have indicated the complete opposite; that statins can inhibit angiogenesis (the formation of new blood vessels), so again, it's virtually impossible to say that statin safety and effectiveness is based on hard science...
But the statin-cancer connection actually goes much farther back than that. A review published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 1996 stated:
"All members of the two most popular classes of lipid-lowering drugs (the fibrates and the statins) cause cancer in rodents, in some cases at levels of animal exposure close to those prescribed to humans. ...
Longer-term clinical trials and careful postmarketing surveillance during the next several decades are needed to determine whether cholesterol-lowering drugs cause cancer in humans.
In the meantime, the results of experiments in animals and humans suggest that lipid-lowering drug treatment, especially with the fibrates and statins, should be avoided except in patients at high short-term risk of coronary heart disease."
Cholesterol Guidelines are a Health Disaster
Needless to say, such warnings were completely ignored. Instead, public health officials have gone the opposite way, happily following the trail littered with the most cash.
Over the past decade, cholesterol guidelines have been altered to create ever more 'patients' to be treated with cholesterol-lowering drugs. In 2004, the U.S. government's National Cholesterol Education Program panel advised those at risk for heart disease to attempt to reduce their LDL (bad) cholesterol to extremely low levels, and it's been a health disaster ever since.
Before 2004, a 130-milligram LDL cholesterol level was considered healthy. The updated guidelines, however, recommended levels of less than 100, or even less than 70 for patients at very high risk. These updated guidelines instantly increased the market for cholesterol-lowering drugs. The marked has further increased with the call to begin screening children prior to puberty, and prescribing statins to kids as young as eight.
Not surprisingly, eight of the nine doctors on the approval panel for these absurdly low guidelines had financial ties to the companies making these cholesterol-lowering drugs.
FDA Doesn't "Believe" in Statin-Cancer Link
Back in 2008, troubling study findings were released showing a dramatically increased risk of cancer related deaths in those taking Inegy (also sold under the trade name Vytorin). The drug combines the widely-used statin drug simvastatin with another medication called ezetimibe, which blocks the absorption of cholesterol in your gut. The study also found no benefit whatsoever from the drug.
This despite the fact that it reduced LDL cholesterol levels by a respectable 61 percent, which "should have" had an effect on cardiovascular events, based on the prevailing hypothesis that high LDL equates to high risk of heart disease. So, in a nutshell, the drug had no beneficial impact on the primary outcome (meaning it did not reduce major cardiovascular adverse events), while more people developed cancer on the treatment (105 versus 70 patients taking a placebo), and more cancer related deaths (39 cancer deaths versus 23 in the control group).
A couple of months after the results were revealed, a panel assembled by the American Academy of Cardiology declared that:
"... the aggressively marketed drug combination should be used only as a last resort. There is currently no evidence that ezetimibe, which reduces levels of low-density lipoprotein cholesterol, improves clinical outcomes such as myocardial infarction or death."
In December 2009, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced the completion of their review of the disturbing SEAS trial (above), as well as interim data from two other large-scale ongoing cardiovascular trials using Vytorin: the SHARP and IMPROVE-IT trials. (The SHARP trial was concluded in 2010, while the IMPROVE-IT trial is expected to be completed in 2012.)
"FDA believes it is unlikely that Vytorin or Zetia increase the risk of cancer or cancer-related death."
I don't know how much faith you have in the FDA's beliefs, but mine is on pretty shaky ground... The FDA goes on to list a number of factors that were weighed to reach the conclusion that they believe cancer is unrelated to the drugs. You can review them for yourself here, and see if you would concur with their assessment.
Statins May Increase Your Risk of Heart Disease
Ironically, while reducing your risk of cardiovascular events and heart disease is the primary motivation for prescribing statins, these drugs can actually increase your risk of heart disease because they deplete your body of Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10), which can lead to heart failure. Statins have also been linked to:
✓ Serious degenerative muscle tissue condition (rhabdomyolysis)
✓ Pancreas or liver dysfunction, including a potential increase in liver enzymes
✓ Muscle problems, aches and pains
✓ Polyneuropathy (nerve damage in the hands and feet)
✓ Sexual dysfunction (erectile dysfunction)
✓ Cognitive impairment, including memory loss and transient global amnesia
The Importance of CoQ10 or, if You're Over 40, Ubiquinol
As mentioned in the beginning, statin drugs also block the production of Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10), and that in and of itself poses a very serious health risk. As your body gets more and more depleted of CoQ10, you may suffer from fatigue, muscle weakness and soreness, and eventually heart failure. Coenzyme Q10 plays a vital role in the process of neutralizing free radicals and the optimal production of cellular energy.
Unfortunately, the majority of people who take statins are unaware of their need for CoQ10, and physicians rarely advise their patients to take this supplement along with their statin—at least in the United States. It's also important to supplement right from the start, to ward off irreversible mitochondrial damage.
Make no mistake about it, if you're on a statin drug, you simply must take a CoQ10 supplement. If you're over the age of 40, I strongly recommend using the reduced version, called ubiquinol. Ubiquinol is a far more effective form—I personally take it every day as it has far-ranging health benefits. There's evidence that CoQ10/ubiquinol is beneficial for Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease, and even cancer, as well as staving off premature aging in general by preventing telomere shortening, which can slow or potentially even reverse the aging process.
Unlike prescription drugs that kill over 125,000 people every year in the U.S. alone, there are no reported side effects of CoQ10 supplementation and no one has ever died from taking it.
What Drug Companies Don't Want You to Know About LDL
While statins drugs are very effective for lowering so-called "bad" cholesterol, the low-density lipoprotein, or LDL, it's important to realize that there are different sizes of LDL cholesterol particles, and it's the LDL particle size that is relevant, as small particles get stuck easily and causes more inflammation. Unfortunately, most people don't hear about that part, and very rarely, if ever, get it tested.
Naturally, the drug companies really don't want you to know about this, because statins do not modulate the size of the particles.
The only way to make sure your LDL particles are large enough to not get stuck and cause inflammation and damage is through your diet. In fact, modulating LDL particle size is one of the things that insulin does. If you eat properly and maintain normal insulin levels, then everything works as it should—the LDL particles are large and buoyant; they don't get stuck, and don't cause inflammation.
So rather than worry about your cholesterol numbers, you really want to work on reducing inflammation, which can be caused by numerous things, including:
- Oxidized cholesterol (cholesterol that has gone rancid, such as that from overcooked, scrambled eggs)
- Eating lots of sugar and grains
- Eating foods cooked at high temperatures
- Eating trans fats
- A sedentary lifestyle
- Emotional stress
When you get to the bottom of it, the real "villain" of heart disease is typically an unhealthy lifestyle, characterized by a heavy reliance on sugars and grains, processed, highly cooked foods, and insufficient amounts of exercise – not "high cholesterol" per se.
For more information about cholesterol and how to properly evaluate your heart disease risk, please see my detailed special report on cholesterol.