By Dr. Mercola
One in four Americans over the age of 45 now takes cholesterol-lowering drugs known as statins, typically for the primary prevention of heart attacks and strokes.
Not only is their benefit for preventing heart disease highly questionable, but these drugs come with an avalanche of potential side effects, so much so that new research showed a staggering number of patients stop taking them entirely.
Half of Those Taking Statins Quit
A recent study of more than 100,000 people who'd been prescribed statins from 2000 to 2008 found that 17 percent of patients reported side effects such as muscle pain, nausea, and liver and nervous system problems.1
Two-thirds of those who reported side effects quit taking the drugs, and, the study found, half of those prescribed statins quit taking them at least temporarily, while 20 percent quit for more than a year.
The researchers noted that many of the side effects are "tolerable" or specific to only one statin, not the entire class, suggesting that people can remain on the drugs or switch to a different statin if problems arise. But the truth is that many statin side effects are quite serious.
Oftentimes statins do not have any immediate side effects, and they are quite effective at lowering cholesterol levels by 50 points or more (which may not actually have any impact on your heart disease risk). This makes it appear as though they're benefiting your health, and health problems that develop later on are frequently misinterpreted as new and unrelated health problems.
Diabetes, Fatal Kidney Damage and Other Possible Statin Side Effects
With well over 30 million Americans now taking statin drugs, we're witnessing a massive ongoing 'live' experiment, and many are putting their health on the line for drugs that offer little in the way of heart protection. Just last year, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced it would be requiring additional warning labels for statin drugs. Among them are warnings that statins may increase your risk of:
- Liver damage
- Memory loss and confusion
- Type 2 diabetes
- Muscle weakness (for certain statins)
Statins have also been shown to increase your risk of diabetes via a number of different mechanisms. The most important one is that they increase insulin resistance, which can be extremely harmful to your health.
Increased insulin resistance contributes to chronic inflammation in your body, and inflammation is the hallmark of most diseases, including heart disease, which, ironically, is the primary reason for taking a cholesterol-reducing drug in the first place. It can also promote belly fat, high blood pressure, heart attacks, chronic fatigue, thyroid disruption, and diseases like Parkinson's, Alzheimer's and cancer.
Earlier this year new research also found that taking higher doses of the statins simvastatin (Zocor), atorvastatin (Lipitor) or rosuvastatin (Crestor) increases your risk of acute kidney injury by 34 percent, a condition that can be fatal.2 Some experts are now urging that people on statins have an assessment of their kidney risks, similar to what used to be recommended regarding liver function.
Due to statins' potential to increase liver enzymes and cause liver damage, it used to be recommended that patients be monitored for normal liver function.
The FDA removed this long-standing warning in 2012 and ruled that patients taking statins no longer need routine monitoring of liver enzymes, but instead can have liver enzymes tested before starting the drugs, and then only as clinically needed, which seems reprehensibly irresponsible. In all, statin drugs have been directly linked to over 300 side effects,3 which include:
Cognitive loss Neuropathy Anemia Acidosis Frequent fevers Cataracts Sexual dysfunction An increase in cancer risk Pancreatic dysfunction Immune system suppression Muscle problems, polyneuropathy (nerve damage in the hands and feet), and rhabdomyolysis, a serious degenerative muscle tissue condition Hepatic dysfunction. (Due to the potential increase in liver enzymes, patients must be monitored for normal liver function)
Statins Might Make Your Heart Health Worse
The biggest "sham" of all is that statin drugs, which millions are taking as a form of "preventive medicine" to protect their heart health, can have detrimental effects on your heart. Take a study in the journal Atherosclerosis,4 which showed that statin use is associated with a 52 percent increased prevalence and extent of calcified coronary plaque compared to non-users. Coronary artery calcification is the hallmark of potentially lethal heart disease!
One of the primary mechanisms of harm appears to be CoQ10 depletion. If you take statin drugs without supplementing with CoQ10 (or ideally, the reduced form, called ubiquinol, which is far more effective), your health is at serious risk. CoQ10 is used by every cell in your body, but especially your heart cells. Cardiac muscle cells have up to 200 times more mitochondria, and hence 200 times higher CoQ10 requirements, than skeletal muscle.
Premature aging is yet another side effect of statin drugs, and it's also a primary side effect of having too little CoQ10. Deficiency in this nutrient also accelerates DNA damage, and because CoQ10 is beneficial to heart health and muscle function this depletion leads to fatigue, muscle weakness, soreness and heart failure.
Measure Your LDL Particle Number, Not Total Cholesterol, to Gauge Heart Disease Risk
Could it be that all of this focus on lowering cholesterol levels has missed the boat entirely? Certainly, because cholesterol is NOT the cause of heart disease. Your body NEEDS cholesterol -- it is important in the production of cell membranes, hormones, vitamin D and bile acids that help you to digest fat. Cholesterol also helps your brain form memories and is vital to your neurological function.
If your physician is urging you to check your total cholesterol, know that this test will tell you virtually nothing about your risk of heart disease, unless it is 330 or higher. One of the most important tests you can get to determine your real heart disease risk is the NMR LipoProfile, which measures your LDL particle number. This test also has other markers that can help determine if you have insulin resistance, which is a primary cause of elevated LDL particle number and increased heart disease risk.
The NMR LipoProfile test easy to get and all major labs offer it, including LabCorp and Quest. Most insurance policies cover the test as well. Best of all, even if your doctor were to refuse to order it, you can order it yourself via third-party intermediaries like Direct Labs, or you can order the test online, and get blood drawn locally. Two other ratios you should pay attention to:
- HDL/Total Cholesterol Ratio: Should ideally be above 24 percent. If below 10 percent, you have a significantly elevated risk for heart disease.
- Triglyceride/HDL Ratio: Should be below 2.
Four Additional Risk Factors for Heart Disease
You'll notice that none of these involve your cholesterol levels …
- Your fasting insulin level: Any meal or snack high in carbohydrates like fructose and refined grains generates a rapid rise in blood glucose and then insulin to compensate for the rise in blood sugar. The insulin released from eating too many carbs promotes fat and makes it more difficult for your body to shed excess weight, and excess fat, particularly around your belly, this is one of the major contributors to heart disease.
Your fasting insulin level can be determined by a simple, inexpensive blood test. A normal fasting blood insulin level is below 5, but ideally you'll want it below 3. If your insulin level is higher than 3 to 5, the most effective way to optimize it is to reduce or eliminate all forms of dietary sugar, particularly fructose, from your diet.
- Your fasting blood sugar level: Studies have shown that people with a fasting blood sugar level of 100-125 mg/dl had a nearly 300 percent higher risk of having coronary heart disease than people with a level below 79 mg/dl.
- Your waist circumference: Visceral fat, the type of fat that collects around your internal organs, is a well-recognized risk factor for heart disease. The simplest way to evaluate your risk here is by simply measuring your waist circumference. For further instructions, please see my previous article, Your Waist Size Can Be a Powerful Predictor of Hypertension and Other Chronic Diseases.
- Your iron level: Iron can be a very potent cause of oxidative stress, so if you have excess iron levels you can damage your blood vessels and increase your risk of heart disease. Ideally, you should monitor your ferritin levels and make sure they are not much above 80 ng/ml. The simplest way to lower them if they are elevated is to donate your blood. If that is not possible you can have a therapeutic phlebotomy and that will effectively eliminate the excess iron from your body.
Diet Can Reduce Your Risk of Heart Attacks Better Than Statins
According to Dr. Barbara Roberts, author of The Truth About Statins, studies haven't shown that statins are beneficial for women who do not have heart disease, even if they have risk factors like obesity or family history.5 Yet, a recent study found heart attacks were reduced by 30 percent among people eating a Mediterranean diet!6
The healthy eating proved to be just as beneficial, if not more so, than statin drugs claim to be. While I don't recommend a Mediterranean diet, per se, a healthy diet, like the one described in my nutrition plan, is the cornerstone of any heart-protection "plan." If you want to protect your heart health, I recommend reducing, with the plan of eliminating, grains and sugars (including fructose) in your diet, replacing them with mostly whole, fresh vegetable carbs and healthy fats. Also try to consume a good portion of your food raw. Examples of healthy fats include:
Olives and olive oil Coconut and coconut oil Organic raw dairy products Avocados Raw organic nuts Seeds Pastured eggs (raw, or lightly cooked with yolks intact) Organic, grass-fed meats
To round out your heart-disease prevention program:
- Make sure you are getting enough high-quality, animal-based omega 3 fats, such as krill oil.
- Optimize your vitamin D levels, ideally through appropriate sun exposure as this will allow your body to also create vitamin D sulfate, which may play a crucial role in preventing the formation of arterial plaque
- Exercise daily, especially with Peak Fitness exercises
- Avoid smoking or drinking alcohol excessively
- Be sure to get plenty of good, restorative sleep
Are You Taking a Statin Drug for No Reason?
That these drugs have proliferated the market the way they have is a testimony to the effectiveness of direct-to-consumer marketing, corruption and corporate greed, because the odds are very high — greater than 1000 to 1 — that if you're taking a statin, you don't really need it.
From my review, the ONLY subgroup that might benefit are those born with a genetic defect called familial hypercholesterolemia, as this makes them resistant to traditional measures of normalizing cholesterol.
If you're currently taking a statin drug and are worried about the excessive side effects they cause, please consult with a knowledgeable health care practitioner who can help you to optimize your heart health naturally, without the use of these dangerous drugs.