By Dr. Mercola
The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF), a federal advisory board, has issued a draft recommendation that certain healthy adults should start taking statin cholesterol-lowering drugs as a form of preventive medicine.
Their guidelines suggest people between the ages of 40 and 75 with at least one risk factor for heart disease and a 10 percent or greater risk of heart attack or stroke in the next 10 years should take statins.
This advice applies to people who have not had a previous heart attack or stroke,1 and follows similar 2013 recommendations made by the American Heart Association (AHA) and American College of Cardiology (ACC).
Middle-Age Adults Without Heart Disease May Soon Be Offered Statins
Cholesterol-lowering statin drugs are already among the most widely prescribed drugs on the market, with 1 in 4 Americans over 45 taking them.
This already inflated number is set to increase significantly, however, courtesy of controversial revised cholesterol-treatment guidelines issued by AHA and ACC in 2013 — and now further endorsed by the USPSTF.
The guideline report was prepared by a panel of "experts" who volunteered their time, and is ostensibly based on an analysis of randomized controlled trials.
Not surprisingly, the panel members are affiliated with more than 50 different drug companies, many of which have a financial interest in the outcome of this report.
As for what risk factors necessitate statin drug treatment, it's based on the following criteria:
Age Gender Race Total cholesterol and HDL cholesterol Blood pressure Diabetes (yes or no) Smoker (yes or no) Treated for high blood pressure (yes or no)
The USPSTF recommended treatment for those with a 10 percent or greater risk of heart problems in the next 10 years (based on the 2013 AHA-ACC online calculator2). The original ACC/AHA guidelines suggested treatment if your risk came back at greater than 7.5 percent.
Using those guidelines, the number of U.S. adults aged 40 to 75 eligible for statin therapy would increase from 43.2 million to 56 million, with most of the increase occurring among adults without heart disease. This equates to nearly half of the U.S. population between the ages of 40 and 75.3
The Proposed Risk Factors May Lead to 'Overzealous Prescribing'
According to Dr. Stephen Sinatra, who wrote an in-depth article exposing the potential flaws with the new guidelines,4 the 10-year heart attack risk calculation has been "programmed" in such a way as to make patients out of virtually everyone.
Besides that, Dr. Sinatra pointed out that the complexity of estimating risk based on age, race, blood pressure, smoking habits and other criteria, as the calculator claims to do, is quite likely to lead to overzealous prescribing and in some cases may make patients' health worse.
For instance, one "risk factor" is having diabetes. However, statin drugs are known to increase the risk of diabetes. Giving a drug that causes diabetes to someone who already has diabetes is nonsensical and will likely only make matters worse.
What's more, data indicate that statins can cause arterial calcification in diabetic men who take the drug. They can also cause cataracts, which is a common problem in diabetics. The drug may therefore increase this risk.
Dr. Sinatra summed it up well with the notion that statin drugs should not, in any way, be viewed as a form of prevention.
" … [R]emember that there's no data to suggest statin medications will improve longevity even in people with cardiovascular disease — so I would never recommend using statins as primary prevention.
Every patient is different, and prescribing a drug with an enormous side-effect profile based on an algorithm concept is, frankly, poor medicine. Doctors need to treat individuals with smart medicine — not guidelines, numbers and unproven myths and dogma." 5
Statin Use Quadruples Among the Elderly
The USPSTF panel concluded there is insufficient evidence to recommend statins for people aged 75 and over with no history of heart attack or stroke.
Despite the lack of research in this population about whether any potential benefits of statin therapy outweigh the risk of side effects, use among people aged 80 and over with no history of heart problems quadrupled between 1999 and 2012.6
"Ohio State's Dr. Michael Johansen, a co-author of the recent statins study, suggests doctors be more cautious about which elderly patients take them for prevention in the absence of more hard data.
Muscle pains that some seniors on statins complain of might be so severe as to cause a fall, which could lead to life-threatening injuries, he suggested. 'We just don't know,' he said."
Statins May Make Flu Vaccine Less Effective
When society begins to put its hopes into synthetic drugs for disease prevention, any number of unintended consequences can occur.
In the case of statins, for instance, it turns out they may actually weaken the effect of the flu vaccine (another controversial drug being hoisted upon Americans as a virtual miracle for disease prevention).
In those over 65 who received a flu vaccine, researchers found antibody concentrations were between 38 percent and 67 percent lower than those in people not taking statins.9 Among younger individuals a weakened response was also seen.
Those who received a flu shot and were taking statins were 11 percent more likely to develop a respiratory illness that required medical attention compared to those not taking the drugs.10
It's thought that statins' anti-inflammatory properties may be responsible for lowering the immune system's response to the vaccine.
Ironically, this could be one reason why the flu vaccine appears particularly ineffective among the elderly. The Lancet even concluded, "Evidence for protection in adults aged 65 years or older is lacking."11
Statins Likely Make You Age Faster
You may want to "think again" if you're considering statins for preventive therapy, according to stem cell biologist Professor Reza Izadpanah. In a recent study by Izadpanah and colleagues, it was revealed that statins have a negative effect on mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs).12
The study revealed that statins work by preventing stem cells from turning into macrophages (a type of white blood cell), but at the same time prevent stem cells from turning into new body cells. In addition to preventing stem cells from generating new bone and cartilage, statins also inhibited the stem cells from reproducing and replicating other cells to carry out repairs.13
"Our study shows statins may speed up the ageing process … People who use statins as a preventative medicine for heath should think again as our research shows they may have general unwanted effects on the body which could include muscle pain, nerve problems and joint problems.
… [C]onsidering the adverse effects of these drugs and their association with so many side effects, it is crucial people are fully aware of the risks before they take the treatment."
Stephanie Seneff, a senior research scientist at MIT, has also discussed statins' potential to cause premature aging. Premature aging is a side effect of statin drugs, and it's also a primary side effect of having too little CoQ10. Statins deplete your body of CoQ10, and deficiency in this nutrient also accelerates DNA damage. Because CoQ10 is beneficial to heart health and muscle function this depletion leads to fatigue, muscle weakness, soreness and even heart failure.
In my view, it is medical malpractice to prescribe a statin drug without recommending one take CoQ10, or better yet ubiquinol. Unfortunately, many doctors fail to inform their patients of this fact.
Additionally, statins lower cholesterol in your liver by inhibiting the enzyme that produces cholesterol (HMG coenzyme A reductase). Unfortunately this is the same enzyme that produces CoQ10, which is why supplementation is imperative when on statins. However, this enzyme also is responsible for producing ketones which are crucial nutrients to feed your mitochondria.
Ketones are also vitally important biological signaling molecules. Unlike CoQ10, you can't supplement ketones, which is another powerful reason why I believe statins should be avoided by virtually everyone.
Increased Media Coverage of Statin Side Effects Causes People to Drop Their Prescriptions
A study by Danish researchers revealed that people are more likely to discontinue statin treatment within the first six months if negative statin-related news stories were running at the time.15
The researchers posed this finding as though it were a bad thing, but in reality it's a sign that people are becoming more cautious about the drugs they're putting into their bodies. Caution is warranted, especially with statins. For instance, research has linked them to the following side effects:
- Inhibition of vitamin K2 synthesis: Statin drugs inhibit the function of vitamin K2 in your body, which means taking them may put you at risk of vitamin K2 deficiency, a condition known to contribute to a number of chronic diseases, including:
Osteoporosis Heart disease Heart attack and stroke Inappropriate calcification, from heel spurs to kidney stones Brain disease Cancer
- Mitochondria damage: Statins are toxic to the energy centers of your cells, called mitochondria. They impair heart muscle mitochondria function, disrupt ATP production (adenosine triphosphate, the energy molecules of your body), and alter intracellular signaling proteins.16
- Interfere with selenium-containing proteins: Selenoproteins such as glutathione peroxidase are crucial for preventing oxidative damage in your muscle tissue.17
- Increased risk of diabetes: A 2010 meta-analysis of 13 statin trials, consisting of 91,140 participants, found that statin therapy was associated with a 9 percent increased risk for incident diabetes.18 Here, the number needed to harm was 255 over four years, meaning for every 255 people on the drug, one developed diabetes as a result of the drug in that period of time.
- Additional risks: Cancer, cataracts, cognitive impairment and musculoskeletal disorders have also been reported.
If You Take Statins, Be Sure You Also Take Vitamin K2 and CoQ10
If you decide to take a statin, a vitamin K2 supplement is highly recommended. MK-7 is the form you'll want to look for in supplements; it's extracted from the Japanese fermented soy product called natto. Professor Cees Vermeer, one of the world's top vitamin K2 researchers, recommends between 45 mcg and 185 mcg daily for adults.
You must use caution on the higher doses if you take anticoagulants, but if you are generally healthy and not on these types of medications, I suggest 150 mcg daily. You'll also need to make sure you take CoQ10 or Ubiquinol (the reduced form) with it.
As mentioned, most are not told they need to take coenzyme Q10 to buffer against some of the most devastating side effects of statin drugs. As previously explained by Dr. Stephen Sinatra, a board-certified cardiologist, statins block not just cholesterol production pathways, but several other biochemical pathways as well, including CoQ10.
The depletion of CoQ10 caused by the drug is why statins can increase your risk of acute heart failure as well. Dr. Sinatra recommends taking at least 100 milligrams (mg), but preferably 200 mg of high-quality CoQ10 or Ubiquinol daily. One study in the European Journal of Pharmacology showed that ubiquinol effectively rescued cells from the damage caused by the statin drug simvastatin, thereby protecting muscle cells from myopathies.19
Another study evaluated the benefits of CoQ10 and selenium supplementation for patients with statin-associated myopathy.20 Compared to those given a placebo, the treatment group experienced significantly less pain, decreased muscle weakness and cramps, and less fatigue.
How to Protect Your Heart Health
Are you looking for a non-drug way to boost your heart health? Here are some of my top recommendations:
- Reduce, with the plan of eliminating, grains and sugars in your diet. It is vitally important to eliminate gluten-containing grains and sugars, especially fructose.
- Consume a good portion of your food raw.
- Make sure you are getting plenty of high-quality, animal-based omega-3 fats, such as krill oil. Research suggests that as little as 500 mg of krill per day may improve your total cholesterol and triglycerides and will likely increase your HDL cholesterol.
- Replace harmful vegetable oils and synthetic trans fats with healthy fats, such as olive oil, butter and coconut oil (remember olive oil should be used cold only, use coconut oil for cooking and baking).
- Include fermented foods in your daily diet. This will not only optimize your intestinal microflora, which will boost your overall immunity, it will also introduce beneficial bacteria into your mouth. Poor oral health is another powerful indicator of increased heart disease risk.
- Optimize your vitamin D levels, ideally through appropriate sun exposure as this will allow your body to also create vitamin D sulfate — another factor that may play a crucial role in preventing the formation of arterial plaque.
- Exercise regularly. Make sure you incorporate high-intensity interval exercises, which also optimize your human growth hormone (HGH) production.
- Avoid smoking or drinking alcohol excessively.
- Be sure to get plenty of high-quality, restorative sleep.
- Practice regular stress-management techniques.