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Let me introduce myself. My name is Mark Sisson. I’m 63 years young. I live and work in Malibu, California. In a past life I was a professional marathoner and triathlete. Now my life goal is to help 100 million people get healthy. I started this blog in 2006 to empower people to take full responsibility for their own health and enjoyment of life by investigating, discussing, and critically rethinking everything we’ve assumed to be true about health and wellness...

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November 10, 2008

Statin Insanity

By Mark Sisson
41 Comments

Don’t know whether to laugh or cry (I have already screamed), but the headline in today’s LA Times and in many major papers across the country seemed like a paid advertisement for Big Pharma.

“A New Front on Heart Disease: Stain drugs can cut cardiac and stroke risks in people with normal cholesterol levels, researchers say.”  Wow! As I predict Dr. Michael Eades will say, “Jesus wept.”  As I say, “here we go again digging a hole to place the ladder in so you can wash the basement windows.”

The message in the newspaper, extrapolated from conclusions reached by the researchers, suggests that even healthy people (like you and me) with low or normal cholesterol levels can reduce their risk of heart attacks and strokes by taking rosuvastatin (aka Crestor). Of course, the study was funded by AztraZaneca, maker of Crestor. Grok wept.

Many of my fellow health bloggers will be writing about this study in the coming days. Some of those very smart people will explain this far more eloquently than me, but I would bet they all will agree that the headlines from this study are dangerous, ill-thought and possibly paradigm-shifting in the wrong direction.

In essence, the study looked at people who had relatively low cholesterol (and specifically low LDL) but high C-reactive Protein. CRP is a marker of arterial inflammation, which I have always maintained is a far greater “cause” of heart disease than cholesterol levels. (Oh, by the way, did I mention that the lead investigator in this study owns a patent on the test for CRP). Of note, the median age of this group was 66, more than half were overweight according to BMI charts and 41 percent had metabolic syndrome. The study found after two years that there were fewer cardiac and stroke “incidents” in the group taking rosuvastatin than in the placebo group. Fair enough, I guess. But in terms of serious cardiac and stroke events, the reduction went from 1.7 percent in the placebo population to .9 percent in the statin group – a total reduction of .8 percent (zero point eight percent). And as Merril Goozner says, the difference between both of these fairly old and not-too-healthy groups in all the serious adverse events of any type reported (including all cardiovascular events) was almost exactly equal, so “giving statins to people with elevated CRP did nothing to improve this population’s overall health.” Meanwhile, Here’s what spacedoc has to say about the dangerous side-effects of Crestor:

Cognitive, muscle and nerve problems, due to the inevitable impairment of glial cell cholesterol synthesis and mevalonate blockade are only part of the problem. The Crestor side effect potential, that it shares with all other statins, is far more basic than this. Now we have learned that mitochondria are an inevitable target of statins. Because of inhibition of CoQ10 availability with its powerful anti-oxidant effect, mitochondria are left fully exposed to the mutagenic effect of free radicals. The resulting mutations of mitochondria are what is causing the legions of permanent, disabling side effects.

Sweet.

If anything, this study is just another bit of proof that total cholesterol and even total LDL are not the proximate cause of heart disease. Oxidation and resulting inflammation are. Furthermore, it suggests that reducing inflammation has a far greater benefit than reducing LDL cholesterol. I agree. So why won’t the medical establishment acknowledge this? The bigger question is: why would any doctor agree to prescribe a dangerous, expensive statin to the general public to save a few more lives by reducing inflammation (NOT by reducing cholesterol), when this could be far more easily and more significantly achieved (at far less cost, with far fewer side effects and with far greater effectiveness) with Omega 3-rich oils (I herein disclaim that I sell fish oil) and a few simple dietary adjustments like cutting back on grains and trans fats?

The fact that the media has bought into this hype again reminds me to remind you that all health decisions are best left to the expert – in this case, it’s YOU. You know what to do.

Further Reading:

The Beginning of the End? – Statins for Children

The Definitive Guide to Cholesterol

Flame Thrower: Top 10 Natural Ways to Reduce Inflammation

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41 Comments on "Statin Insanity"

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Son of Grok
Son of Grok
7 years 10 months ago
Doctor to me one year ago – “Your lipid profile is a mess. Try to eat better and get some excercise. If you don’t improve over the next year we can look at statins.” My grandfather to me recently – “Lipitor is great. I am on it and your uncle (who is a leading oncologist!) put himself on it strictly as a preventative measure.” Me to all of them – “Forget your statins! I don’t need them!” And so I went primal… and now I truly don’t need them. Doctor agrees. But anyways, according to this study I should take… Read more »
Will
Will
7 years 10 months ago

Ironically, (chinese water) snake oil is rich in EPA, and would probably be more effective at preventing death than statins.

Andrew R
7 years 10 months ago
Mark, First off, I totally agree with you about the whole statins issue. It’s just another example of big pharma trying to exaggerate a situation while offering people a short cut (that doesn’t even do much) for the price of a pill when all they need to do is tweak the diet. Why is it happening? Because people WANT it to happen. People want these shortcuts cause they’re lazy, go figure… I still love them nonetheless. Now onto my topic/question. You mentioned that in the study, “…more than half were overweight according to BMI charts…” How much stock do you… Read more »
Ryan P.
Ryan P.
1 year 8 months ago

I personally see BMI as a decent guideline, but it’s not the be all, end all of health indicators. An elevated (or too low) BMI might indicate other detrimental health issues, but merely having an abnormal BMI isn’t an absolute detriment in and of itself

wamylove
7 years 10 months ago

Thanks so much. This is just insane, and I even got an email about it from a friend yesterday morning. He would not listen to my response about the bias in the “study.”

Dr. J
7 years 10 months ago

Once at the hospital, I saw a pharmacy student wearing a T-Shirt that read, “Drugs are my Life!”

Seems a lot more people than pharmacy students are wearing them now 🙁

Jen
Jen
7 years 10 months ago
I saw a report on the study this morning and almost blew my coffee out my nose. I don’t understand how the public (and the gov’t and private insurance companies who end up paying in part for these ridiculous prescriptions) doesn’t scrutinize this stuff. As someone whose family’s health insurance premiums skyrocketed this past year, it really infuriates me that studies like this get so much positive press and that seemingly every doctor thinks nothing of handing these pills out like candy. I’m all for paying into the system to make sure everyone is taken care of (including me), but… Read more »
RonD
RonD
7 years 10 months ago

And last week the Feds lowered the bar for exercise. Now let’s have a Crestor with our One A Day. I’m a fish oil guy, and also take a systemic enzyme both anti-inflammatories. So no thanks.

Donna
Donna
7 years 10 months ago
Some people just choose to believe any and everything their Dr. tells them they need to take this pill and that pill. I know some people that have paid the price because they just pick up their written out prescription, “never” read the side effects. They feel bad from the side effects, then go back to the Dr. then he gives them more pills for the side effects, etc. I have a good friend that her husband is a M.D. and he was “taught” at Med School to write prescriptions. The pharmaceutical companies love this, it goes hand in hand.… Read more »
Son of Grok
Son of Grok
7 years 10 months ago

Classic treat the symptom and not the problem mentality.

Mark Sisson
Mark Sisson
7 years 10 months ago
Andrew, I’m not a big fan of BMI. It becomes truly distorted among younger people with good muscle mass. In this study, with average age of 66 and a tendency toward metabolic syndrome anyway, I’d defer to the BMI as a slightly more accurate predicter of overfat (rather than well-muscled). Dr.J, it’s a sad commentary when those shirts – even if worn in jest – say out loud what the doc’s subconscious believes. One of my life goals is to find a way to allow physicians to find the time (and be compensated) to educate rather than medicate. The danger… Read more »
Chad
Chad
7 years 10 months ago
Had a cholesterol test back in July and my Total was 217, HDL – 50, LDL – 153, and Tri – 71. My doctor was concerned but now that I look further at the test my C-RP was 0.14 and my homocysteine was 8.3. I’m guessing that’s pretty low for C-RP. I’ve been doing IF and Zone/semi-Paleo for the past six weeks and had another taken on his advice two weeks ago. I guess my total went up to 229 but now I’m waiting to get the actual paperwork and look at the C-RP number. He wants me to see… Read more »
Andrew R
7 years 10 months ago

Hey Mark,

I figured that was your stance on it, I was just double checking.

Thanks!

All the Best,

Andrew R

SB
SB
7 years 10 months ago

Any CRP value less than 0.5 ml/L is in the noise of the measurement.

DaveC - DaveGetsFit
7 years 10 months ago

Dr. Eades has put up a great post on this–what a crock! I was watching the Leher Newshour on PBS and they had one M.D. who was gushing over the result but at least they balanced that with another who was saying “not so fast.”

Andrew R
7 years 10 months ago

Hey DaveC,

Can’t believe I missed it. You should throw up a link to it.

Thanks bud,

Andrew R

Donna
Donna
7 years 10 months ago

DaveC,
I watch PBS Leher Newshour almost every night, i missed it too. I’m such a sportsfan i must of changed the channel to Ice Hockey or ESPN. Wish i would saw that!

DaveC
7 years 10 months ago

Here’s the link to the Eades post:

http://www.proteinpower.com/drmike/cardiovascular-disease/1853/

Donna: The funny thing is that I normally NEVER watch it but just happen to surf to it that day. The doctor with the somewhat dissenting view stated that all other remedies (like diet and exercise) should be tried before putting anyone on lifelong medication. What a concept!!!

Andrew R
7 years 10 months ago

Thanks for the link DaveC

All the Best,

Andrew R

Donna
Donna
7 years 10 months ago

DaveC,
Appreciate the link,thanks!
I watch it often, i like to hear different controversy’s they get into.

Dr. J
7 years 10 months ago

Just to be clear , Mark. Those were pharmacy students wearing that shirt. Not doctors, not even a pharmacist, just a college student studying pharmacy.

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Danielle Thalman
Danielle Thalman
7 years 10 months ago
Like Son of Grok, I had high cholesterol and my doc was threatening statins. I ate so many crackers with bad oils in those days! But the doc said, it’s just in your genetics, you can’t change it. Flash forward a couple years and I’m eating wheat/dairy free due to digestive intolerance…lotsa red meat and eggs. And I get these GREAT cholesterol test results. “I wish I had THOSE numbers,” my doc says. So I start to tell him about the diet changes, all the almonds and olive oil, and he cuts me off and says “It’s just your genetics,… Read more »
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Victor
Victor
6 years 9 months ago
I went off Lipitor nearly 2 years ago (I am 69 in December) and had almost instant improvement in memory and other side effects. I now have 30ml of cod liver oil daily for heart health. My cholesterol did increase initially but is now on the way down. I have also started 1 teaspoon of turmeric daily and, while I can’t prove it, it appears that that may be helping to lower my cholesterol. 2 years ago I also: threw away the margarine and went back to butter; stopped using ‘skin free’ chicken and started to cook in fat rather… Read more »
Chadwick
6 years 9 months ago

Here it is folks. And the angels wept…

Incidence of High Cholesterol Drops in US

‘As for the cause of the overall [LDL cholesterol] reduction, ‘we don’t know why, we can only speculate,’ Kuklina said. It could be changes in lifestyle, such as better diet, or it could be more widespread use of cholesterol-lowering medications such as statins, she said.

‘But we still have many people we could put on statins,’ Kuklina noted.

http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/news/fullstory_91963.html

Carl Browne
Carl Browne
6 years 3 months ago
I disagree. The body of scientific literature suggesting that statins are wonder drugs continues to grow. If anything, they’re both safer and more effective than anybody thought, and may even be a preventative for Alzheimer’s. The incidence of heart disease in the deveoped world is declining. So much so that cancer has replaced heart disease as America’s number one killer. Statins may be the reason. Having said that, it is ALWAYS better to put yourself in a position where you don’t need medication, and diet and exercise are the way to go. I would guess that 95% of everyone who… Read more »
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Betterways
Betterways
4 years 7 months ago
My active 73-year-old mother is prone to strokes and currently in the hospital rehabbing from her most recent. And I just discovered they put her on a statin. In arguing with the doctor about it, she said that ‘the studies’ find it is the best way to stop the inflammation. She’s going to give me more ‘information’ on that. She did at least agree to add CoQ10 to her supplements. That’s the only concession she made to the badness of statins. My mother does have a lot of inflammation. She was taking prednisone for polymyalgia rheumatica. She’s often been tested… Read more »
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