Last week, I told you about a study that found a strong link between cholesterol-lowering statin drugs and a serious, irreversible heart condition called “idiopathic inflammatory myositis.” This condition features chronic inflammation of the heart muscle and the surrounding vessels.
And now, another recent study has found that statins significantly increase the progression of calcification in the coronary arteries that supply your heart muscle with blood. Here again, statins demonstrate that their risk is higher than their reward.
Yet, amazingly, the study’s researchers made it sound like coronary artery calcification is no big deal — and somehow even beneficial!
What you need to know about heart conditions
In Pathology 101, all first-year medical students learn that atherosclerosis refers to the narrowing of your arteries, including the coronary arteries that supply the heart. It involves damage to blood vessels from high blood pressure. In response, the body attempts to repair — or patch — the damage with soft, atheromatous plaque (scars).
(It’s important to note that your body uses cholesterol in the repair process. So, blaming cholesterol for heart disease is like blaming the EMTs, after they respond to the scene, for causing the accident!)
As the atherosclerosis progresses, the soft plaques inside your narrowed blood vessels harden and calcify. We call this stage arteriosclerosis, which means “hardening of the arteries.”
As you might suspect, both atherosclerosis and arteriosclerosis can cause narrowing of the arteries that supply blood to the heart, impairing flow and causing “angina pectoris,” or chest pain.
Eventually, blood flow can become completely cut off by continued narrowing, or by a blood clot that forms in the narrowed, calcified coronary artery, causing “myocardial infarction,” or what is better known as a heart attack.
Pathologically, cardiovascular disease is defined as having atherosclerotic and arteriosclerotic findings. Which includes calcification…
So, the fact that statins increase calcification of coronary arteries is a monumental red flag. And it essentially means that statins cause or worsen heart disease — which can lead to a deadly heart attack.
Let’s take a closer look at how researchers spun this bad news in their new study…
Researchers brush off findings of heart disease
The new study included 3,483 participants with an average age of 59. About half the participants were men and half were women.
None of the patients had clinically evident symptoms of coronary heart disease at the study’s outset — regarding narrowing of the coronary arteries, and/or calcified plaque.
Yet at the beginning of the study, 230 of them (nearly 7 percent) were taking statin drugs.
And the results were shocking.
Those who took statins had a 39 percent greater progression in calcification of the coronary arteries compared to those not taking a statin.
The researchers then said that despite the apparent progression in disease, the patients taking statins did not have increased risk for coronary events — like heart attack or death.
But that claim is a complete joke!
Remember — the study only included healthy patients who didn’t have clinical heart disease symptoms to begin with. And they only followed these patients for five years. So, I’m not surprised they didn’t have any coronary events during that period…
Mainly because coronary events like heart attack and death typically happen in the later stages of heart disease (which typically takes more than five years to develop; more like nearly a lifetime in most).
Plus, the findings that are usually present in the first five years of heart disease — like hardening of the arteries — did happen in the statin patients.
Snap-shot studies don’t give a complete story
I see this sleight of hand in many statin studies. They simply end the study before we can see all the problems associated with taking the drugs!
The researchers also suggested that statin use “stabilizes” the atheromatous plaque by increasing calcification, or hardening, of the plaque.
How does that work?
As I said in the beginning, we define arteriosclerotic heart disease as calcification, or hardening, of the arteries.
But apparently, when statins cause it, they called it “stabilizing” the disease. That makes it sound like a good thing!
Furthermore, because statins artificially lower cholesterol, it looks like the body can’t produce more soft plaque for repair, and instead, it tries to repair the damage with hard calcification. But eventually, that leads to narrowing of the artery — and even cardiac events.
But, you’d never know that from this study because the researchers didn’t follow patients long enough!
All in all, this study is very troubling on several levels. It looked at the wrong things, in the wrong population, for the wrong amount of time. And made findings about heart disease that should be damning to statins sound completely normal — or even beneficial.
So, now — apparently — cardiologists can ignore the pathological warning signs of worsening heart disease, just as long as they can keep giving statins.
If you believe that one, I have a bridge to sell you in Brooklyn….
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“Statin Medication Enhances Progression of Coronary Artery Calcification,” Journal of the American College of Cardiology, November 2016; 68(19) 2123-2125