Doctors voice growing doubts about blockbuster statin drugs

You could say big pharma “owns” the “cardiology market.” In fact, the statin drug Lipitor is the most commercially successful drug in history. Between 1996 and 2011, it had sales exceeding $120 billion.

Of course, in November 2013, the American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association issued new statin drug guidelines. They now recommend statin drug treatment for anyone who has more than a 7.5 percent risk of suffering a heart attack or stroke over the next decade. Eventually, that could mean just about everyone.

Over the short-term, these new guidelines could trap up to 45 million more Americans in the statin web. (And potentially one billion people worldwide.) It also means total sales for this one drug could approach one trillion dollars by the year 2020. That number exceeds the annual gross domestic product of most nations in the world. (And it would almost eliminate the U.S. government’s annual budget deficits under Obama.)

The statin industry also pushes doctors to lower the cut-off for cholesterol measurements that “require” treatment to ridiculously low levels. That way, every greater numbers of adults “qualify” for statin treatment.

It may appear they want to give doctors a “choice.” But the only real choice they want to leave physicians and their unsuspecting patients is whether to get high-, moderate-, or low-intensity statin drug therapy.

Last year, I predicted the government-industrial-medical complex had finally gone too far in their new statin drug recommendations. I said these outrageous new guidelines would finally prompt a long overdue critical discussion among doctors about the use and abuse of these toxic drugs.

And, indeed, that’s exactly what has happened.

In fact, I recently came across a great article called the “Growing Doubt on Statin Drugs,” in Medscape. The article itself, along with comments posted from concerned doctors, went on for many pages.

I often reference Medscape. It’s an important, accessible source of timely and credible information for health professionals. My colleague and friend Dr. George Lundberg actually founded it about 10 years ago after he stepped down from serving as editor of the Journal of American Medical Association for 20 years. Dr. Lundberg provides the Foreword for my medical textbook on natural medicine for health professionals. He also keeps a watchful eye on the Daily Dispatch. And I greatly appreciate hearing from him regularly about his concerns.

The recent discussion on Medscape included a comment by one primary care physician who said he cured his patient of joint and muscle pain simply by stopping her statin drug. He said he had no qualms about doing so because he could find no actual data supporting any benefit for these drugs in preventing heart disease.

His clinical experience generated more than 600 responses (and counting) from other health professionals–a majority of whom agreed with him.

I’m pleased to see so many doctors looking closely at the actual science about statins, given the problems the drugs cause in so many of their patients, without any apparent benefit for the vast majority of them.

In the Medscape article, these doctors raised three main areas of concern.

First, they questioned the use of any statin in women. You see, all the initial studies that supposedly showed statin drug benefits on cholesterol only included men. The researchers simply assumed women would respond in the same way. So they extrapolated the results and applied them to women. But as I explained last week, there are great differences between men and women biologically and hormonally. Cholesterol provides the biochemical foundation for hormones. And women do not always respond to drugs in the same way as men.

Second, the doctors on Medscape questioned the use of statins in anyone 70 to 90 years old. One expert in geriatric medicine commented he could not find one piece of reliable data for the benefit of statin use in the elderly. On the other hand, plenty of evidence shows lack of benefit.

In fact, last year, researchers conducted a review of eight clinical trials on 24,674 patients ages 65 years or older. They found that men and women who took statins did not lower their risk of cardiovascular death. Nor did they lower their overall death rates. In another meta-analysis involving 13,622 elderly patients, researchers again found insufficient data to recommend statin treatment.

Third, the doctors on Medscape questioned the use of statin drugs on people without heart disease. These patients have only one supposed “risk factor” for heart disease–“too much” blood cholesterol. But cholesterol is a normal metabolic requirement for all cells and tissues, as well as for normal hormone balance.

Even when prescribed appropriately, these drugs cause a slew of harmful side effects. The doctors on Medscape report clinical observations of toxicity, including:

-Decreased cognitive ability (which can herald an early form of dementia)

-Kidney damage

-Chronic fatigue

-Type II diabetes

Of course, the link to Type II diabetes is no longer just based on doctors’ observations of their patients. A recent clinical trial study demonstrated that statins increase the risk of diabetes. (I will tell you more about that clinical trial in a future Daily Dispatch.)

These drugs also harm the brain, kidney, pancreas, and of course the muscles. Keep in mind that the heart–the target organ that “should” benefit from these drugs–is itself a muscle.

Indeed, muscle pain and destruction of muscle tissue is the single most widespread complication of concern to doctors. In fact, up to 29 percent of patients who take statins complain of muscle pain to their doctors.

The elderly seem especially prone to muscle pain.

One clinician commented on Medscape that in his nearly 20 years of prescribing statins, most of the joint and muscle pain complaints came from elderly patients.

Of course, statin-pushers say that randomized, controlled clinical trials show “only” up to 5 percent of patients experience this symptom. But remember, drug companies “cherry pick” both the people enrolled in their clinical trials…and the results reported from their drug trials. But ultimately, doctors face the front lines. They see the real patients and write their prescriptions.

Newer studies from the past 10 years show statin drugs also have a “gluttony” effect. More people than ever now take statins. And they follow less healthy diets and lifestyles, seemingly believing the propaganda that these drugs protect them. And they abandon their healthy diet and lifestyle habits that do protect them against heart disease. Not to mention the relative lack of attention to the benefits of B vitamins, omega-3 fatty acids, and vitamin D for heart health. Or the fact that patients taking statins should also take Co-Q10 and/or an herbal powerhouse like rooibos.

Remarkably, very few physicians had anything favorable to say about statins in the Medscape dialogue. Doctors are beginning to worry that they are doing more harm than good by prescribing statins, remembering the beginning of the Hippocratic Oath, “first, do no harm.” Good for them…and for you.

I’m also putting the finishing touches on a Statin Survival Guide. It will be available shortly. So keep an eye out for it.