Statin scandal hits high note and a new low

I have been writing about the dangers of cholesterol-lowering statin drugs for years and warning anyone who would listen. Of course, the problems with statin drugs–such as serious muscle pain–became obvious as soon as the FDA approved the first one in the late 1980s. The drugs’ hypothetical “benefits” were supposed to outweigh these problems. But they don’t.

It took a little longer for researchers to ferret out the fact that these drugs don’t actually have the “benefits” long claimed. They don’t even prevent cardiovascular deaths. Unfortunately, the unsuspecting public never knew about this fact because big pharma’s statisticians so cleverly manipulated the data and concealed the truth.

As with any drug released onto the public after FDA “approval,” the truth about statin drugs became more and more obvious as time went on. So–now that big pharma is nearing the end of the 17-year period of patent protection on these drugs–we’re finally seeing far more of the truth.

Indeed, it seems everyone is finally talking about the serious problems with statins. Doctors in every field of medicine, besides cardiology, now realize statins don’t seem to work for their patients.

For example, we now know Lipitor, the blockbuster statin made by Pfizer, causes memory loss and confused thinking. Of course, Pfizer doesn’t list these side effects on the patient information sheet. But the FDA has surely known about them for almost 20 years. In fact, according to a Wall Street Journal article from 2008, more and more patients who take Lipitor were reporting memory problems.

The Wall Street Journal article quoted Orli Etingin, Vice Chair of Medicine at New York Presbyterian Hospital, who had a patient in her 40s who couldn’t concentrate or recall words. After ordering every possible test, nothing turned up. But when the woman stopped taking Lipitor, her symptoms vanished. And when she resumed taking Lipitor, they returned. (But the bigger issue this article should have raised is why a 40-year-old woman was even taking these drugs in the first place?)

Truthfully, doctors should pay more attention to these simple anecdotes. Because once you start digging, more stories usually turn up.

In fact, back in 2007, Dr. Beatrice Golomb, from the University of California-San Diego, led the “Statin Effect Study.” This independent study included more than 4,100 participants. And Dr. Golomb’s research team found that memory problems were the second most common statin side effect after muscle pain.

They also documented the case of 69-year-old woman who was so forgetful her daughter was looking into arranging Alzheimer’s care. Within a week of stopping her statin, the woman made a dramatic return to normal. (Thankfully, gerontologists now agree men and women over 70 shouldn’t take statins.)

Unfortunately, the woman’s persistent cardiologists tried putting her back on statins again and again, three different times. Within a few days of starting yet another one, her cognitive function would begin to decline again.

This kind of “experiment” or “observation” provides some of the most positive proof you can get in science. And scientists typically can’t get way with doing it on humans, since it’s unethical. We’re supposed to rely on easily manipulated statistical studies, since scientists can’t experiment on humans to see how the same patient responds “on” and “off” a drug.

But, of course, once the FDA approves a drug, practicing physicians see firsthand how their patients respond on and off that drug. Except when it comes to statin drugs, doctors pushed human experimentation to the limits. But they ended up proving just one thing–how dangerous the drugs are.

So, after many years of “post-marketing surveillance” in the general population, even the FDA now knows about the dangers of statins. They advise consumers and doctors that statin users regularly report cognitive impairment–such as memory loss, forgetfulness and confusion. Of course, this warning has apparently meant nothing. And it leaves millions of unsuspecting patients still taking these dangerous drugs.

I regularly receive emails from readers who have questions about how to get off this crazy statin train. And the first step is to talk to your doctor.

Fortunately, he or she just might finally listen. In fact, doctors in endocrinology, general practice, gerontology, family medicine, neurology, women’s health, and certain other medical specialties are now more likely to take their patients off these drugs.  Cardiologists still cling to them like candy. If your cardiologist wants to keep you on a statin, demand a second opinion.

In the meantime, for more details about what else you can do for your heart, see my special report The Insiders’ Guide to a Heart-Healthy and Statin-Free Life.


  1. “Can a Drug That Helps Hearts Be Harmful to the Brain?” Wall Street Journal ( 2/12/2008