Big pharma likes nothing better to find a new use for an old, failed drug. This practice is called “off label” drug use. It saves drug companies lots of time and money. In fact, two weeks ago, I explained how big pharma tried to push cholesterol-lowering statin drugs onto men and women with lung disease. Ultimately, that cockamamie scheme failed. And the FDA shut down the studies.
Researchers recently attempted to pull another fast one with a random study that showed statin users have a 20 percent lower cataract risk. Cataracts are the No. 1 leading cause of visual impairment in the world. So big pharma was probably chomping at the bit to promote statins as a way to “prevent” this common optical problem.
But once the dust settled, solid research started to emerge that showed statin use actually increases cataract risk. And not just by a little bit.
For this study, researchers matched 6,972 statin users with non-users. The patients were military veterans drawn from the San Antonio Military Multi-Market Area health system. (San Antonio is the headquarters of the U.S. Army Medical Department.) The statin users in the study had been taking the drugs for at least 90 days. And 75 percent of them took Simvastatin (Zocor).
Researchers initially found that statin users had a 9 percent increase in cataract risk. That percentage may not sound very high. But then the researchers “controlled” for other risk factors. In other words, they eliminated patients who had other high risk factors for developing cataracts. And that’s when things got more troubling…
You see, smoking, diabetes, and advanced age are all known risk factors for cataracts. So, once the researchers controlled for these factors, they found that statin users actually had a 29 percent higher cataract risk. In other words, in patients with no other risks factors, taking a statin drug alone increased their cataract risk by nearly one-third.
The results were consistent whether patients took statins for two, four or six years. But remember, the study also included statin users who had only taken the drug for 90 days. This may have actually diluted the findings. If the researchers had only included long-term statin users, the findings probably would have been far worse.
We need more research. But in the meantime, it appears statin use may increase cataract risk. And, as for that earlier study that showed a lower risk for cataracts among statin users…it probably suffered from a “healthy user” bias. The earliest studies on statins–before they were widely known or relentlessly pushed on the public–were prime examples of this bias.
You see, the patients who volunteered for the earliest drug studies on statins were already health-conscious. So when the study results came in positive, it’s not necessarily an indication that the drug worked. Many times, it’s just that the patient was healthier to begin with–and was more motivated to stay healthy. That means they were more willing to do anything to lower their risk, including other healthy behaviors. And even take a drug if the doctor recommended. So, of course, these early studies were more likely to end up showing some random benefits (incidental to the drug). And far less likely to show negative side effects.
But some researchers are starting to understand the massive impact of the “healthy user” bias. Now there are more studies on more people and we are finally seeing the unbiased results. The ugly truth is coming out.
If you really want to lower your heart disease risk–and your cataract risk–skip the drugs. And use some common sense. Eat a balanced diet of healthy meats, oils, and green, leafy vegetables. Also, limit sugar and refined carbs. And make sure to go for a brisk walk or swim a few times a week. Even housework or yard work can give your heart muscle the light workout it needs. You can also support healthy metabolism by taking a CoQ10 (Ubiquinol) supplement. And you can help support healthy vision with nutrients like vitamin A, lutein, and lycopene.
I also recommend drinking plenty of fluids with added South African red bush (rooibos). At this time of year, I enjoy it cold.
Lastly, make sure to stay informed–and steer clear of big pharma’s trendy drugs –by reading my monthly Insiders’ Cures newsletter and the Daily Dispatch. And remember, very few drugs in the modern era really qualify as true therapeutic breakthroughs.
1. “Association of Statin Use With Cataracts: : A Propensity Score–Matched Analysis,” JAMA Ophthalmol. 2013;131(11):1427-1434
2. “Statins prevent cataracts,” European Society of Cardiology (www.escardio.org) 8/31/2014