Or, There’s Money in Them There Pills
Robert A. Hayden, DC, PhD, FiCC
The #2 most prescribed drug is Crestor with 21.4 million active users representing $5.9 billion in sales. This is only one of the “statin” drugs that reduce cholesterol levels in the blood. As with all pharmaceuticals, there is potential danger associated with the use of the statin drugs. With so many people taking these drugs to reduce cholesterol, and thereby hopefully reduce the risk of heart disease, there are some things the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) wants you to know.
The most recent advisory is aimed at both consumers and health professionals. First, it is no longer considered necessary to monitor the liver enzymes (a blood study) because these lab tests have not been found to be effective in predicting or preventing the occurrences of serious liver injury associated with statin use. This does not suggest you will not have liver damage. It says the blood studies are not useful in predicting it.
Second, cognitive impairment, manifest as memory loss, forgetfulness, and confusion have been reported by some statin users. I know of someone who suddenly realized that though he recognized his wife and daughter, he had no idea where he was, what year or month it was, etc. He was hospitalized under suspicion of having a stroke. His memory returned in about 30 hours. No neurological abnormalities were evident, but he was a statin user.
Third, people treated with statin drugs have increased risk of hyperglycemia (elevated blood sugar levels) and subsequent development of Type 2 Diabetes. Given that two-thirds of Americans are overweight, and that one of every eight people in Spalding County are already diabetics, additional risk is undesirable, to say the least.
Fourth, there is risk of muscle pathology. The “grand-daddy” of this class of drug, Lipitor ($2.8 billion in sales in 2015), was and is notorious for causing back pain. It is actually damaging muscles as a side effect, which is a high price to pay for bringing down cholesterol levels when it can be done safely without dangerous side effects. Some medications are known to interact with some statins, such as lovastatin (Mevacor) to increase the risk of muscle damage. As hard as we work to acquire muscle, this is not acceptable, either.
Predictably, the medical industry hastens to say that the bad news above should not scare anyone away from taking statin drugs. Dr. Amy G. Egan, deputy director for safety in FDA’s Division of Metabolism and Endocrinology Products (DMEP). “The value of statins in preventing heart disease has been clearly established.” She adds,“Their benefit is indisputable, but they need to be taken with care and knowledge of their side effects.”
In case you are not sure of what is in your medicine cabinet, the list of statins includes Altoprev (lovastatin extended-release); Crestor (rosuvastatin); Lescol (fluvastatin); Lipitor (atorvastatin); Livalo (pitavastatin); Mevacor (lovastatin); Pravachol (pravastatin); and, Zocor (simvastatin). There are other combination drugs which include statins, such as Advicor (lovastatin/niacin extended-release); Simcor (simvastatin/niacin extended-release); and, Vytorin (simvastatin/ezetimibe).
So, what is the alternative to these drugs? What if I want to reduce my cholesterol and risk of heart disease without all the risks above? If you’ve either read my blog or been to the clinic, you have heard me preach this before. Read on.
Omega-3 fatty acids are essential to human health, but we cannot manufacture them. We must ingest them in fish, such as tuna, salmon, mackerel, lake trout, sardines, and halibut, or perhaps in krill, algae (I don’t know anyone who eats algae), and nut oils. These fatty acids reduce inflammation and may help lower the risk of chronic disease such as heart disease, cancer, and even arthritis. They are concentrated in brain tissue and seem to be important in cognitive and behavioral function.
Inuit Eskimos eat fish—lots of fish. They tend to have high levels of “good cholesterol,” lower levels of “bad” cholesterol, and lower triglycerides (fat in the blood). Walnuts have also been shown to lower cholesterol by converting certain fatty acids in the body.
Numerous studies (17 of them) suggest that diets that include at least 3 grams of omega-3 fatty acids per day lower blood pressure in hypertensive people. Fish oil has been shown to reduce the risk of heart attack, stroke, and abnormal heart rhythms in people who have had heart attacks. Fish oil has also been shown to prevent atherosclerosis (plaques in the arteries) and slow the development of clots that can clog arteries.
So why are people taking statin drugs with all their side effects instead of eating fish or taking fish oil supplements that lower cholesterol and triglycerides, drop your risk of heart disease, stroke, atherosclerosis, and a host of other maladies?
Is there pressure on physicians to prescribe certain drugs? Could it be that the total sales for statin drugs is now over $35 billion/year? Could it be that you can’t watch a good murder mystery on television now without being told you need a statin drug on a slick commercial? I wonder…