Thursday, October 18, 2012

Statin Drugs for Cholesterol

Here's a little fact: one in four (1/4) adult Americans over 45 years old are taking a statin drug for high cholesterol.  Statin drugs account for roughly 10% of all medications prescribed; a billion dollars is spent monthly for these drugs.  The most common reason I hear for why people take statin drugs is, "My doctor told me to.  My cholesterol was high."  Too frequently they've not been told of what side effects for which to watch.  Too frequently, when I see their actual blood results their cholesterol numbers are well below the most common "high" threshold of 200.  Some people even have dangerously low cholesterol.  Do you really need to be taking these powerful liver suppressing medications?  The MD's typically say yes.  The pharmaceutical companies say yes.  The pharmaceutical companies trumpet the benefit of taking them is reducing risk of cardiovascular disease.  MD's parrot the words.  Most of the patients I've seen on statin medications who have talked with their prescribing MD about stopping their statin have met with resistance no matter what their cholesterol numbers are.  Their doctors attribute good numbers as being due to the prescription so continuing is an absolute must.  If the number is still high they want to increase the dose or add a second statin.  But let's put some sanity into this.

First, are they needed?  The total cholesterol figure is only one factor in heart disease, and it is increasingly being understood to be a minor player at best.  Newer research is suggesting the previous high number of 200 is too low and 220 should be a better threshold.  Even so, it is still a minor factor.  For over a decade I have been saying that the total cholesterol/HDL (good cholesterol) ratio is the better number to gauge.  A 3.5 or less says, "No worries."  Beyond cholesterol, an even more important factor is the C-Reactive Protein or CRP value.  This measures the amount of generalized inflammation in the body.  Inflammation is the damaging fire smoldering in the body.  Generalized inflammation will damage the sensitive lining of blood vessels creating an open door for repair operations to set in using arterial plaque (from cholesterol) as an adhesive bandage to seal the injuries.  If the CRP is low, again there are fewer worries.  My own total cholesterol has run as high as 280, but my ratio is always at or below 3.5 and I have virtually zero on my CRP.  No matter how many MD's tell me I need a statin I'm not going to take it, because it is not needed.

Why would you want to resist taking the statin medications?  There are a number of reasons.  The statins function by inhibiting the liver.  The liver is a vital organ that runs many many bodily functions having to do with blood sugar control, protein synthesis, fat utilization, detoxification, and hormone control.  MD's are SUPPOSED to be monitoring your liver enzymes while on statin drugs.  No two ways about it: Statin drugs damage the liver.  If the damage gets severe enough to show in blood tests you need to be taken off of the drugs!  Too frequently, doctors don't even bother with the testing.  Worse yet, people feel lethargic, depressed and achy from head to toe without realizing that it is their liver sending out distressed signals.  Too frequently doctors tell people to ignore the symptoms and take some advil.

More damning is the report in the past month of two different studies reported in the journals: Artherosclerosis and Diabetes Care that statin medications cause a calcification of the arteries.  The crudest explanation of this is: your arteries are slowly being turned to bone by the statin drugs.  So they aren't preventing heart disease, they are creating more!  This explains a little why the findings more than a decade ago showed that long-time survival was completely unaffected by those who took statin drugs over those who didn't.

So now you've thrown up your hands in despair not knowing what to do.  I'll cover the what to do about it piece tomorrow.  Come back!

NatureWords for Your Health!

Dr. Mark