"Everyone knows that high cholesterol can lead to heart attacks. After all, doctors and big drug companies have been warning you about it for years. But are they really telling you everything?" I know, sensational stuff here. This is the opening line from a promotional email from a retired MD and author now making public claims that we've all been misled by the widespread promotion of statin drugs for reducing risk of heart attack. And he's not the only one.
Honestly, I wouldn't have put any credence in it if I hadn't received multiple emails from a respected reader whom I happen to know personally, who tells me that "statins wrecked my upper arms and shoulders in a matter of weeks."
We wrote briefly about statins in our book, but in all honesty, I still don't know that much about them. Looking into it, I've found there is open recognition that statins can cause serious muscle damage, although most of the literature paints this as exceedingly rare.
Still, my good friend Reader X may have a more momentous point:
"There seems to be significant debate about whether high 'bad' cholesterol is in fact a causal factor in heart disease. As someone put it, the bigger the fire, the more fireman you will see at the scene. That doesn't mean fireman cause fires. If cholesterol isn't a causal factor, then putting people on statins in the first place could be a big waste of time," he writes.
In fact, this discussion has apparently been going on for quite a long time. No matter what the critics say, the NIH still claims that "High blood cholesterol is one of the major risk factors for heart disease."
I guess it's important to recognize, however, that high cholesterol is only ONE of many causes of heart attack and stroke. Other causes include the risk factors that make up so-called "metabolic syndrome":
* abdominal obesity,
* elevated triglycerides,
* low high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (i.e., HDL, or "good" cholesterol),
* elevated blood pressure, and
* elevated glucose levels.
Right, so if we're extremely overweight and inactive, have large amounts of fat in our blood, high blood pressure, and/or high A1c, we're pretty much Heart Disease Waiting to Happen. It's certainly important to address these factors as much as it is to worry about "bad" cholesterol (LDL) levels.
What worries me more is the assertion that statins may not be as safe as they seem. I know many doctors brush this off as malarky, but has anyone had similiar experiences to my friend? From looking around at message boards and the like, it appears the negative side effects of statins may be much more common than the authorities would have us believe.