Are Statins This Generation’s Tobacco?

Striking similarities between marketing of cigarettes and statin drugs

Doctor Holding CigaretteThis article originally appeared on Live in the Now.

As a country, we’ve made great strides in curbing tobacco use, with the percentage of people who smoke regularly at historic lows. But only a few decades ago, tobacco use didn’t have the stigma that it has now.

There was a time when the majority of people smoked, and it wasn’t considered particularly unhealthy. I, like many people, had parents who smoked in the house and even have memories of teachers smoking in school. My father, a retired surgeon, told me that doctors used to smoke in hospitals regularly.

It’s a known fact that Big Tobacco’s marketing strategy was to get people started on cigarettes as young as possible, and to make sure they continued to smoke cigarettes for the rest of their lives. What better way to realize maximum profits?

I would like to put forth the bold argument that there are some striking similarities between the way Big Tobacco marketed their cigarettes and the way Big Pharma markets its statin drugs. I believe that statins could very well be this generation’s tobacco.

By some estimates, 1 in 3 people over the age of 50 are on a cholesterol-lowering statin drug, and it’s very common for doctors to start recommending them to people in their 20s and 30s. It’s even been suggested that teenagers and kids younger than 10 could be candidates for the drugs.[1] Prescriptions in the United States are being written at a rate of 20,000 per hour.

Like Big Tobacco did with cigarettes, is it Big Pharma’s goal to get people started on statins as young as possible and then conspire, in this case not with addictive additives but with false information, to keep people on them for as long as possible?

The Hidden Dangers of Statins

Let’s first talk about the often understated dangers associated with statin drugs. The FDA, Big Pharma and even most doctors are all guilty of making these drugs seem safer than they are, discounting the long list of statin side effects as “rare events.”

However, within days of taking cholesterol-lowering medications, people frequently experience fatigue, aches and general muscle soreness. Many report memory loss, headaches, difficulty sleeping, dizziness and nausea. Statin drugs also deplete your body of CoQ10,[2] which is essential to heart and brain health. And some studies have associated statin drug use with even more serious health consequences including permanent nerve damage,[3] infertility and death.[4]

The bottom line is, statin side effects are more common then you’ve probably been led to believe. It seems like the FDA is always issuing another health warning related to statin use. For example, earlier this year, the FDA issued a warning regarding the increased rick of memory loss and type 2 diabetes in statin users.[5]

Just like the dangers of tobacco, perhaps the evidence will soon be too much for the government and doctors to continue to sit on the sidelines.

Do Statins Even Work?

Emerging research is showing that statins are not the wonder drugs they were once thought to be. Their effects wear off quickly if you stop taking them; they do little to raise good cholesterol; and while they make your “numbers” look good, they actually do little to decrease cardiovascular-related deaths.

In fact, a recent study published in the British Medical Journal found that for every 10,000 people on statins, there were only 271 fewer cases of heart disease.[6]

The Cholesterol Myth

In addition to statins being less effective than once thought, there are many who believe that the premise behind statin drugs is flawed to begin with. They believe that high cholesterol is not actually the cause of heart disease, and attempting to keep your cholesterol as low as possible may actually be detrimental to your health.

If you think about it, each human body is unique. Some are tall, some are short, some are slim and some are large. Everyone’s metabolism is different, as are our genetics, diets and exercise habits.

To create a range of cholesterol numbers that everyone should strive to achieve without taking into account an individual’s unique physiology seems ludicrous. Yet, it’s these very guidelines that are the catalyst for most statin prescriptions.

I myself have genetically high cholesterol, like my father and five siblings. When I used to see a regular medical doctor for annual checkups, every single time he would push statins on me as if I was going to die without them, and chastised me for refusing them. The fact of the matter is, I eat well, take all the right supplements and exercise as much as I can. I have no fear of suffering from heart disease now or in the future.

Avoid Statins (or Use Them as a Last Resort)

Unfortunately, these days, doctors have become prescription-writing machines. There’s a very good chance, especially if you’re over the age of 50, that your doctor will recommend a statin drug. I know it’s hard to challenge your doctor, but just because you’re handed a prescription doesn’t mean you have to get it filled.

You should avoid statin drugs, or at the very least, see them as a last resort. I know it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that a single pill a day is the “easy” way to solve your problems. But think of all the health consequences that may result. You want to feel great and be active, not be saddled down by muscle pain, fatigue and cloudy thinking.

Before you even consider a statin, think about all of the alternatives. See a nutritionist and shore up your eating habits. Find a way to make exercise fun. Take a multivitamin, fish oil and consider other supplements for heart health support.

Do your own research, come up with an individualized plan, and give it all a try for 6 to 12 month. You may be shocked as to how significantly your health improves, and you’ll be proud you did it without statins.

There are those that may say I’m doing people a disservice by telling them to get off statins. To them, I say, you’ve been brainwashed. I honestly think that history will not judge statins kindly. In fact, I believe statins will be seen as a health debacle in similar proportion to tobacco.

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[1] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dr-michael-j-breus/statins-for-kids_b_116379.html

[2] Rundek T et al. Atorvastatin Decreases the Coenzyme Q10 Level in the Blood of Patients at Risk for Cardiovascular Disease and Stroke. Arch Neurol. 2004;61:889-92.

[3] Gaist D et al. Statins and risk of polyneuropathy: a case-control study. Neurology. 2002 May 14;58(9):1333-7.

[4] http://www.usatoday.com/news/health/2001-08-20-statin.htm

[5] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/02/28/statin-warnings-memory-loss-diabetes-lipitor-crestor-zocor_n_1307232.html?ref=mostpopular

[6] Hippisley-Cox J, Coupland C. Individualising the risks of statins in men and women in England and Wales: population-based cohort study. Heart. 2010;96:939-47 doi:10.1136/hrt.2010.199034.

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