Lower your cholesterol, increase your risk of cancer?
But aren’t statins supposed to be the good guys? The
New England Journal of Medicine published an article in May 2012 that states:
“Over a period of 4 years of statin use, a reduction of 1 mmol per
liter (39 mg per deciliter) in the level of low-density lipoprotein (LDL)
cholesterol translates into a 9% reduction in the risk of death from any
cause among patients with diabetes and a 13% reduction among those without
That’s hard to beat. Take a pill, reduce your risk of heart attack
and death by up to 13%. The article goes on to say: “Few drugs have
had such a dramatic effect on health outcomes.”
Journal of Clinical Lipidology published an article in the same month stating: “A better understanding
of the characteristics of current and former statin users may be helpful
for formulating strategies to improve long-term adherence.” The
conclusion of the article was that most patients who stopped taking their
statins did so because of the side effects. The conclusion of this article
was, interestingly enough, that we can increase compliance with taking
the statin if only we talk more with our patients and explain to them
how important it is.
If I were to take a medication and it made me feel really bad, I would
want to know why it made me feel bad. What I find missing in the scientific
literature about side effects from statins is any sense of concern that
the side effects might represent something really important, and maybe
we should figure it out before we continue to push the drugs. [Related
High cholesterol – 29 billion reasons to treat it]
But wait… taking statins also appears to increase the risk of developing
diabetes, in a dose-dependent manner – the higher the dose of
a statin drug, the greater the risk of diabetes. Diabetics are more likely
to develop cancer than non-diabetics.
New York Times published a piece in early March 2012 entitled:
The Diabetes Dilemma for Statin Users. They note that about 1 in every 200 people who take statin drugs will
develop diabetes simply because of taking the drug for as little as five
years. That covers a pretty good segment of the adult population, 100,000
new diabetics. If you are one of the people without heart disease who
are taking statins prophylactically, or “just because it will prevent
a heart attack”, I recommend that you think again.
The Federal Drug Administration (FDA) even put out a warning about statin
drugs: “Increases in glycosylated hemoglobin (HbA1c) and fasting
serum glucose levels have been reported with statin use.”
And besides, one really wonders how much of the benefit of statin drugs
to those who have already had a heart attack comes from changing of lifestyle.
The authors of a paper about adherence to a regimen of statin drugs in
older adults suggested that “patients initiating and adhering to
chronic preventive drug therapies are more likely to engage in other health-promoting
behaviors. Failure to account for this relationship may introduce bias
in any epidemiologic study evaluating the effect of a preventive therapy
on clinical outcomes.”
In other words, it is not at all clear whether lowering cholesterol by
means of statin drugs is as healthy as the manufacturers of said statin
drugs would like us to believe.
Remind me again why I would want to take a drug whose “side effects”
include muscle aches, chronic fatigue, heart failure, diabetes, cancer
and memory loss?
Just because “the doctor said so” is not sufficient reason
to engage in risky behavior.
We do have a choice. We can vote both with our pocketbooks and with our
choice of lifestyle. We do not have to fill the prescription. We can choose
to eat fruits and vegetables. We can even choose to eat them organically
grown. We can choose to limit our portions of animal based proteins. We
can choose to avoid osteoporosis-inducing sodas and cancer-inducing artificial
We can choose to avoid unnecessary drugs.
We have a choice.
 Goldfine AB.
Statins: Is It Really Time to Reassess Benefits and Risks? N Engl J Med 2012; 366:1752-1755 May 10, 2012. Cohen JD, Brinton EA
et al. Journal of Clinical Lipidology. 6;3: 208-215 (May 2012) Culver
AL, Ockene ISs et al.Statin Use and Risk of Diabetes Mellitus in Postmenopausal Women in the
Women’s Health Initiative. Arch Intern Med. 2012;172(2):144-152. doi:10.1001/archinternmed.2011.625.
Bodmer M, Becker C et al.
Use of Antidiabetic Agents and the Risk of Pancreatic Cancer: A Case–Control Analysis. Am J Gastroenterol. 2012 Apr;107(4):620-6. doi: 10.1038/ajg.2011.483.
The Diabetes Dilemma for Statin Users downloaded 6/24/2012
FDA Drug Safety Communication: Important safety label changes to cholesterol-lowering
statin drugs. Downloaded 6/24/2012 Patrick AR, Shrank WH et al.
The association between statin use and outcomes potentially attributable
to an unhealthy lifestyle in older adults. Value Health. 2011 Jun;14(4):513-20.