Don’t just read the headlines! Don’t just listen to the sound bites! There are many stories going around right now that seem to say that women have been neglected because they haven’t been given statins as often as men. Who has been getting the raw deal here–women or men? There’s a new analysis of 18 clinical trials that suggests that more women should take cholesterol-lowering statin drugs to protect them from heart attack, stroke, and death. Since statins are not being prescribed as often for women as for men, there’s profit to be had for Big Pharma in a greatly expanded market for statin drugs.
The new analysis claims that statins reduce the risk of heart attack for women if they have already had a heart attack or clogged arteries, but even this analysis did not find benefit for women in preventing first-time heart attacks, strokes, or sudden death. The reduced risk for women is small–for example, the JUPITER study found a decrease from 2.1 percent risk to 1.1 percent risk.
Don’t let this new claim make you run to the doctor for a statin drug! There are reasons–good reasons–to question taking statins. Remember that the primary purpose of taking statins is to lower cholesterol, so the first thing we need to ask ourselves is, “Do I need to lower my cholesterol? ” Before you say “Yes,” take a look at this list of side effects, and weigh them against such a small decrease in risk of heart attack.
What can happen when we take statins? Here’s a list of possible side effects:
–Statins can increase women’s risk of diabetes by 48%
–Statins won’t prevent first heart attacks
–Statins can cause temporary memory loss and disorientation [Some people taking statins have had loss of memory lasting several hours. Even the FDA has required the makers of statins to add "memory impairment" or "memory loss" to the list of drug reactions. ]
–Statins are linked to liver problems, kidney failure, cataracts, and moderate to serious muscle weakness
–Statins can cause deep musculoskeletal pain
–Statins lower cholesterol, and low cholesterol in women is linked to an overall higher death rate. A study has questioned the validity of linking cholesterol levels and heart disease even for men, and no association was found for women. [One study found that women whose cholesterol was over 270 had 28% less overall risk of dying compared to women whose cholesterol was under 193. So, even if taking statins lowers your risk of heart attack, you increase your risk of dying by 28% if the statins lower your cholesterol too much! Would you want to do that? Not me!]
–Statin (pravastatin) use is associated with a 25% increase in cancer rate among people over 70 (the risk reduction of non-fatal and fatal heart attacks together was only 19%). [I guess if you'd rather die of cancer than a heart attack, we've found at least one good reason to take statins.]
Some would loudly claim [I can hear them now!] that “saving even one life is worth it.” But is it really? How many people must take statins and risk severe side effects to save even one person? One study calculated the numbers of people who would need to take statins to prevent even one case. For example, 37 women at high risk of cardiovascular disease would need to take statins to prevent even one heart attack or stroke, and they are not all fatal. It would take 33 men taking statins to prevent just one case. On the other side, there’s a significant rate of harm caused by taking statins: for every 33 women taking statins, one would get cataracts. Out of 136 women taking statins, one would have moderate or severe liver dysfunction. For 434 women taking statins, one would suffer acute kidney failure. It’s seems obvious to me that taking statins is not worth the risks. We women especially should think hard before taking statins!
Yes, there are reasons to think twice about taking statins. We need to ask ourselves, “Will lowering my cholesterol make me healthier?” If we can’t say “Yes,” why should we risk severe at least temporary, and maybe even permanent, side effects?
What do I do? You bet, I don’t take statins–and never will–I’ve learned too much about the dangers, especially for women. When I was still having my cholesterol checked (haven’t for years–no need), my total was about 200, thankfully over the 180-190 minimum healthy range for women. Of course, I also don’t take blood pressure medicine, pain relievers, or any other prescription or over-the-counter medicines. My goal is to take good care of my health and hopefully not need any of them. I believe I’ll be healthier, happier, and far safer if I don’t take them.
Update November 15, 2012: Cholesterol Lowing Statins Found To Damage Peripheral Nerves, “a new study in published in the Journal of Diabetes reveals a clear association between statin use and peripheral neuropathy in a US population 40 years of age and older.”
-PROSPER: The Prospective Study of Pravastatin in the Elderly at Risk, Luis Gruberg, MD
-JUPITER - Justification for the Use of Statins in Primary Prevention: An Intervention Trial Evaluating Rosuvastatin), Erin D. Michos, MD, and Roger S. Blumenthal, MD
-Unintended effects of statins in men and women in England and Wales, Julia Hippsley-Cox, and Carol Coupland
-Statin Use and Risk of Diabetes Mellitus in Postmenopausal Women in the Women’s Health Initiative, A. L. Culver, et. al.
-Is the use of cholesterol in mortality risk algorithms in clinical guidelines valid? Ten years prospective data from the Norwegian HUNT 2 study, Halfdan Petursson MD, et. al.
-Why Women Should Stop Their Cholesterol-Lowering Medication, Mark Hyman MD
-JUPITER Clinical Directions, Patricia Kritek, MD and Edward W. Campion MD http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMe086509
-Noncardiac Benefits of Statins Found Lacking
-It’s Not Dementia, It’s Your Heart Medication: Cholesterol Drugs and Memory
-Reports associating cholesterol-lowering statins with memory loss lead to FDA review
-Study: Statins work as well for women as men
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