Statin, statin, do you really need a statin?

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At my family’s annual holiday party, I was again stunned at the fact that all of my blood relatives my age or older take statins to lower cholesterol.

All. Of. Them.

Even though none are overweight and we do not have a family history of cardiac disease. Yes, we do have a family history of high cholesterol; all of us have cholesterol levels that top out at well over 200. But our family history is rife with high cholesterol, not heart disease.

So why? Why has every single one of my relatives heeded their internist or GP’s advice and gone on a statin to lower cholesterol when they don’t have other cardiac risk factors?

Am I the crazy one?

Sometimes I think so (and others might agree) but I spent a few hours researching this topic – again – and found two compelling articles supporting my fight to stay off Lipitor. Two articles that suggest that managing my cholesterol to a level my doctor is unhappy with – but not so unhappy she insists on Lipitor – is the non-crazy route.

Because there are side effects, people. Some serious.

It turns out that my family is not alone in their ‘don’t question the doctor, just take the pill’ stance. I was startled to find that 30 million American adults are on statins.  That’s roughly TWENTY-FIVE PERCENT of Americans aged 45 and older taking statins!

That many people must be right, right?

Or not.

Here’s why I think my family – and maybe a lot of these 30 million American adults on statins — should reconsider their statin use, or at least discuss it with their doctor.

In the May/June 2012 issue of The Saturday Evening Post, Sharon Begley explains in ‘The Cholesterol Conundrum‘ that widely respected cardiologist Eric Topol feels that

“…only one or two out of 100 patients “without prior heart disease but at risk for developing such a condition will actually benefit” from a statin.”

And further, Topol has long believed that, “medicine must become personalized with treatments tailored to a patient’s DNA and other characteristics. Yet statins are the poster child of taking a drug that benefits some people and then prescribing it to many more.”

This compelling, easy to understand article explains why statins, which have proven very effective for patients WITH heart disease already, should NOT be prescribed for those without pre-existing heart disease.

Um.  Like me.  And my family.

Please read Ms. Begley’s article.  The entire thing.  It’s eye-opening.

Further evidence: in an August 2011 Huffington Post article, “Are Cholesterol Medications Just a Scam?” Dr. Jacob Teitelbaum lays out a similar argument:

“…if you already have Cardiovascular disease (CVD), an LDL-lowering statin might save your life through what medical experts call ‘secondary prevention.’

But most people who take statins haven’t been diagnosed with CVD. A blood test simply showed they had high cholesterol, and their doctor prescribed a statin to prevent a heart attack or stroke — a use medical experts call primary prevention. Shockingly, a new scientific review of 14 studies shows that statins are virtually useless for primary prevention.”

He goes on to explain that some had issues with analysis of these 14 studies: “the meta-analysis was published by The Cochrane Collaboration, one of the most respected scientific reviews in the world… it’s important to note that the UK researchers faulted the studies in several areas.”  But to me, upon reading the issues, it seems clear that this analysis — along with the one cited earlier — indicate a real need to at least DISCUSS the benefits of statins for those without known cardiac disease with a doctor.

I’ll be sending this to all my relatives, urging them to talk to their doctor about their personal situation.  And hoping at least some will get a ‘hey, maybe you don’t need a statin,’ answer.

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