Dr. Makover, Chief Medical Officer JIBSome people have a fear of statin drugs ‰ÛÒ the wonder drugs that lower cholesterol and prevent heart attacks. That’s a little like fearing apple pie, Mom and the American way of life.
Atherosclerosis, the medical name for hardening of the arteries is by far the leading cause of death, disease and disability in our benefit plan community ‰ÛÒ and in the entire developed world.
The good news
The good news is that diseases from atherosclerosis are extremely preventable with proper care. We can probably prevent as much as 95% of heart attacks, 85% of strokes, many cases of dementia and erectile dysfunction, if not most, and many other horrendous complications of atherosclerosis ‰ÛÒ but only if people take the treatment!
Statin drugs (like Crestor or Lipitor) are the major component of the treatment of atherosclerosis and are literally lifesaving for countless Americans who are at risk of all the terrible consequences of uncontrolled atherosclerosis.
Statins have helped reduce the death rate from atherosclerosis by 54% since 1987, saving about 316,000 lives a year ‰ÛÒ more than 8,000,000 people who did not die from atherosclerosis.
Millions more were spared the heart attack, stroke, dementia or heart failure they would have had without improved lifestyle and statin treatment
The bad news
False rumors and misunderstanding about statins have been circulating among the public both in the news and all over the Internet. Companies that make herbal products have a strong motivation to convince people to take their very profitable, unregulated products (of little, if any, value, and some are unsafe) instead of carefully regulated prescribed medicines.
Some reporters pick up on this because it makes a better story than repeating the well-known scientific truth that statins are safe and effective. Even some doctors and others make a career from promoting unproven theories about health. The Internet makes it even easier.
Rumors then spread among people who innocently believe what they are hearing.
Leading cardiologist Steven Nissen, of the Cleveland Clinic, describes this as “Statin Denial: An Internet-Driven Cult with Deadly Consequences.”
A medicine can only help you if you take it.
Statins are among the safest drugs we have.
Nothing in life is completely safe. Just crossing the street can be fatal even if you are very careful. People still cross the street. President George W. Bush almost choked to death on a bagel. Bagels still sell as well as ever.
Every day, we are balancing the benefits of doing something, such as being able to leave your house, which is a very great benefit, against the risk that something terrible will happen to you when you do (which is extremely unlikely). Unless they have a serious mental disorder that makes them fear being outside (Agoraphobia), people wisely choose to take the very small risk for the very large benefit.
Here’s another example: Suppose there was a drug that killed 30,000 people a year ‰ÛÒ the FDA would not approve it and no one would take it even if they did. The name of the drug? Your automobile! That is the yearly toll of Americans killed in car accidents, yet who among us walks everywhere because of it (at least we’d get some exercise!) Statins are much, much safer than automobiles!
Statin safety very well established
An ‘adverse effect’ can cause permanent damage. ‘Side effects’ are reversible when the drug is stopped.
Major scientific reviews have shown that adverse effects from statins are very rare or easily handled and that the tiny risk is well worth the enormous benefit.
Early (unfounded) worries about the effects of statins on memory, kidneys, liver and other such problems turn out to have been very wrong.
In fact, statins reduce inflammation and likely help protect against some of those problems and even might reduce some cancers.
Some people get side effects, but those are mostly easily overcome, and, if not, they go away when you stop or reduce the drug. Avoiding a life-saving drug because of worrying that maybe it would cause a side effect can cause far greater pain and damage from untreated atherosclerosis.
Have an open mind
If your doctor recommends a statin, you will be better off if you remain open to the science, discuss your concerns and together work out how you can have the tremendous benefits of these wonder drugs.