What to Believe

It’s not easy being a consumer. The information available to the public is often contradictory and confusing. For example, take the issue of statins (Lipitor, Crestor, Zocor, etc.). There are many known side effects of statins, some beneficial, some not so much.

When reading on-line discussions of statin side effects, there are many who complain of sexual dysfunction caused by statins. However, a recent study claims that statins help cure erectile dysfunction. Huh? How can it both help and hurt sexual function?

After reviewing the research available to consumers (the staff at MedShadow is made up of consumers like you), it seems the problem lies with the new study boasting “cheap and effective treatment for erectile dysfunction.” (The Daily Mail, UK) The study is very small, only 60 men, and very specific, only men who were not benefited by Viagra (sildenafil). While the men in the study improved slightly (hence the headlines claiming success), the improvement wasn’t much and the men’s erectile functionality was still not up to snuff, that is, not within normal range.

Beware of headlines! While technically true, the headline and first paragraph in the article were exaggerated. They were misleading at best and designed to sell papers at worst. The article itself had salient information about the study. Further down the page it was noted that the study included only 60 men and that those men were in the study because they had all found no improvements with Viagra. But it includes this questionable quote from Dr. David Edwards, a GP who runs a male sexual health clinic at the White House Surgery in Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire. “A lot of men stop taking them (statins) because the data sheet lists erectile dysfunction as one of the potential side-effects,” he said. “But there is increasing evidence that a high dose of statins can improve vascular blood flow, which might help some men.”

That implies that any man might see improvement in performance, which the study did not document. Also 80mg are considered a high dose of statins. 80 mg of atorvastatin were used in the study. The Daily Mail article claimed that was a typical prescription dose. Maybe it is in England. In the US the FDA has found that 80mg of simvastatin, a similar statin to atorvastatin, can cause myopathy, an injury to muscles causing pain, tenderness or weakness (an exception is made for those already using 80mg of simvastatin without a problem). The FDA recommends not prescribing more than 40mg of simvastatin.

At MedShadow Foundation, we read beyond the headlines and apply common sense.  If something doesn’t make sense or seems unlikely, we explore further, on your behalf. When we can’t access the original study or if we find the study to complicated to fully understand on our own, we turn to articles that report on the study. We check multiple sources to minimize the exaggeration from one reporter or the personal bias from another.

Statins are a great way to lower cholesterol and are part of many heart health programs. But, so far, we do not have convincing proof that statins are “cheap and effective treatment for erectile dysfunction.”

Suzanne B. Robotti

Suzanne Robotti founded MedShadow Foundation in 2012. Learn more about Su and her mission.

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