Statin Confusion, Worry & a Little Anger

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Suzanne B. Robotti
Suzanne B. Robotti Executive Director

I’m confused about who should take statins when. And frankly, I think the medical community is too. This worries me. It defies logic that more than 40% of men and 20+% of women would need to take a drug every day. Are we all sick? Certainly nature did not intend this, so is it something we are all eating, drinking or breathing? And if so, can’t we change the underlying cause rather than all pop a pill daily?

As I read the articles it becomes clear that the medical community is drawing conclusions from dated information. That a significant portion of the panel making these guidelines is conflicted because of ongoing relationships with drug companies. The two leading organizations creating these guidelines accept significant levels of donations from drug companies.

That’s when I get a little angry. Sorry, make that a lot angry. I think that it’s irresponsible for medical guidelines to be presented and accepted only to find that the “Risk Calculator” is off by 50%, or 75% or in some populations 150%!

As the New York Times stated in an editorial:
“Statins are among the safest prescription drugs available, but they do have adverse side effects in some patients, including muscle pain and muscle damage; an increased risk of diabetes, especially in women; memory loss and confusion; cataracts; and, rarely, kidney or liver damage.”

This is one of those times when not having a medical degree is a real drawback. I’m not qualified to take this mess of contradictory information and make sense of it. I’ll be asking my doctor a lot of questions and you should too. In the rush to save lives by using statins, I do not want to be blindsided by unforeseen adverse effects from a drug I may not even need.

I’ve read a ton of articles on this topic — I bet you have too. Below are the “best” ones I could find, they have differing points of view, they offer suggestions, they have information. I offer them to assist you in understanding the new guidelines and as a basis for you to manage your own health care in collaboration with your healthcare provider.

Panel Unveils Shake-up in Strategy to Cut Heart Risk, Nov. 12, 2013 Wall Street Journal

A good intro of the guidelines as presented and clearly states why using only the LDL target level of 70 is not appropriate.

What’s up with the New Cholesterol Statin Guidelines, Nov. 18, 2013, Food Politics blog

Clear and friendly format review of questions/problems raised with the guidelines. Good blog to follow. By Marion Nestle, Ph.D. in molecular biology and an M.P.H. in public health nutrition, both from the University of California, Berkeley. It’s hard to believe such a highly credentialed person can write so clearly and succinctly.

Heart Guidelines Authors Defend Method of Calculating Risk, Nov. 18, 2013, LIfeScript.com

Quick summary of the controversy over the “risk calculator.” The website does take advertising so I’m not comfortable with their independence. There might be bias in the tone that I didn’t pick up on.

The Bottom Line? Often the Drug Companies, Nov. 17, 2013 Opinion Page, NYT.com

An opinion piece raising the possibility that researcher’s pharmaceutical ties might affect the outcome of studies, particularly in this case which resulted in statins possibly be recommend to millions more Americans.

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