Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Statins Pose Many Health Risks
Beware New Criteria That Greatly Increases Their Use!

New Health Calculator over projects people
who should take statins.

New Guidelines
A week ago, a new set of guidelines were introduced that were supposed to help doctors assess their patient's risk of heart attack and stroke but best I can tell, it was just a way to push more statins on millions of perfectly healthy Americans. This should come as no surprise as the Amercian Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology, authors of the new guidelines, are heavily funded by the very drug makers that would significantly benefit from this change. 

What's Changed?
Has the rate of heart disease increased? No.
Have there been significant new studies published that demonstrated the benefits of lowering cholesterol? No.
The only thing that has changed is the definition of who should take statins.

The new guidelines say that treatment (or use of statins) is recommended for those with a 7.5 percent risk of heart disease over the next 10 years and can be considered for those with as low as a 5 percent risk. Previous guidelines recommended treatment for those with a 10 to 20 percent risk. The new criteria makes 31% of all adults "good candidates" for statins compared to 15.5% today.

Calculator Seriously Flawed
In addition to the expanded definition adding millions of new statin takers, the new calculator being rolled out is seriously flawed and can over predict the risk of heart disease by up to 150%. This means that millions more healthy people may be prescribed statins that would do them more harm than good! 

Bad Idea in the First Place
Unless a person has known heart disease, there's little that shows statins are effective in reducing the risk of death. In fact, popping a little pill might give people a false sense of security and discourage them from taking a more holistic approach that would include improving their diets, reducing stress, increasing the amount of exercise they are getting, or to stop smoking.

Statins have Serious Side Effects
Statin drugs cause many serious side effects. The most common is muscle pain. Although some only experience minor soreness or weakness, others can barely walk up a flight of stairs. And in rare instances, these drugs can cause rhabdomyolysis, life-threatening muscle damage that can cause significant muscle pain, kidney failure, liver damage, and death.

Other side effects from statins include liver damage, digestive problems, memory loss, confusion, and can even cause blood sugar levels to rise leading to the development of type 2 diabetes. 

Expert Asks to Halt Implementation
The identification of the serious flaws of the health calculator by Drs. Nancy Cook and Paul Ridker of Harvard Medical School prompted Dr. Steven Nissen, a past president of the American College of Cardiology, to ask that the rollout of the new guidelines be halted. Drs. Cook and Ridker demonstrated examples where a 60-year-old African-American man with absolutely no risk factors and a normal lipid profile and blood pressure was given a risk factor of 7.5 by the new health calculator. Other examples showed a healthy 60-year-old white male with an inflated risk factor of 7.5. Both of these men would have been prescribed statins for the rest of their lives. This may be good for the drug companies revenue numbers but not very good for these men who would be subjected to serious side effects.

What To Do
Despite what results from this flawed health calculator and these ridiculous new drug-promoting guidelines, as always I suggest you play an active role in your own health care. With drug companies pushing to get every man, woman and child on statins, you may get a lot of encouragement to go on these drugs. Although many experts believe that those who have already had a heart attack or heart disease can benefit from this drug, it is certainly not a drug that should be pushed on healthy people or people with low risk of heart disease who can mitigate this risk in other ways.

More and more studies point to a link between inflammation and heart disease. Inflammation can be controlled with a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, good fats, whole soy products, catechin-rich tea, red wine, chocolate, and spices like turmeric, ginger and others. In May I blogged about Dr. Andrew Weil's anti-inflammatory diet (not entirely vegan) which is a combination of the Mediterranean and Japanese diet.

The best way to fight heart disease is to eat a healthy diet, get off the couch, stop smoking or don't start, and do things that you enjoy which will help you combat stress. No little pill is going to prevent the need to do these things and, in fact, may cause some serious health problems.

As always, talk to your doctor (preferably a naturopath or integrative practitioner) before changing your diet or medication.

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