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The first statin (lovastatin) was approved for use in the U.S. in 1987.1 Fast forward to 2020, just over three decades later, and it’s estimated that total sales for statin drugs will reach $1 trillion.2 Their usage statistics are staggering. Among U.S. adults aged 40 to 59, lipid-lowering drugs such as statins are the second most commonly prescribed drug, being taken by 13.9% of this population.
When you tailor this to adults aged 60 to 79, lipid-lowering drugs become the most common prescription, being used by 45% of Americans and 34.3% of Canadians in the same age range.3
The drugs were once only offered to people at high risk of heart disease, but in 2013, a joint task force of the American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association released new guidelines, which increased the number of adults eligible for statin therapy by 12.8 million people — mostly older adults without heart disease.4
Statins are effective at lowering cholesterol, but whether this is the panacea for helping you avoid heart disease and extend your lifespan is up for debate and a question worthy of closer scrutiny. The pharmaceutical industry is quick to try to discredit any negative press toward the drugs, including, as explained in the video above, an ABC News in Australia segment that revealed the questionable effectiveness of the drugs.
Cholesterol Guidelines Marred by Potential Bias
Maryanne Demasi, Ph.D., a former medical scientist with the University of Adelaide, was a reporter for ABC News in Australia. In 2013, she was featured in a two-part series, with the first investigating the science behind the persistent claim that saturated fat causes heart disease by raising cholesterol. The second part focused on cholesterol drug wars and questioned the overprescription of statins and industry influence in statin trials.
Worthy of attention, the authors of the 2013 cholesterol guidelines declared conflicts of interest that should have removed them from either writing or voting on the guidelines, but didn’t. Of the 15 panelists who authored the cholesterol guidelines, six revealed ties to drug companies that produced cholesterol-lowering medications. Of the 10 expert reviewers for the guidelines, five listed relationships with drug makers.5
One of the criteria for people to take statin drugs was based on an algorithm that uses your age, gender, blood pressure, total cholesterol, high density lipoproteins (HDL), race and history of diabetes to predict the likelihood you’ll experience a heart attack in the coming 10 years.
At the time, the recommendation was that those with a risk profile over 7.5% should take statins and those with a profile near 5% should discuss their options with their physician.6 Studies looking into the tool’s accuracy, however, suggested the tool overestimated the number of people who would have a cardiovascular event “substantially.”7
Part of the statin debate also rests on a statistical tool called relative risk reduction (RRR) to amplify what amounts to trivial benefits. Writing in the journal Expert Review of Clinical Pharmacology, researchers explained:8
“Our opinion is that although statins are effective at reducing cholesterol levels, they have failed to substantially improve cardiovascular outcomes.
We have described the deceptive approach statin advocates have deployed to create the appearance that cholesterol reduction results in an impressive reduction in cardiovascular disease outcomes through their use of a statistical tool called relative risk reduction (RRR), a method which amplifies the trivial beneficial effects of statins.”
Statin News Segment Shut Down
After Demasi’s series aired, it was met with an outpouring of support from viewers, only to be quickly overcome with complaints from health organizations and drug companies, which orchestrated a campaign to discredit the segment. News commentators suggested “people will die” if they watch the program and a Sydney cardiologist went so far as to state, “ABC has blood on its hands,” Demasi said in the video above.
A study published in the Medical Journal of Australia also suggested that the ABC News program led to a reduction in statin usage that could result in up to 2,900 preventable vascular events.9 A gag order was issued, which meant Demasi and colleagues were unable to defend themselves or the program, and ABC ultimately capitulated to the scrutiny and pulled the program.
A similar smear campaign was launched in France against a cardiologist who questioned the value of statins in his book. In this case, researchers looked into what actually happens when statin use is discontinued, concluding, “it is not evidence based to claim that statin discontinuation increases mortality or saves lives” and:10
“On the contrary, one might even conclude that statin discontinuation could save lives. One possible explanation of this apparently paradoxical finding is that statin discontinuers, in the same time they stop statin therapy, likely try to adopt a healthy lifestyle.”
Statin Mafia Hiding Statin Data
Demasi also explains how the U.K.-based Cholesterol Treatment Trialists’ (CTT) Collaboration is holding all the raw data on statin side effects, then publishing meta-analyses promoting their use. Although they claim to be independent, they’ve received millions in funding from the pharmaceutical industry.
Dr. Malcolm Kendrick, a general practitioner in Cheshire, England, is the author of three books. I’ve previously interviewed him about “Doctoring Data: How to Sort Out Medical Advice From Medical Nonsense” and his latest book is “A Statin Nation: Damaging Millions in a Brave New Post-Health World,” which addresses the challenges with this conventional approach to heart disease prevention. Regarding CTT, he explained:
“They’ve got all the data … from the statin trials. They hold it. They won’t let anyone else look at it, ever. They keep producing these meta-analyses showing how wonderful statins are and that they don’t have adverse effects, and we’re supposed to believe them.
Although they run a clinical trials unit, last time I looked, they earned well over $400 million in funding from pharmaceutical companies almost entirely — those companies that produce cholesterol-lowering agents … [W]e have a completely biased organization paid hundreds of millions to hold all the data, and then tell us, ‘No one else can look at it. By the way, you should believe everything we say.’
… [H]ow on Earth can this be allowed to happen? … [S]omehow, these people have got themselves such a standing and status that we’re supposed to go, ‘Well, you said it. It must be right.’ This is ridiculous.”
The lack of transparency is clearly not in the public’s best interest. Demasi suggests looking to what happened with Tamiflu to learn a lesson, referring to the fact that drug makers hid a significant amount of negative data from the public.
Practitioners Persecuted for Breaking Statin Orthodoxy
Demasi, unfortunately, is not alone in being targeted for speaking out against the medical orthodoxy of using statins as a primary means of prevention against heart disease.
Others, like Dr. Antti Heikkilä in Finland, have also been persecuted for using other tools. In Heikkilä’s case, he’s been using low-carb, high healthy-fat and ketogenic diets to treat and prevent chronic diseases among his patients, with many able to manage their conditions without drugs — and facing attacks on his reputation as a result.11
As Demasi wrote in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, we’re in the midst of a statin war, and it’s the public who is suffering as a result:12
“A bitter dispute has erupted among doctors over suggestions that statins should be prescribed to millions of healthy people at low risk of heart disease. There are concerns that the benefits have been exaggerated and the risks have been underplayed. Also, the raw data on the efficacy and safety of statins are being kept secret and have not been subjected to scrutiny by other scientists.
This lack of transparency has led to an erosion of public confidence. Doctors and patients are being misled about the true benefits and harms of statins, and it is now a matter of urgency that the raw data from the clinical trials are released.”
Statin Side Effects Are Real
More than half of statin users stop using the drugs within a year, with 62% citing side effects as the reason.13 Fatigue, nausea, joint and muscle pain and increases in blood sugar have all been associated with statin drug use. Statins have also been shown to increase your risk of diabetes via a number of different mechanisms.
Researchers with the Erasmus Medical Center in the Netherlands analyzed data from more than 9,500 patients. Those who had ever used statins had a 38% higher risk of Type 2 diabetes, with the risk being higher in those with impaired glucose homeostasis and those who were overweight or obese.14
Further, the World Health Organization (WHO) Foundation Collaborating Centre for International Drug Monitoring receives safety reports associated with statin medications and has noted a disproportionately high number of patients with upper motor neuron lesions among those taking statin medications.15
Statins also deplete your body of coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10), which accounts for many of their devastating results. CoQ10 is used for energy production by every cell in your body. Its reduced form, ubiquinol, is a critical component of cellular respiration and production of adenosine triphosphate (ATP). ATP is a coenzyme used as an energy carrier in every cell of your body.
The depletion of CoQ10 caused by statins can actually increase your risk of acute heart failure. While this can be somewhat offset by taking a Coenzyme Q10 supplement (if you’re over 40, I would recommend taking ubiquinol instead of CoQ10), statins still come with a risk of other serious side effects, including:
- Musculoskeletal disorders, including myalgia, muscle weakness, muscle cramps, rhabdomyolysis and autoimmune muscle disease18
Statins also inhibit the synthesis of vitamin K2, which can make your heart health worse instead of better, and reduce ketone production. Ketones are crucial nutrients to feed your mitochondria and are important regulators of metabolic health and longevity.
How to Lower Your Risk of Heart Disease
There is far more that goes into your risk of heart disease than your cholesterol levels. The suggestions that follow can help you lower your insulin resistance and restore your insulin sensitivity, among other heart-protective mechanisms:
Avoid environmental pollutants and toxins, including smoking, vaping, heavy metals, herbicides and pesticides, especially glyphosate.
Minimize your exposure to electromagnetic fields and wireless radiation from cellphones, Wi-Fi, routers, smart meters and more, as this kind of radiation has been shown to cause serious free radical damage and mitochondrial dysfunction.
Eat an unprocessed whole food-based diet low in net carbs and high in healthy fats. A ketogenic diet — which is very low in net carbohydrates and high in healthy fats — is key for boosting mitochondrial function.
When your body is able to burn fat for fuel, your liver creates water-soluble fats called ketones that burn far more efficiently than carbs, thereby creating fewer reactive oxygen species and secondary free radicals. Ketones also decrease inflammation and improve glucose metabolism.20
Eat nitrate-rich foods to help normalize your blood pressure. Good sources include arugula, cilantro, rhubarb, butter leaf lettuce, mesclun mixed greens, beet greens, fresh beet juice, kvass (fermented beet juice) and fermented beet powder.
Get plenty of nonexercise movement each day; walk more and incorporate higher intensity exercise as your health allows.
Intermittently fast. After you’ve become accustomed to intermittently fasting for 16 to 18 hours, you can try a stricter fast once or twice a week, when you eat a 300- to 800-calorie meal loaded with detox supporting nutrients, followed by a 24-hour fast. So, in essence, you’re then only eating one 300- to 800-calorie meal in 42 hours.
If you have heart disease, consider enhanced external counterpulsation (EECP). To find a provider, see EECP.com.21
If you have heart disease, you may also consider taking g-strophanthin, an adrenal hormone that helps create more parasympathetic nervous system neurotransmitters, thereby supporting your parasympathetic nervous system. It also helps flush out lactic acid. Strophanthus is the name of the plant, the active ingredient of which is called g-strophanthin in Europe, and ouabain in the U.S.
Get sensible sun exposure to optimize your vitamin D status and/or take an oral vitamin D3 supplement with magnesium and vitamin K2.
Implement heart-based wellness practices such as connecting with loved ones and practicing gratitude.