Why Statins May Not Be The Answer To Lowering Your Cholesterol

Why Statins May Not Be The Answer To Lowering Your Cholesterol

How Drug Companies Manipulated Me

I used to believe statins were safe and effective drugs.

Fresh out of training, I attended a pharma-sponsored educational dinner about a statin called Zocor that got me excited about writing prescriptions. The doctor presenting the slides made it seem like a no-brainer to use these amazing medications. I distinctly remember feeling empowered and slightly self-righteous when he said, “Those older studies that showed statins increased mortality (meaning they killed more people than they saved) were not designed well. This is the first study that shows Zocor saves lives.” It was literally the first time I’d heard of the drug, and the presenter already recruited me to side with the drug company against “the naysayers.” Those luddites! How could they not understand the value of this drug? 

That’s how easy it is to spin our heads in a given direction.

To keep us properly oriented, we’re told how minor side effects are exaggerated by “statin deniers” who represent the out-group. If we want to stay in the in-group, we simply follow a set of guidelines. We’re frequently reminded how statin drugs are safe and how much evidence supports the current guidelines. We’re prodded to do a better job of following our guidelines; I’ll get emails summarizing the latest medical news telling me, for example, that only “54% of adults with hypercholesterolemia take a cholesterol lowering medication” and that primary care doctors have “room for improvement.”

Doctors serving as paid consultants for the drug industry dominate required continuing medical education meetings. Pharma-conflicted physicians also populate committees that define “standard of care.” Drug companies fund the majority of studies that investigate the potential for statins to help or harm. Many of these studies do not present raw data and only show highly manipulated statistics, so we’re pretty much forced to take their word about the results.

In the past decade as medical education has migrated online, most of the websites are drug-company supported and the proportion of lecturing MDs serving as paid consultants for the drug industry is larger. The information provided by someone who is bullish on drugs will be different than someone who is neutral or concerned about side effects, but these less-enthusiastic doctors do not get paid to travel the country doing dinner presentations, so doctors rarely hear from them. 

Thanks to our lopsided education, few doctors know that statins are linked to profound psychiatric disturbances, or that neurologists warn caution when prescribing statins to people over age 65, and that cardiologists warn they can cause a form of heart failure. When statin enthusiasts provide us with our knowledge about statins, we won’t be told about the significance of something called a run in period. Most drug-company funded statin studies use this to actually identify patients who develop early side effects before starting the study – and then kick them out. They are not required to report how many people they kicked out or what side effects they suffered. 

Without a balanced education, if you, or someone you care about, were to mention problems with fatigue, memory problems, headaches, mood changes, heart palpitations, shortness of breath or other problems, any normal doctor is unlikely to stop and consider that statin drugs might be the cause. Symptoms rarely develop the day you start the pill and they usually come on slowly, waxing and waning, making it easy to overlook the drug as a possible cause. This is why you’ll find stories of people whose complaints to their personal physician were misinterpreted for years, and only after their symptoms became outright disabling did they muster up the courage to stop the medication — against medical advice. Then, their symptoms improved. 

Statins Suppress The Immune System, So We’re Told They’re Anti-Inflammatory

I want to show you an example of a potential negative effect of statins that has been transformed into a supposed positive. There are many possible examples of this I could offer, but since we’re living in an era of treatment-resistant infections, I’ll talk about how statins can suppress your immune system and why doctors don’t get the message. 

Think of your immune system as an army of soldiers charged with patrolling your body, sniffing out early cancers, and invading organisms. These soldiers live just a few days, and your bone marrow needs a steady supply of cholesterol to keep churning out new fighters, and keep your tissues properly protected. LDL cholesterol in particular is key to fighting infections. Statins cut off your bone marrow’s cholesterol supply lines, thus impairing your body’s ability to keep its army weaponized. 

Based on that information, it seems obvious that statins could potentially be really bad for your immune system, right? Now let me show you how easily the drug companies spin a negative side effect into evidence that statins are wonder drugs. All it takes is a half-truth, a little lingo, and a positive descriptor. Here’s what our American Heart Association (and other industry-funded) medical journals typically tell us, “Statins have pleiotropic effects that include anti-inflammatory benefits.” The half-truth is the reality that statins do indeed reduce inflammation because white blood cells use inflammation to defend us against the bad guys. So it’s true that statins reduce the amount of inflammation your body can produce. But what’s going unsaid here is the reality that your body requires inflammation for your immune system to function properly.

 Multiple lines of evidence show that people with higher cholesterol have healthier immune systems. For example, after age 60, the higher your LDL, the less likely you are to die of cancer. Low cholesterol might actually be a sign of malnutrition. The benefits of cholesterol to other organ systems should be considered, including reproduction, digestion, cognition, perception and on it goes since every cell in the body requires cholesterol. Where research is missing, that information needs to be filled in before we can say for certain that lowering cholesterol is a safe practice.

I Don’t Think Statins Benefit Most People

I don’t tell my patients what to do. I tell them what I know and let them decide for themselves. Here’s what I tell my patients about statins: their mechanism of action makes me think they are dangerous drugs. Some doctors suggest we should put them in the water supply. In my experience, however, anyone who has taken a moderate to high dose statin for 10 years is noticeably impaired in some way. 

Statins don’t just block your body’s ability to make cholesterol, they block your body’s ability to make a family of hormones (called steroids) that include cortisol, testosterone, and all of our sex hormones, vitamin D, and 30 other related compounds. In order to recall old memories and form new ones, the brain requires cholesterol, but statins curtail your brain’s ability to manufacture cholesterol, causing headaches, dizziness, depression, memory impairment, confusion, and amnesia. Statins also interfere with your body’s ability to make key building blocks of muscle cells and at least 10% of people who take them experience some kind of muscle ailment. 

Read The Label

If you or anyone you care about is currently taking one, please unfold the little square of thin paper that accompanies every prescription. Read what it says under the heading called “CONTRAINDICATIONS / PRECAUTIONS.” You’ll see a few things your doctor may not have had time to mention, like “patients should minimize alcohol intake” to prevent liver injury and “the drug may need to be withheld during acute medical conditions or while taking interacting drugs.” Rosuvastatin lists 50 such drugs with major interactions, including common antibiotics, antacids, and gout medications. Now check the section called “ADVERSE REACTIONS.” You’ll find a list that includes temporary or permanent injury to several major organs. Heart failure should be listed, too, because the depletion of ubiquinone caused by statins leads to heart failure. This side effect is a dirty secret that, according to an insider, industry scientists recommended preventing by including a supplement with the drug to counter this harmful effect, called CoQ-10. But that was shot down — because CoQ-10 cost more to make than the drug.

The Bigger Problem Is The Cholesterol Theory Of Heart Disease Is Wrong

In spite of all their downsides, statins can reduce heart attack risk in the very highest risk group of people by a percentage point or two. The way I see it, the body of evidence supporting statins’ so-called success is built upon depriving people of the LDL their body needs in hopes that a few will derive some benefit, and then exaggerating the benefit while downplaying the harm. 

A better solution is to tell people the truth about what really causes heart disease. In the previous article in this series, I introduced the oxidation theory of heart disease. This theory links a collection of eight industrially processed seed oils to atherosclerosis. Doctors do not hear much about this theory because it goes against the basic dietary advice from the American Heart Association, who have been supported by companies selling seed oils since their inception in 1948, and have a lock down on medical education on nutrition.

During our education, doctors do not learn what seed oils are or how much we’re eating. Nor do we learn that edible oil scientists consistently find “very high levels of highly toxic aldehydes” including acrolein, malonaldehyde, and dozens of others, that form when you cook foods in seed oils but that do not form when you use old fashioned fats, like tallow. The oxidation theory explains that when your diet is full of seed oils it oxidizes your LDL particles, damaging them in ways that can lead to development of atherosclerotic plaque. This perspective helps us to see why lowering LDL helps, but only helps a little bit. A better solution than taking statins that deprive your body of cholesterol would be to stop eating seed oils that oxidize your LDL. 

The sad story of deception by authorities promoting statins is just one of many such stories I could be writing about today. The fundamental problem holding medical science back is forgetting that only nature can create health. Drugs can’t fix a disease that’s caused by a bad diet. Changing your diet to one that aligns with natural law can. Eating the kind of diet humans were designed to eat and inheriting a set of genes that our parents and grandparents curated for us — chiefly by eating a natural, human diet — endows us with the greatest potential in all things.

Dr. Cate Shanahan is a board-certified Family Physician whose revolutionary approach to nutrition targets the underlying problems causing metabolic damage and inflammation. She is the NY Times bestselling author of The FatBurn Fix, Deep Nutrition and Food Rules. Her  work has been featured in Sports Illustrated, Men’s Journal, and Prevention Magazine among others and she’s been a guest on Real Time with Bill Maher and The Megyn Kelly Show. Follow her at @DrCateShanahan.

The views expressed in this piece are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.