The Truth about Statins

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More serious side effects

  • Liver damage. Occasionally, statin use causes an increase in liver enzymes. If the increase is only mild, one can continue to take the drug. Rarely, if the increase is severe, one may need to stop taking the statin drug. Certain other cholesterol-lowering drugs, such as gemfibrozil and niacin, increase the risk of liver problems even more in people who take statins.

The lower levels of CoQ10 also tend to put undue stress on the liver and the heart.

Although liver problems are rare, the doctor should order a liver function test before or shortly after one begins to take a statin. One shouldn’t need any additional liver enzyme tests unless signs or symptoms of liver stress develop. The doctor should be contacted immediately if unusual fatigue or weakness, loss of appetite, pain in the upper abdomen, dark-coloured urine, or yellowing of skin or eyes develops.

  • Muscle problems. As stated above, statins may cause muscle pain and tenderness (called statin myopathy). The higher the dose of statin one takes, the more likely one is to have muscle pains. In severe cases, muscle cells can break down (rhabdomyolysis) and release a protein called myoglobin into the bloodstream, which can damage the kidneys. Certain drugs when taken with statins can increase the risk of rhabdomyolysis. These include gemfibrozil, erythromycin, antifungal medications, nefazodone, cyclosporin and niacin.
  • Increased blood sugar or Type 2 Diabetes. It’s possible that one’s blood sugar level may increase when one takes a statin, which may lead to developing Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus. The risk is small, but important enough that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires a warning on statin labels regarding blood glucose levels and diabetes. Despite this possible connection between increased blood sugar and statin use, it’s still safe for most people with high cholesterol, including diabetics, to take statins.
  • Neurological side effects. Some researchers have studied whether statins could be linked to memory loss or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. While there’s little evidence that statins can cause ALS, the FDA says some people who take statins have developed memory loss or confusion while taking statins. These side effects reverse once the medication is stopped.

To ease side effects of statins

As many of the side effects are due to the depletion of CoQ10 in the cells, it is beneficial to supplement daily with CoQ10. This can be effective in minimising the muscle and joint pains and in boosting energy levels. An effective dosage is between 50 and 100mg daily. Ubiquinol is a form of CoQ10 which is marketed as being better absorbed and therefore more effective, but actually both forms are well absorbed.

Other problems caused by statins

Apart from the frequency of side effects, there are other problems caused by the statins in aggressively lowering cholesterol levels.

Cholesterol is essential for:

  • Formation and maintenance of cell membranes, which help the cells resist changes in temperature.
  • Protection and insulation of nerve fibres.
  • Formation of sex hormones such as progesterone, testosterone, oestradiol and cortisol. If you are concerned with your testosterone levels make sure you look into low testosterone therapy.
  • Production of bile salts, which help to digest food.
  • Vitamin D conversion in the skin, when exposed to sunlight.

The formation of cholesterol involves a series of complicated biochemical reactions. Cholesterol is made primarily in the liver (about 1,000 milligrams a day), but it is also created by cells lining the small intestine and by individual cells in the body.

There has been substantial research since 1994, which links very low cholesterol levels (i.e. below 4.1 mmol/l) to an increased risk of depression, suicide, anxiety, impulsivity and aggression in men and women, adolescents and adults alike. Also noted was an increase in deaths from trauma (possibly due to increased impulsive and aggressive behaviour), some types of cancer, haemorrhagic stroke, and respiratory and infectious diseases. A study of Japanese men found that the suicide rate declined when cholesterol levels were allowed to rise.

Prof Majid Ali, head of the New York Hospital of Integrative Medicine, has stated that (based on scientific studies): “More people die from a low cholesterol than from a high cholesterol”.

Men with low total cholesterol plus symptoms of depression were seven times more likely to die prematurely from suicides, drug overdoses, and accidents and injuries than those without those markers. It is proposed that low cholesterol, being necessary for nerve function, may lower serotonin levels.

The National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), has found that pregnant women who have very low cholesterol levels have an increased chance of delivering a premature baby. Previous studies have shown that women with very high cholesterol levels also have an increased risk of premature birth.

Several studies in recent years have shown that although statins are effective at reducing bad cholesterol levels, there is little or no improvement in the death rate from all causes[2]. Men who already have cardiovascular disease have been shown to have some benefit from statins; but for the majority of users who do not have cardiovascular disease, there appears to be little or no benefit.

To date, no large trial of female statin users, who already have cardiovascular disease, has successfully shown an increase in life expectancy. More importantly, the use of statins in women at lower risk has not increased life expectancy nor prevented heart attacks and stroke.

It raises the question whether women should be prescribed statins at all, since it appears that statins fail to provide any overall health benefit to women. The more recent heart protection study was hailed as a success for men and women, but despite the hype there was no effect on mortality in women.

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