Friday, July 27, 2012

The Statin Wars: What's a Doctor to Do?

     Private industries, especially Big Pharma, are so greedy for money that they will stop at nothing to propagandize people--using dishonest "science" and "research"--into buying their products.  Now we know beyond a shadow of a doubt that even the so-called "double-blind, placebo-controlled, large-cohort" research studies supporting the recommendations doctors are required to make in treating patients are so often bogus that most of us don't trust research studies at all any more.  I know I don't.
     The statin scam is an example.  For ten or fifteen years we physicians have been presented with one  medical study after another "proving" that most adults should take a statin.  Statins are drugs such as simvistatin (Zocor), lovastatin (Mevacor), and atorvastatin (Lipitor).  At medical conferences there is always a lecture about cardiovascular disease and stroke insisting that we physicians are committing malpractice if we don't prescribe statins to nearly all patients over age fifty.
     Now we know that all but one or two of these medical studies was funded--without mentioning the source of funding (that's illegal!)--by pharmaceutical companies who stood to profit from the sale of statins.
     Here's the line that medical studies--and pharmaceuticals companies--fed us all:  "Statins prevent stroke and heart attack, reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer's Disease, and extend the lifespan of people with diabetes by three years even if those people don't have high cholesterol.  Statins might even prevent cancer."  Who wouldn't want to take a miracle product like that?  Never mind that until recently most of the statins cost $200 to $300 per month.
     Here's the truth.  The FDA just added diabetes and memory loss to a lengthening list of side effects caused by statins.  Isn't that terrific for the makers of statins?  First their secretly funded studies tell us everyone with diabetes must be on a statin.  What they don't tell us is that statins can actually cause diabetes.  It's a self-sustaining profit system.
     More of the truth:  Statins cause memory loss, mood disorders (including suicidal thoughts), sexual dysfunction, muscle breakdown, and congestive heart failure.  But wait!  I remember the statin sales representatives telling us that statins were important adjuncts in the treatment of patients with heart failure.  In addition, we were told that statins might reduce or reverse narrowing of arteries supplying the heart as well as other organs--even sexual organs.
     Hundreds of millions of statin prescriptions have been filled, adding up to $15 billion in sales worldwide.  Statins have been recommended for children with lupus.  Cholesterol-lowering medicines have been touted as the "standard of care" for almost everyone in our overweight culture.  If a physician didn't prescribe a statin, and a patient with risk factors for heart disease had a heart attack, that physician could be sued for failing to advise the patient to take the "heart-healthy" product.
     What's a doctor to do?
     The longer I work in the medical profession, the less faith I have in anything except my own observations and experience of patients.  This is not how medicine is supposed to be practiced.  We're supposed to be objective and science-based.  Yes, I still read medical journals every day--and I try to ignore the heavy-gauge paper used to make sure advertisements are the first thing readers see when opening the magazine.  We physicians are supposed to rely on double-blind research studies.  But until the government regulates the runaway pharmaceutical industry, putting a halt on dishonest research reports, forbidding advertising by prescription drug companies, and ending all the lies fed to the FDA as well as the perpetual lobbying of legislators, I'll prescribe medicines only when it's a matter of life and death.
     I am discontinuing statin prescriptions for almost all my patients who take them.  The high cholesterol myth is over.  We've always known that the brain is composed almost entirely of cholesterol, and so is the myelin sheath around all our nerves.  Our hormones are built on a cholesterol base.  How could eliminating cholesterol be good for the human body?  Why did doctors fall for such trickery?  How many patients have been harmed in the process?
     Statins may not be completely worthless--after all, they're almost exactly like red-yeast rice (no longer available in this country, though saponins are sold under the same name).  Their main effect is anti-inflammatory.  Inflammation causes coronary disease, not cholesterol.  Lowering inflammation is the key to a healthier life.  But we don't need statins to accomplish this--diet and exercise are much more effective, and so are some key nutrients such as omega-3 fatty acids (fish oil), coenzyme Q-10, magnesium, folate, flax seed, and vitamin C.  Taking care of our teeth, and eliminating cavities and gum disease go a long way toward eliminating heart disease and vascular inflammation in this country, too.
    Better than any drugs or supplements is a lifestyle that includes daily exercise, whole grains, and two-thirds of every plate covered with vegetables and fruits, preferably home-grown.  Being obese is an inflammatory condition, therefore maintaining a healthy weight with a modicum of muscle can do wonders for longevity.
     And love--being in love, loving life, loving one another--has a calming, restorative effect on every organ system, reducing rates of illness.  Dr. Dean Ornish proved this in his 1999 book, Love and Survival:  The Scientific Basis for the Healing Power of Intimacy.  When was the last time your doctor told you to fall in love?
     How many fads have we seen come and go in the past two decades?  The Adkins diet, the South Beach diet, the militancy against cholesterol and trans-fats, high-fructose corn syrup, Noni juice, spirulina, memory and libido-enhancing supplements, "superfoods"--it's depressing for a doctor to be asked about these crazy obsessions.  We don't need miracle cures, we need common sense--save your money and your passion, and spend it on an ordinary, obsession-free  life.  Let's all eat foods that we cook ourselves in pots and pans on our own stoves.  Let's all plant a few fruit trees and vegetables plants, and buy our food from the people who grow it.
      Our primate relatives are constantly exercising and making love.  They eat foods straight from nature, and they don't take statins.  My reference point from now on is going to be monkeys, nature, my patients, the wild world outside my door--not corporate dogma, not nitwitted legislators, not lies. 


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