Well, well, well…didn’t I just say so? Looks like statins–those mega-popular cholesterol lowering drugs pushed by every general practitioner in existence–are getting new safety warnings about risks of memory loss and elevated blood sugar. You don’t say? Why yes, looks like the ol’ magic-bullet is being knocked down a notch or two, and with good reason.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) reports that it’s making labeling changes to the statin drugs–like Lipitor, Crestor, and Zocor–that will warn of memory loss and confusion reported among certain patients taking statins. Although the feds reassure us that the brain effects are not permanent–apparently going away with discontinuation of the drug–still they find it best to label the drugs to warn us of the potential for waking up in Niagara Falls with no recollection of how we got there. Doh!

Further, the updated labels will also mention elevated levels of blood sugar, associated with diabetes, that have been reported in some patients taking statins. Wait…early onset Alzheimer’s-like symptoms and diabetes?! Wow, get some right away…thanks doc. Yes, although the increased risk is small, an increasing number of studies is showing it’s there nonetheless.

Cardiologists, however, are sticking to their guns, stating that the benefits of statins outweigh the risks. “Patients should not see this as a new danger with the drugs, but as a known abnormality that appears in blood testing and should be discussed with their doctor,” said Dr. Kevin Marzo, chief of cardiology at Winthrop-University Hospital in New York. He goes on to say that he doesn’t see the new warnings making much of a dent in how (read: how much) the drugs are prescribed.

Okay well this much we can assume, doctor; but let me paint a more complete picture for the generally trusting public. What cardiologists mean when they say “the benefits of statins outweigh the risks” pertains to a certain demographic, in reality a minuscule fraction of the tens of millions that are currently taking the drugs. Remember from a 2008 post on statins, the number needed to treat (NNT) for even one person to receive benefit from statins is 100. So in other words, for every person receiving benefit, 99 do not; or in bigger numbers: 9.9 million of every 10 million people on statins gets NO BENEFIT!

So what they really mean is the best ways to lower heart disease risk are (in descending order):

  • Lifestyle modification including exercise, healthy diet, omega 3 fatty acid consumption, healthy vitamin D levels, healthy gut microbiota
  • Statins + lifestyle modifications
  • Statins
  • Doing nothing

What cardiologists assume (and for some people correctly) is that many patients will do nothing. But that’s not you, right? No need to assume the risks associated with statins. Do the right things and you won’t have to, no matter how much your medical drug dealer pushes.

Copyright © 2013 Dr. Nick Campos - All Rights Reserved.