There are many reasons that I am not a big fan of using statin drugs to treat high cholesterol levels. The primary reason being they do not treat the underlying cause of elevated cholesterol. They are also routinely prescribed for the primary prevention of heart disease where they have been shown to be minimally effective.
Drug industry’s deceptive advertising
The best way to lower your cholesterol is by making the right lifestyle choices. Cholesterol drug manufacturers don’t want you to believe this. The commercial for Lipitor says, “Diet and exercise were not enough for me. I stopped kidding myself. If you have been kidding yourself about high cholesterol. Stop.” This statement insinuates that you cannot lower your cholesterol by any other means than drug therapy. This couldn’t be further from the truth.
Do these drugs reduce the risk of heart disease?
Cholesterol drugs are said to reduce your risk of heart disease. This is assumed because they reduce a risk factor (high cholesterol). I would imagine that everyone who is taking a statin medication believes that they are reducing their risk of a heart attack, but take a look at this is a snapshot from an actual commercial for the drug Crestor. Notice the disclaimer 31 seconds into the video that says “Crestor has not been shown to prevent heart disease or heart attack.
Playing with the numbers: Relative Risk vs. Absolute Risk
Pfizer, the manufacturer of Lipitor, states that taking Lipitor will reduce your risk of having a heart attack by 36%, but what does this number really mean? Statistics can be revealed in two ways:
Relative risk: This number is used by drug companies to make the numbers sound better. For example, if 100 people with no prior history of cardiovascular disease take a statin, 2 people will have a heart attack. If 100 people take a placebo (sugar pill), 3 people will have a heart attack. To calculate the relative risk you subtract 3-2 and divide by 3. This number is 33%. Now we can claim a 33% reduction in heart attacks. Sounds like a pretty effective drug right?
Absolute risk: A more revealing way to state the results is to use absolute risk. This risk is calculated by taking the percentage of subjects who had a heart attack in the treatment (statin) group (3%) and subtracting from that number the percentage of people who had a heart attack in the control group (2%). Therefore the absolute risk for Lipitor is 1%.
So what headline sounds better to you?
Relative risk headline:
Blockbuster drug slashes heart attack risk by 36%!
Absolute risk headline:
New drug results in a 1% reduction in heart attacks!
Don’t be fooled by the drug industry and their inflated results. They may not be lying to you about their numbers, but they are being deceptive. If you have never had a heart attack and are taking a statin drug, you are likely doing your body more harm than good.
In other statin news…… A new study released this month showed that statin use was associated with a 56% increased risk of cataracts (1). The authors state, The bio-plausibility of these results lies in the fact that the crystalline lens membrane requires high cholesterol for proper epithelial cell development and lens transparency. Increased cataract formation has been seen in both animals and humans with hereditary cholesterol deficiency, and the risk exists that statins can inhibit cholesterol biosynthesis in the human lens.
A study funded by AstraZeneca, the makers of the cholesterol lowering drug Crestor, showed that the heart benefits of statins outweighed the risk of these drugs causing diabetes. This one made the media headlines while the cataract study did not. This study was funded by a drug company that makes a statin drug. In addition to that, some of the researchers who were involved with the study have been paid thousands of dollars by drug manufacturers. Hmmm, I think I will take this one with a grain of salt.