In previous articles we have looked at lipid lowering drug regimes and their differing actions. Of course the most popular group of drugs for lowering cholesterol are the statins. Currently there is growing pressure by big pharma and sympathetic doctors to widen the use of these drugs by lowering the acceptable ‘normal levels’, using enhanced testing for young teenagers, and lobbying for anyone from 50 onwards to be on a combined aspirin/statin drug irrespective of their blood lipid levels as a prophylactic regime for the life of the individual.
All drug therapies have side effects to varying degrees – Cholesterol lowering drugs have some of the biggest lists of side effects.
“It is important to understand that statins do effectively lower cholesterol levels. There is no argument that these drugs work but they in no way shape or form treat the cause of the problem. They are nothing more than a potentially toxic band-aid. When you choose not to address the cause of the problem, the underlying condition that is causing the risk factor (high cholesterol) will crop up and eventually cause other diseases”. Dr Joseph Mercola
Let’s examine the known side effects of just one type of statin called Simvastatin (brand name Zocor), remembering that this is less potent than Rosuvastatin (currently the most potent statin on the market). Simvastatin may cause the following symptoms: dry mouth, nosebleeds, increased breathlessness, and severe itching. It is stated in MIMS (Monthly Index of Medical Specialities) that adverse reactions to this drug could also include headache, asthenia (weakness or debility), abdominal pain, alopecia (loss of hair), dizziness, muscle cramps, myalgia (muscle pain), pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas), paraesthesia (a sensation of tingling, pricking, or numbness of the skin with no apparent physical cause), and peripheral neuropathy (a condition caused by damage to the nerves in the peripheral nervous system).
The peripheral nervous system includes nerves that run from the brain and spinal cord to the rest of the body. Peripheral neuropathy is usually felt at first as tingling and numbness in the hands and feet. Symptoms can be described as burning, shooting pain, throbbing, aching, and feeling ‘like frostbite’ or ‘walking on a bed of coals’.
Further possible reactions to Simvastatin include anaemia (a deficiency of red blood cells which can lead to a lack of oxygen carrying ability, causing unusual tiredness and other symptoms) and, on rare occasions, rhabdomyolysis. Rhabdomyolysis is a disorder involving injury to the kidney resulting from the toxic effects of certain contents of muscle cells. It occurs when the iron-containing pigment myoglobin, found in the skeletal muscle, enters the bloodstream. The skeletal muscle releases myoglobin into the bloodstream after the muscle suffers damage. The kidneys attempt to filter the myoglobin out of the bloodstream, but the myoglobin can occlude the structures within the kidney, resulting in damage such as acute tubular necrosis or kidney failure. The myoglobin then may break down into additional toxic compounds, which can cause further kidney damage and failure. In addition, the dead (necrotic) skeletal muscle can cause large shifts in fluid from the bloodstream into the muscle, which reduces the relative fluid volume of the body and can lead to shock and reduced blood flow to the kidney, hepatitis (inflammation of the liver), jaundice, and myopathy (abnormal conditions or disease of the muscle tissues).
Additionally Cardiologist Peter Langsjoen notes that statin treatment may lead to heart muscle weakening and failure. ‘It occurs because statin drugs block the production of coenzyme Q10, vital for the production of cell energy,’ says Langsjoen. ‘Evidence to the FDA shows marked reduction of CoQ10 in patients on statin drugs.’
The final point to be borne in mind is the use of long term drug therapy to lower cholesterol levels, where it is unclear what the full effects might be over a 30 year period. In spite of this, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) gives approval for this class of drugs on the basis of less than 10 years’ clinical trials.