Cholesterol High? If You Take Lipitor, Then You Need to Know This

Statins are drugs used to lower cholesterol numbers. Lipitor, Crestor and Zocor are just a few. They are given out like candy. But just how well do they work?

Lipitor was the first drug to ever break $20 billion in annual sales. Make no mistakes, this class of drugs has been one of the most successful financial windfalls that the pharmaceutical companies have ever experienced, with Pfizer leading the pack with Lipitor sales. And well it should, because it cuts heart attack rates by 50%.

I would imagine that, for the uninformed doctor who does not read medical literature, a 50% reduction in the rates of heart attacks in his or her patients sounds like a great idea. No wonder it’s sitting on the checkout counter right next to the mints.

But, let’s look at this from another angle. Let’s say there’s a very rare type of cancer that attacks the tip of the pinkie. 2 people in the US get this cancer every year. Windfall Pharmaceuticals develops a drug that can lower the rate of the cancer every year. But you have to treat everyone in the US who has a pinkie to see this benefit. So, we treat some 300 million people for years and years to prevent a single case of pinkie cancer per year.

For those of you good with math, this is a 50% reduction.

Kind of sucks for the 299,999,999 other people who won’t actually get a benefit, especially when their is a very long list of side effects associated with this particular medication. Windfall Pharmaceuticals, however, could not be happier.

So back to the statin story.

We have already established that statins cut the rates of heart attacks by 50%. But this is the RELATIVE risk, not the ABSOLUTE risk. The absolute risk refers to how many actual people will be saved from having a heart attack when a group of people take a statin. The numbers may surprise you.

The most recent numbers are highlighted in this particular study. When 1,000 patients with high cholesterol are treated with a statin for 5 years, a mere 11 heart attacks will be avoided. Doing simple math, this equates to a cost of some $$3,650,000 to prevent 11 heart attacks, or $331,818 per heart attack prevented.

So, for those of you who think organic food and a gym membership is expensive, I’m thinking that $66,364 per year will buy a lot of produce and your own personal trainer (and chef, for that matter) to come 3 times per week.

The real kick in the gluts is the article’s conclusion, which states, “This benefit greatly exceeds any known hazards of statin therapy. Under present guidelines, such individuals would not typically be regarded as suitable for LDL-lowering statin therapy. The present report suggests, therefore, that these guidelines might need to be reconsidered.”

Basically, this panel thinks we need to stop giving statin pills and just dump the stuff in the water supply because we aren’t using it enough. I’m not sure what fairy tale would they happen to be living in, but I’d place some bets on what type of companies they own stock in.

This, of course, takes none of the side effects of statins into account, which have gotten quite lengthy, and can include:

  • Potential increase in the risk of cancer
  • Increased risk of chronic muscle diseases
  • Problems with the functioning of the heart
  • Reduction in cognitive function
  • Increases the risk of your muscles melting, a condition called rhabdomyolosis
  • Increases risk of long term muscle damage, even after discontinuation
  • Nullifies–YES, nullifies, the positive effects of exercise on the heart

So, the next time your doctor suggests you should take a statin, ask him or her for 5 solid recommendations to help you lower your cholesterol naturally. (For a pretty solid list, check my recommendations)  Then, ask him what the absolute risk reduction would be for you.

If either of these answers fall short, maybe it’s time to find a new doctor.

What have you done to lower your cholesterol naturally?

James Bogash

For more than a decade, Dr. Bogash has stayed current with the medical literature as it relates to physiology, disease prevention and disease management. He uses his knowledge to educate patients, the community and cyberspace on the best way to avoid and / or manage chronic diseases using lifestyle and targeted supplementation.