Tag Archives: statins

Ditching the statins

ImageOccasionally at the surgery I get the chance to read through old newspaper articles. I just came across this one by Dr Haroun Gajraj a vascular consultant based in Dorset who had recently been prescribed statins for high cholesterol.

For eight years he faithfully popped his pills without side effects until one day last year he stopped. Not because of side effects but because he had a good look at the research. He concluded that statins would not save him from a heart attack and that his cholesterol levels were pretty irrelevant anyway.

Why this bolt from the blue? Gajraj had discovered the amazing Norwegian Hunt 2 Study which I wrote about last year. The study came out in 2011 and followed 52,000 men and women aged between 20 ad 74 for 10 years. It showed that contrary to all the hype, the lower a woman’s total cholesterol, the greater her risk of dying, either of heart disease or anything else including cancer. The study backed up others which have linked high cholesterol levels with increased longevity in older people.

He, like many other experts such as Dr Aseem Malhotra, are not convinced by the idea that cholesterol is the baddie in the heart disease story but believe it might simply be an innocent bystander. In fact, these experts are beginning to believe that sugar is emerging as the true villain and after years of demonisation, saturated fat is fast being acquitted of causing heart disease.

In a recent survey by Pulse, six in 10 GPs opposed the recent draft proposal to lower the risk level at which patients are prescribed statins. And 55 per cent said they would not take statins themselves or recommend them to a relative based on the proposed new guidelines. Surely this must say something about these horrendous drugs?

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Olive oil and nuts better than statins

images-1A five year Spanish study published in the New England Journal of Medicine this week, shows that a diet of fish, chicken, fruit and vegetables is ‘better than a drug’. In fact the group assigned to the Mediterranean type diet had a 30 per cent lower risk of having a heart attack or stroke over five years.

This should be music to any woman’s ears. Several statin studies have already shown that statins bring no statistically significant reduction in the risk of stroke or overall death in women.

A couple of years ago I had a stroke completely out of the blue whilst sunning myself on holiday in Corfu. It was a scary experience not least because there is only one hospital in Corfu and that did not inspire confidence.

In Greece, doctors don’t talk about cholesterol or statins. They believe that stress is the main cause of stroke. It was only when I set foot in the UK that I was told I should start a statin immediately.

I have been a health journalist long enough to remember when cholesterol was the good guy. I have written countless articles about the wonder of this amazing substance which is essential to every cell in the body. Nevertheless I had just gone through a terrifying event which could potentially have left me paralysed for life, so I had no choice but to take the tablets.

Within days of taking the drugs I had nightmares, muscle cramps and general tiredness. I went back to my GP who joked that quite a few of his patients couldn’t tolerate Simvastatin. Simvastatin is the cheapest statin and so is routinely prescribed as the first line of treatment. I was put on Atorvastatin.

Although the nightmares improved, this time I had dizzy spells and generally felt unwell. The truth is I was downright miserable about being on a drug I felt I really didn’t need.

Trawling the internet I came across Dr Malcolm McKendrick’s book The Great Cholesterol Con http://drmalcolmkendrick.org/about/ where he suggests that the protection provided by statins women is so small as to be not worth bothering about.

McKendrick goes further and points out that lowering cholesterol to below 4, particularly over the age of 50 is actually dangerous. He cites another study in the Lancet in 2001 which showed that ‘in elderly people with low serum cholesterol, low cholesterol concentration actually increases the risk of death.

His book backed up my gut instinct which tells me these drugs are not the miracle workers they claim to be. I see no reason to continue taking a drug which may be doing me harm and according to the latest research has no real benefit. So I have ditched the statins and will now take the advice of the Greek doctors-cut out stress from my life, use more olive oil in my salad and eat more nuts!

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Why has this cholesterol study gone unnoticed?

Raised cholesterol may be good for women of a certain age

The HUNT 2 Study which appeared in the Journal of Evaluation in Clinical Practice earlier this year concluded that cholesterol is an overestimated risk factor in current clinical guidelines for the prevention of cardiovascular disease.

The Norwegian study assessed over 52,000 Norwegians over a 10 year period and part of the study was to assess the relationship between total cholesterol levels and risk of death from cardiovascular disease.

The study showed that overall risk of death was not any higher in men with cholesterol levels over 7.0 mmol/l – in fact the lowest risk of death in men was seen in those whose cholesterol levels were between 5.0 and 5.9 mmol/l.

In women however the results were even more astounding. The higher the cholesterol level the lower the overall risk of death. Compared to women with cholesterol levels lower than 5.0 mmol/l the women with levels 7.0 or higher were 28 per cent less likely to die overall.

Author of the research ‘Is the use of cholesterol in mortality risk algorithms in clinical guidelines valid? Ten years prospective data from the Norwegian HUNT 2 Study isDr Halfdan Petursson. He says that the current European guidelines to keep cholesterol levels below 5 – particularly for women – are misleading. ‘Our study provides an updated epidemiological indication of possible errors in the CVD risk algorithms of many clinical guidelines’ he says.

‘Of course this was an observational study not a randomized control study.  But nevertheless it has shown that women with high cholesterol live longer. Most studies have purely looked at cholesterol groups that show a strong linear association. The moment you adjust for age in women aged 50 or older the association becomes reversed’ he says.

‘The message to the public that if your cholesterol measures 6 or 7 perhaps the way to go is not to immediately try to lower it. We believe that public health recommendations regarding the ‘dangers’ of cholesterol should be revised. This is especially true for women, for whom moderately raised cholesterol may prove not only to be harmless but even beneficial’ he adds.

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Chronic kidney disease

According to an NHS report out today more than 1.8 million people in England have diagnosed chronic kidney disease (CKD). There are also another possible million people who don’t even know they have it.

People with CKD suffer a gradual loss of kidney function over time as the kidney become less effective at filtering waste products from the blood. This causes water, waste and toxic substances to accumulate in the body.

What will make the statin companies sit up and take note is that those with CKD are ‘at increased risk of stroke, heart attack, bone disease and other conditions’ the first two of which will put these 2.8 million people into the risk category for statin therapy.

Big Pharma must be rubbing their hands with glee!

You can find the report at: http://www.kidneycare.nhs.uk/document.php?o=1284

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Women and statins – devastating new research

Why would any woman over 50 need to be on statins?

New evidence about the effect of statins on women came out this week in a meta analysis in the Archives of Internal Medicine. The study suggests ‘there is no benefit of statins on stroke or all-cause mortality in women’.

So why is it so many of us women are still automatically put on them as soon as our cholesterol creeps up higher than the magic number of 5? (A totally arbitrary figure incidentally!)

Let me explain my obsession with statins. A couple of years ago I had a stroke completely out of the blue whilst sunning myself on holiday in Corfu. It was a scary experience-one minute I had gone to sleep replete with a nice Greek Salad and a nice glass of wine-the next I awoke to find myself paralysed down my left hand side.

In Greece, doctors don’t talk about cholesterol as a risk factor for stroke-they talk about stress. So no statins were prescribed in the little hospital in Corfu just plain blood thinners. However I had written enough features about strokes to know once I returned to the UK it would be a very different story.

Sure enough when I saw my GP once he had ascertained I had no other risk factors he measured my cholesterol level and I was put on statins. My cholesterol was 5.7-around average for a woman of my age.

Now, I admit I am a bit of a cynic about the whole cholesterol story. I have been writing about health for far too long to believe in its  new found status as the bogeyman of the health world.

I remember when cholesterol was the good guy and have written countless articles about the wonder of this amazing substance which as far as I know is essential to every cell in the body. Nevertheless since I had just had a terrifying event which could potentially have left me paralysed for life, I wasn’t about to argue. So I went along with the madness.

It is very hard to argue against statins because the experts whose judgement you trust, bandy about statistics which are designed to scare the living daylights out of anyone who disagrees. So I gave in without a whimper clutching my prescription for Simvastatin.

Within days of taking the drugs I was suffering from nightmares, muscle cramps and general tiredness. I went back to my GP who joked that quite a few of his patients couldn’t tolerate Simvastatin. Simvastatin is the cheapest statin and so is routinely prescribed as the first line of treatment. I was put on Atorvastatin.

Although the nightmares improved, this time I had dizzy spells and generally felt unwell and actually I was downright miserable about the fact I had to be on drugs I felt I really didn’t need.

Instinctively I felt sure that the reason cholesterol levels rise after the menopause might be some protective mechanism against heart disease rather than a dangerous precursor of cardiovascular risk.

Obviously I had no evidence for this but I decided to look into whether any research had been done into women and statins.

Trawling the internet I came across Dr Malcolm McKendrick’s book The Great Cholesterol Con http://drmalcolmkendrick.org/about/ where he suggests that the protection provided by statins women is so small as to be not worth bothering about. I spoke to him recently and he seems like a reasonable chap. It seems that this latest research backs up his theories.

The review published this week pooled the results of several statin studies to see if there was any difference between results obtained in women compared to men.Whilst there were reductions in heart attacks, strokes and overall risk of death in men there was no statistically significant reduction in the risk of stroke or overall death in women.

Ah, but as the doctors pointed out I had already had a stroke and was therefore at a greater risk of having another one. In fact a 1995 study in the Lancet looked at 450,000 people over a period of 16 years who had suffered a total of 13,000 strokes between them. It concluded that ‘there was no association between blood cholesterol and stroke’.

McKendrick goes further and points out that lowering cholesterol to below 4, particularly over the age of 50 is actually dangerous. He cites another study in the Lancet in 2001 which showed that ‘in elderly people with low serum cholesterol, low cholesterol concentration actually increases the risk of death.

The conclusion of the study was quite clear: ‘Our data casts doubt on the scientific justification for lowering cholesterol to very low concentrations’. So why are women routinely prescribed a drug which could be doing them harm and at best do them no good at all? Ah, because statins also protect against inflammation. Of course…silly me!

During this time, I decided to write about my stroke for a national newspaper http://www.telegraph.co.uk/health/8581956/Sun-sand-sea-and-a-stroke.html in the hope that I might find out more about why I was being kept on the dreaded statins. I interviewed top stroke expert Professor Tony Rudd at St Thomas’s Hospital.

One of the first things he suggested was that I have a ‘bubble’ test to check if I had a type of hole in my heart known as a patent foramen ovale-sometimes implicated in strokes where there is no known cause. It turns out I was a textbook case for the condition! I was offered an op to close the hole. Then apparently I could carry on with life as normal-as if I had never had a stroke!

Hoorah! At last-the chance to flush the wretched tablets down the loo! But wait. No. I was told to keep taking the tablets-just as a precaution you understand? Against what?

Again, I was too scared of all the horrid statistics which were being thrown at me should I dare to come off the statins.

In a recent tweet, outspoken Glasgow-based GP, Dr Margaret McCartney urged NICE to look at emerging and existing evidence on statins for women. ‘We need to be honest about the limitations of our knowledge and make best informed decisions on that’ she says.

My gut instinct tells me these drugs are not the miracle workers they claim to be. I see no reason to continue taking a drug which may be doing me harm and according to the latest research has no real benefit. So, with the support of my GP’s I am coming off statins and am on a mission to research other methods of lowering my cholesterol.

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