Statins: Time to Reassess Benefits & Risks?

  • Some things don’t change… even though they should
  • Why these statements have to be challenged
  • Health advice for all budgets available here…

You get used to things as older age settles in.

My favourite cardigan is more a comforting friend than an item of clothing, my favourite chair in the corner by the fire is a safe refuge from the horrors of family life and the Daily Express is a powerful supporter of using statins.

Things you can really depend upon.

Ever since I first started to discover the problems of this class of drug I continually ran up against an Express story saying how they cured cancer, saved lives and supported the British economy.

A real single handed cure-all you might say.

On Monday I saw their headline and knew what I was in for – ‘Extremely’ high cholesterol may show on the skin – the sign that ‘treatment is essential

Oh I wonder what treatment they recommend?

No surprise that it was another thinly veiled chance to promote the use of statins, It’s what I have come to expect.

But two sentences did make my blood boil;

HIGH cholesterol is a common condition that has simple solutions once diagnosed

This is the first of their lazy attempts to justify mass use of cholesterol lowering statins by demonising cholesterol without properly explaining what the phrase HIGH cholesterol actually means.

Something we all need to know about cholesterol in our blood stream is that around 80% of it doing the rounds in your blood is made by your own liver irrespective of what kind of diet you eat.

Your body needs cholesterol to build new cell walls, to provide energy for your brain and nerve calls and to create hormones and utilise Vitamin D.

It’s a really important chemical, and a deficiency can be a major problem.

So, using a statement with leading capitals about ‘high’ levels is just a meaningless concept.

What is high?

As we get older we need more cholesterol in our blood to enable cell regeneration and keep our brains functioning, so having higher levels as an 80 year old might actually be a healthy sign.

But not many doctors seem to know this.

This leads me to the second sentence that caused my rant…

Different subtypes of cholesterol exist, and it is low-density cholesterol that is most problematic

My dear readers this is just wrong at every level.

This phrase perpetuates a deceit which has been used by the pharmaceutical companies since they developed statins because…

…There are no subtypes of cholesterol… there is just cholesterol!

…Low-density cholesterol does not exist…never has… never will!

Let me explain.

Cholesterol is a lipid, a fat, which cannot be carried in the blood as it doesn’t dissolve in the water based plasma.

So, it needs to be carried by specialised proteins called lipoproteins.

These come in a range of sizes and can carry differing amounts of cholesterol, the big lorry sized ones are known as high density lipoproteins (HDL’s) and then there are small van like ones called low density lipoproteins (LDL’s)… and also push bike sized ones called ultra low density lipoproteins (ULDL’s).

The big lorries motor through the blood vessels and push all sorts of debris in front of them, thus they essentially clean the arteries… hence they get known as ‘Good’.

The small vans and push bikes get trapped behind slower moving ‘traffic’ and end up jammed in small streets, thus causing blockages… these are the ‘Bad’ ones.

Please note that the cholesterol is just a payload, the variation is in the carrier.

So, what we need is not less cholesterol but more big lorries to move it.

This is where diet makes a difference.

Eat oily fish, consume high quality natural oils such as olive oil or coconut oil and reduce carbohydrates in diet (not totally remove them, just limit them.)

This is why I get a little hot under the collar about poor quality journalism that the population and even our doctors take as gospel.

Statins: Is it time to reassess benefits and risks?

This was the title of a paper published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2012, where the link between statin use and the development of type II diabetes was shown.

Unfortunately papers such as this are quickly suppressed and marginalised by the powerful pharmaceutical PR machine.

As a result challenges to the notion that we should all be taking these drugs once we hit 60 years old do not get aired as they should.

But we do need to have a proper review of the use of statins as a prophylactic for cardiovascular disease… the evidence is there.

If you visit the Good Life Letter website and search for statins you’ll see all of the recent articles I have written about this class of drugs.

For many people I understand why they may be beneficial, and I would not like any of you to stop taking a prescribed medication without discussion with your GP or specialist.

But it might be that there are other options available.

Better advice rather than more drugs needed

Faced with full waiting rooms and fewer doctors to see patients the NHS seems to have adopted the magic pill solution to healthcare.

In doing this they are swallowing the spurious claims made by drug companies and encouraging GPs to palm patients off with a quick fix rather than engaging them in making life saving change.

As Dr Chaand Nagpaul, chair of the BMA’s GPs committee said “Any decision on treatment should look at wider factors, including lifestyle, and empower patients to make informed choices about their own healthcare choices.”

But which choices?

Well one thing all of the cardiologists in the group agreed on was that adopting the so called Mediterranean diet alone would be more beneficial than taking a statin.

I’m all for that, Portugal here I come!

But, flippancy aside, if you are a single person living in the centre of Bristol how do you get the benefits of the sunshine coast?

It’s not as hard as you may first imagine, here’s my simple Mediterranean guide.

  • Fish is king. Eating 2-3 portions of fish each week is the most important change to make, even if you are buying frozen fresh fish that you make into a fish stew, chowder or pasta sauce. If you can get fresh whole fish it will be even better for you, grilled or baked with herbs, garlic and onions.
  • White meat. The true Mediterranean diet uses sparing quantities of red meat but does include chicken, turkey and even rabbit. These are all freely available all year round.
  • Fresh whole foods in season. You may be getting bored with me banging this drum, but using vegetables and fruit that has flown halfway around the world won’t do you any good (even as part of your five-a-day). Get something local, covered in dirt and full of flavour and goodness instead.
  • Ditch the sugar. Honey and low fat natural yoghurts are things of healthy beauty especially if combined with fresh or dried fruits. If you have a sweet tooth try adding these into your meals instead of sugar rich sauces or ketchup – you’ll enjoy the meals all the more.
  • Drink in moderation. My favourite part… a glass of red wine with your meal really can boost heart health, just make sure it is the one glass though!

I would hope that none of this is impossible for any location or indeed budget.