The case against controversial statin drugs continues to grow. Adding to the fact that statins – drugs widely prescribed to treat “bad” cholesterol – are linked to brain damage and diabetes, a new study found that patients who take the medication are more likely to suffer from the hardening of the arteries.
The hardening of the arteries is the leading cause of heart complications, like heart attacks. On top of damaging the heart, the researchers found statins thwart a process that actually protects the heart. This can “cause, or worsen, heart failure,” according to the study.
The study was published in the Expert Review of Clinical Pharmacology, which will breathe new life into the debate about whether the benefits of statins outweigh the risks. “I cannot find any evidence to support people taking statins,” the author of the study concluded.(1)
Over-prescribed treatment to make a bang for a buck
Statins are widely prescribed in the UK. Approximately 12 million adults in the UK are prescribed statins routinely. Proponents purport that the drug saves lives by lowering cholesterol, and UK health regulators claim that the drug is safe.(1)
Oxford professor Sir Rory Collins has even gone so far to state that overemphasizing the risks of statins undermines their benefits. Refraining from statins could “cause very large numbers of unnecessary deaths from heart attacks and stroke,” claims Collins.(1)
Opponents, on the other hand, have pointed out that the dangerous side-effects of statins, including skeletal weakness, muscle pain, accelerated aging, brain damage and diabetes, far outweigh their supposed benefits. In addition, many fear that statins are over-prescribed so pharmaceutical companies can rake in more drug revenues. In 2014, prescription drug spending shot up about $374 billion, the highest level of spending since 2001.(2)
In the recent study, Professor Harumi Okuyam of Nagoya City and his team reviewed more than 20 major research papers on the drugs. The results? An overwhelmingly massive amount of evidence that statins cause heart disease.(1)
According to the authors, “We have collected a wealth of information on cholesterol and statins from many published papers and find overwhelming evidence that these drugs accelerate hardening of the arteries and can cause, or worsen, heart failure. I cannot find any evidence to support people taking statins and patients who are on them should stop.”(1)
The scientists hypothesized that the belief that statins protect the heart by lowering cholesterol is flawed and that high cholesterol is not necessarily tied to heart disease. They also discovered that statins have a negative impact on vital health processes that underpin a healthy heart.
In particular, the researchers discovered that patients who took statins were more likely to suffer from calcium deposits in their arteries, which are essentially the bread and butter of heart disease. This is because statins block an essential molecule the body needs to churn a vital K vitamin, which prevents the calcification of the arteries.
Studies that reviewed the efficacy of statins before 2004 did not report negative results of the drug
Dr. Okuyama and his team claim earlier industry-sponsored studies, which illustrate the benefits of statins, are unreliable. This is because the studies were carried out prior to new European regulations that were introduced in 2004, which required all trial results, both positive and negative, to be reported.(1)
Before these regulations came into effect, the authors of the study claim “unfair and unethical problems were associated with clinical trials reported by industry-supported scientists.” The researchers in the recent analysis reviewed studies both before and after 2004.(1)
Upon reviewing the studies, the researchers found, “The epidemic of heart failure and atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) that plagues the modern world may paradoxically be aggravated by the pervasive use of statin drugs. We propose that current statin treatment guidelines be critically re-evaluated.”(1)
Dr. Malcom Kendrickmm who has studied heart health and statins boasted, “this study demolishes the argument that these drugs should be prescribed to anyone, as the harms clearly outweigh any previously suggested benefits.”(1)
Dr. Peter Langsjoen, a heart specialist based in Texas who is co-author of the study, added, “Statins are being used so aggressively and in such large numbers of people that the adverse effects are now becoming obvious. These drugs should never have been approved for use. The long-term effects are devastating.”(1)
Despite the clear health problems linked to statins, a spokesman for the British government’s drug regulation agency said: “The benefits of statins are well established and are considered to outweigh the risk of side effects in the majority of patients. Any new significant information on the efficacy of statins will be carefully reviewed and action be taken if required.”(1)