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The State of Statins (Cholesterol Lowering Drugs)

We’ve known for quite a while that lowering your cholesterol can reduce your risk of heart disease, heart attack, and stroke.   Low fat diets, weight loss, and exercise can help people to control their cholesterol levels – but for those who do not succeed with these methods, a class of medications have been developed (known as “statins”) to reduce cholesterol.  These drugs have been so successful at reducing cholesterol that some doctors have joked about putting statins in the water supply.  In fact, 36 million Americans take a statin every day, generating annual sales of
$15.5 billion for the manufacturers, and making two statins – Lipitor and
Zocor – the top two best-selling drugs in the USA.

Four new studies were published in the past week about these drugs.  I thought I’d summarize the findings for you to keep you up to speed with the very latest statin information.

Statins May Reduce Mortality After Having A Stroke

Spanish researchers followed the progress of 89 stroke patients who were already taking statins.  For the first three days after the stroke, 46 patients received no statins, and 43 got their normal dose.  After three months, 27 people – 60 % of the “no statins”
group – had either died or were disabled to the point that they needed
help to live a normal life, compared with 16 people from the group
allowed to keep taking statins.
This small study suggests that stroke patients should not stop taking their statins.  More research is needed to clarify the role of statins in stroke.

Statins May Reduce The Brain Plaques Associated With Alzheimer’s Disease

Researchers at the University of Washington examined the brain tissue of 110 people who had donated their brains to research upon their death.  They found there were
significantly fewer plaques and tangles (the hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease) in the brains of people who had taken statins compared with those who had not.  This is good news, but will require further research to determine whether or not statins could be used (or should be used) specifically for the treatment or prevention of Alzheimer’s Disease.

Statins Don’t Seem To Reduce The Risk of Colon Cancer

A group of Greek researchers conducted a review of the scientific literature to see if there may be a reduction in colon cancer rates among people who take statins.  They found no evidence that statins reduce the risk of colon cancer.

Statin Side Effects Appear To Be Ignored By Some Physicians

The journal Drug Safety surveyed 650 patients about their experience with statins.  Eighty-seven percent of patients reportedly spoke to their physician
about the possible connection between statin use and a symptom.
Physicians were  more
likely to deny than affirm the possibility of a connection. Rejection
of a possible connection was reported to occur even for symptoms with
strong literature support for a drug connection.  This report is concerning since it seems to suggest that physicians don’t take patient complaints as seriously as they should.

I asked Dr. Frank Smart what he thought about the side effects of statins and whether or not physicians should be more aware of them.

“The statin side effects exist
but in my opinion are overplayed. In my practice about 5% of people on statins
have some muscle issues. Most improve with dose reduction or change to a more
hydrophyllic compound.

Physicians should be better educated about side effects and the one who
should do the educating is pharma, and websites like Revolution Health.  Most docs are as
familiar with statin side effects as they are with other drug classes, so good
but not great. We would all love to raise the bar but it is tough as you

As many as 30% of patients reportedly experience a side effect from statins (including: headache, nausea,
vomiting, constipation, diarrhea, rash, weakness, and muscle pain) though severe muscle damage is very rare (for example, one article reported 24 cases in 252,460 patients.)  Overall, statins have many health benefits and are well tolerated by the majority of patients.This post originally appeared on Dr. Val’s blog at

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