Statins – good or bad?

Statins are the most widely prescribed of all drugs in the UK, being used to prevent heart attacks and strokes. This is known as “primary prevention”. They are also nearly always prescribed after someone has had a heart attack or stroke. This is known as “secondary prevention”.

My understanding to date has been that overall statins are not successful in primary prevention. In secondary prevention they may sometimes help extend life, but by no means always, and there is the very real risk of side effects such as muscular aches and kidney failure.

What statins do

Statins were designed to lower cholesterol, however they do this by interfering with one of the most important processes in our body. This process is terpenoid/cholesterol production. These chemicals:

  1. Enable our cells to use energy in our mitochondria (terpenoids)
  2. Protect us from calcification of the arteries (terpenoids)
  3. Protect us from damaging free radicals (terpenoids)
  4. Keep our membranes stiff enough (cholesterol)
  5. Provide us with hormones to manage stress and sex drive (cholesterol)

Basically someone went tinkering with the human body. Found they could change one thing (cholesterol levels) without taking much, if any notice of the large number of other potentially damaging changes they were making.

A recent scientific perspective article from Japan highlights some of the known downsides of statin therapy. Here is my summary of what it said.

1-Statins weaken muscles including the heart

Within our muscle cells are energy producing factories called mitochondria. These produce the energy molecule ATP by shifting electrons between big molecules in the inner mitochondrial membrane. One of these molecules is coenzyme Q10.

Coenzyme Q10 is made using some of the same terpenoids that cholesterol is made from. Unfortunately statins block the production of these terpenoids, one of the key building blocks for production of cholesterol and coQ10. The result is no coenzyme Q10. As a result the mitochondria stop producing energy.

This is the best known and most common side effect of chronic statin use. About one in every five users goes on to develop serious muscle pain and in some cases heart failure.

2-Statins harden arteries

This one was new to me, although I well knew the beneficial effects of vitamin K2.

A protein called “matrix Gla protein” protects our arteries, heart, lung, kidney and bone from calcium deposits by binding to calcium ions, preventing them building up in unwanted sites. Vitamin K2 is critical for the function of matrix Gla protein. It alters matrix Gla protein so it can bind to calcium. Unfortunatley statins prevent vitamin K2 being made from its precursor vitamin K1. This production of vitamin K2 from vitamin K1 requires a terpenoid and statins prevent them being produced.

In other words if you are eating plenty of fresh greens which contain vitamin K1 you are no longer able to convert this into the artery protecting vitamin K2 when taking statins. I should add that you can consume vitamin K2 directly by consuming dairy produce such as cheese and butter. Unfortunately cutting down on cheese and butter is, and certainly was precisely the message that was given to new statin users by doctors. The truth is you are better off eating dairy if you are on statins.

3-Statins lower protection against heart muscle damage

We all produce our own anti-oxidants. Generally far more effective than all the anti-oxidants you buy in the health food shops. Statins unfortunately reduce our levels of protective enzymes containing selenium. These selenoproteins are produced by a molecule “tRNAsc” that contains a terpenoid. Statins block the terpenoid and so the molecule whose job it is to create the selenoproteins, no longer is being produced.

Lack of selenoproteins leads to damage to a number of areas of the body, but heart muscle seems to be one of them. This is backed up by the fact that people with insufficient selenium as well as those on statins can develop a fatal cardiomyopathy called Keshan disease, where the heart muscles are damaged.

Statins can cause diabetes

The selenoproteins mentioned above are also needed to protect against diabetes.

Statins are not effective at reducing heart attack

This is perhaps the most surprising claim made, since statins were mainly designed to decrease heart attacks. However, in virtually all groups, the data since 2004 (when new EU regulations came into effect governing how studies should be conducted), show insignificant change in risk of heart attack after statin therapy.

Given that statins can damage arterial cells by effectively turning off their energy source perhaps we should not be surprised by these results. Having lower cholesterol levels is not as good as everyone was led to believe. The misinformation spread about statins in the 1980s and 1990s was based on improving profit margins for major drug companies. Heart attack had, after all become by the 1970s the biggest killer in the Western world.

DrDobbin says:

Basically the medical profession have been using a blunderbuss to perform their keyhole surgery. Statins intefere with too wide ranging a process to make their effects predictable for any individual. Many will come off worse than they would otherwise have been. If your cholesterol levels are high >6.0 mmol/L, then there are better ways of lowering them for most people .

Note: If you have hypercholesterolaemia then statins may be necessary as your cholesterol levels are likely to be in double figures, even above 20mmol/L. Such levels are dangerous. This is not neccesarily the case for those with levels of 7 or even 8mmo/L