An astonishing 48% of Canadian men over 65 and 36% of women are taking cholesterol medication[1. http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/82-003-x/2014006/article/14032/tbl/tbl4-eng.htm]; the numbers are similar in the US. [2. http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/databriefs/db177.htm] The US Center for Disease Control, the CDC, is calling for even more adults to jump on the statin bandwagon. But are people fully informed of the health risks and benefits associated with these drugs?
Buried Statistics: The NNT
Every pharmaceutical has a measure called Number Needed to Treat, or NNT. This number tells you how many people would need to take a drug in order for it to result in good. The lower the number, the more effective the drug.
A perfect drug would have an NNT of 1; for every person treated with the drug, everyone is cured. You’re likely to see this sort of NNT with well-established antibiotics.
A satisfactory drug would have an NNT of 2.5; for every 10 people who take the drug, 4 would be cured by it, 3 would be cured naturally, and 3 would remain sick.
The NNT of the most popular cholesterol medication, Lipitor, is 100. That means for one person to prevent a heart attack, 99 other people would have to take the drug with no measurable benefits. This number was established in a study run by the company itself. Other (independent) studies point at that number being much higher – closer to 250 NNT.
Reducing the Odds of Help Even Further: Side Effects
Statistics work both ways – both in establishing how many people are helped, and also in establishing how many people are harmed. An estimated 10-15% of users of these drugs experience the following side effects:
- muscle pain
- memory issues
- weight gain
To put a finer point on the math: you are 10-15 times more likely to cause yourself harm by taking these drugs than you are to actually do yourself any good. In an article written on Bloomberg.com, Dr. Jerome Hoffman, professor of clinical medicine at the University of California at Los Angeles said:
[quote]Several recent scientific papers peg the NNT for statins at 250 and up for lower-risk patients, even if they take it for five years or more. “What if you put 250 people in a room and told them they would each pay $1,000 a year for a drug they would have to take every day, that many would get diarrhea and muscle pain, and that 249 would have no benefit? And that they could do just as well by exercising? How many would take that?” [3. http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2008-01-16/do-cholesterol-drugs-do-any-good][/quote]
What’s more, a recent report the Diabetologia found that statins make the body less sensitive to insulin. That means this class of drugs actually puts you at higher risk for diabetes – in the study, a 46% higher risk! [4. http://www.diabetologia-journal.org/]
The not-for-profit doctor-run website “The NNT” summarizes statins as follows:
|Statin Drugs Given for 5 Years for Heart Disease Prevention
(Without Known Heart Disease)
|Befenefits in NNT||Harms in NNH|
|None were helped (life saved)||1 in 100 were harmed (develop diabetes)|
|1 in 104 were helped (preventing heart attack)||1 in 10 were harmed (muscle damage)|
|1 in 154 were helped (preventing stroke)|
Alternatives to Cholesterol Medication
The fact remains that heart disease is the leading killer of women. We need to take action. But if exercising does just as well as a $1-a-day pill that you must take for life and that puts you at a real and measurable risk for other diseases, then what should you do?
First, discuss the facts with your doctor. There is an innate clouding of the mind when we get a diagnosis of something that can’t be cured with a bandaid or an antibiotic. We don’t hear what follows very clearly. Before you start taking a statin, book a follow-up appointment with your doctor to review your risk for side effects, and the potential benefits from taking a drug.
Second, look for alternative therapies that won’t put you at risk. The primary actions people are looking for with statin drugs are A) reducing cholesterol and B) fighting a thickening of the arteries.
One natural, low risk way to encourage both outcomes: increase the amount of omega 3s you get in your diet. Or more accurately, equalize the ratio of omega 3s to omega 6s in your diet. Foods that increase omega 3:
- fish, especially fatty fish
- nuts, especially walnuts
- eggs, including the yolks
- flaxseed and flaxeed oil
If you’re not up to eating fish (raw, baked or seared but most definitely not fried!) three times a week, or if you’re worried about the calories involved in consuming enough walnuts to aid your omega 3 ratio, look for an omega 3 supplement from sustainable sources.
Finally, add CoQ10 to your daily regime. CoQ10 is a powerful antioxidant that protects LDL (the good cholesterol) and helps to lower blood pressure, among other heart-healthy benefits.
femMED’s Heart Health with CoQ10 is a great alternative to side-effect causing statin drugs. In addition to heart benefits such as protecting against strokes by reducing plaque buildup in the blood cells, and lowering blood pressure for people who suffer from hypertension, it helps with overall inflammation in the body, which in turn helps with cognition, joint pain, and eye function. Find out more about this simple, safe solution here.