Some cholesterol-lowering statin drugs have been found to significantly increase the risk of cataracts, muscle weakness, liver dysfunction and kidney failure (1). They confirm a pattern already familiar to many doctors who prescribe these drugs to vast numbers of patients, as per lucrative treatment guidelines that were heavily influenced by the pharmaceutical industry.
Aimed at the wrong target – cholesterol
These drugs target LDL cholesterol, but this is an out-of-date and inaccurate biomarker. Most clinical scientists these days instead regard endothelial dysfunction (ED) as the root cause of atheroma and hypertension (high blood pressure).
If ED, which can be regarded as chronic sub-clinical inflammation of the arteries, is present, then atheroma will form and blood pressure will rise. The factors are intertwined; high levels of cholesterol, combined with low levels of antioxidants and high levels of pro-inflammatory compounds (ie. a typical fast food diet) will create pro-inflammatory cholesterol oxidation products, which cause ED.
If you do not have ED, however, you can eat cholesterol to your heart’s content – as the Victorians did – with no risk of heart disease.
Many hazardous side-effects
Not only are statins aimed at the wrong target, their non-specific mechanism (they block cholesterol synthesis in the liver) means that they have a range of subtle, and potentially hazardous effects on many systems.
Statins carry warnings that memory loss, mental confusion, high blood sugar, and type 2 diabetes are possible, in addition to three main areas of side-effect: cancer, liver function and muscle weakness.
After cardiovascular disease, cancer is the next most common cause of death. One of the ways in which cancers beat our defences is by suppressing the immune system, preventing our immune cells from recognising the cancer as foreign and attacking it. Some cancers do this is by increasing the numbers of T3 cells, which in turn inhibit the anti-cancer response.
Statins have been shown to boost numbers of Foxp3 T cells (2,3); a mechanism which confers a very worrying and potentially serious additional cancer risk (4).
More by luck than good management, the statins may have some anti-cancer effects of their own (3), but it is quite appalling how recklessly and fecklessly the drug industry has pushed these drugs on us all.
Some people who take statins will experience an increase in liver enzymes, which decrease normal liver function. Unfortunately there are no symptoms to indicate an increase in liver enzymes, so you should have a blood test within six weeks of starting a statin.
Muscle weakness worries
About 10% of statin users experience weakness or inflammation in their muscles – and that percentage increases with the higher dose statins.
The very unequal Food vs Pharma battle
There is no money in advocating diets. Big Pharma, on the other hand, is a major economic force which exerts enormous influence in the medical profession and influences too many politicians.
Statins, therefore, will continue to be the best business in town, though they are very far from being the best medicine.
Eating more anti-inflammatory and fewer pro-inflammatory foods can have the same positive effects as statins – without any of the negatives. Check nutrishield.com/the-science/anti-inflammatory for a good starting point.
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1. Hippisley-Cox J, Coupland C. Unintended effects of statins in men and women in England and Wales: population based cohort study using the QResearch database. BMJ. 2010 May 20;340:c2197.
2. Kim YC, Kim KK, Shevach EM. Simvastatin induces Foxp3+ T regulatory cells by modulation of transforming growth factor-beta signal transduction. Immunology. 2010 Aug;130(4):484-93.
3. Lee KJ, Moon JY, Choi HK, Kim HO, Hur GY, Jung KH, Lee SY, Kim JH, Shin C, Shim JJ, In KH, Yoo SH, Kang KH, Lee SY. Immune regulatory effects of simvastatin on regulatory T cell-mediated tumour immune tolerance. Clin Exp Immunol. 2010 Aug;161(2):298-305
4. Kobayashi N, Kubota K, Kato S, Watanabe S, Shimamura T, Kirikoshi H, Saito S, Ueda M, Endo I, Inayama Y, Maeda S, Nakajima A. FOXP3+ Regulatory T Cells and Tumoral Indoleamine 2,3-Dioxygenase Expression Predicts the Carcinogenesis of Intraductal Papillary Mucinous Neoplasms of the Pancreas. Pancreatology. 2010 Nov 5;10(5):631-640.
5. Alsheikh-Ali AA, Karas RH. Balancing the intended and unintended effects of statins. BMJ. 2010 May 20;340
6. Yang S, Wang B, Guan C, Wu B, Cai C, Wang M, Zhang B, Liu T, Yang P. Foxp3+IL-17+ T cells promote development of cancer-initiating cells in colorectal cancer. J Leukoc Biol. 2010 Oct 15.