Did you happen to tune into NPR and catch “On Point” with Tom Ashbrook talking about statins and heart health? In short, the show was a debate about two studies that just came out from 2013 supporting a push to put nearly half (48%) of Americans ages 40-75 on a daily dose of statin to lower cholesterol, and lessen risk of heart attack and stroke. Mind blowing. I couldn’t believe my ears.
The studies are revolving around four groups of candidates but the group that creates the most controversy is the “low risk group”. The low risk group are those who are asymptomatic, do not have diabetes but have high cholesterol. Just to be clear, it is factual knowledge that high cholesterol is not an indicator of heart attack risk. In fact, 75% of folks who come into the hospital with their first heart attack do NOT have high cholesterol. Astounding, huh? So why would we want to put all of these asymptomatic people on a drug for something that may never happen?
Does it make economic sense? Let’s just say you put a 40 year old on a daily statin and his/her life expectancy is conservatively 80 yrs. old. That’s 40 years on a daily dose of medication for something that may never happen. Who is really benefiting here? The patient or the drug companies? Its a big and complicated question.
To up the controversy, statins have a down side: muscle problems (fatigue and pain) and possible development of diabetes. So it’s a question of risk vs. reward. How likely is the person going to benefit versus harmed from the statin? In the low risk group, the chances they will be prevented from having a heart attack (in 5 years time) is 1 in 100. And of that same group 1 in 100 will get diabetes from being on the statin. (The statistics say they would have gotten diabetes anyhow, but the statin is making the diabetes develop faster.) So here we are, risk versus reward seem to (somewhat) equal out. Statins don’t outright prove to be life saving; yet these new studies are recommending 48% of Americans ages 40-75 should start taking one.
To add insult to injury, Americans are totally failing in the sectors of diet and exercise. All physicians agree that a Mediterranean diet is 2 - 3x more powerful than any statin drug ever developed. Yet, there is still such a focus on swallowing a pill. Oh my fellow Americans, our desire for the quick fix only gets us into more and more trouble.
Listen in to the full talk here, it is fascinating and baffling to say the least. Feel free to leave comments below, I'm very curious to hear your thoughts. In the meantime, do yourself a favor, take the stairs, eat a plant based diet, add some EVOO onto your greens and take some time to relax. Tonight, I raise a glass of red wine to our healthy hearts!