Two studies recently published in the Expert Review of Clinical Pharmacology have drawn new attention to the fact that, far from being the miracle cure that was promised 20 years ago, statins actually carry serious side effects — and rather than reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease, they actually increase it!
The studies came in the same month that U.S. government’s top nutrition advisory panel decided to drop its warning about dietary cholesterol.
Statins function by inhibiting an enzyme necessary for the production of cholesterol in the body, and there is no doubt that they do indeed lower blood levels of cholesterol. Due to their striking short-term effects, statins were immediately and widely embraced by the medical establishment, and their use has ballooned ever since, with the threshold for their use continually dropping. In July 2014, the United Kingdom’s National Health Service issued new guidelines for statin prescription that would lead to nearly 40 percent of the country’s adults being on the drugs.
There’s just one problem: Lowering cholesterol isn’t necessarily a good thing.
How statins starve the heart
Indeed, many studies have actually found a higher risk of heart disease associated with statin use. One of the new studies, conducted by researchers from Kinjo Gakuin University in Nagoya, Japan, claims to have uncovered the mechanism by which statins may actually directly cause hardening of the arteries and heart disease.
It’s because statins deplete coenzyme Q10, which the mitochondria in your body need in order to produce ATP, which your body uses for energy. A lack of ATP leads to cellular fatigue and degeneration. Because the heart is such a high-energy muscle (as it must pump at all times), the effects are felt there more strongly than in other muscles.
In addition, statins also deplete a protein known as heme A, which transports both iron and oxygen to the heart. This further cuts off the heart’s energy supply.
The researchers note that statins also prevent the body from synthesizing vitamin K2, a vitamin that protects the arteries from forming the plaques that lead to heart disease. Finally, they block selenoproteins including glutathione peroxidase, which protects the tissue of muscles (including the heart) from oxidation damage caused by free radicals.
“An impairment of selenoprotein biosynthesis may be a factor in congestive heart failure, reminiscent of the dilated cardiomyopathies seen with selenium deficiency,” the researchers wrote.
“Thus, the epidemic of heart failure and atherosclerosis that plagues the modern world may paradoxically be aggravated by the pervasive use of statin drugs,” they wrote. “We propose that current statin treatment guidelines be critically reevaluated.”
The second study, which reviewed prior research into statins’ safety and effectiveness, concluded that the benefits of the drugs have been inflated and the risks downplayed.
Statins have “failed to substantially improve cardiovascular outcomes,” the researchers wrote. Meanwhile, “the adverse effects suffered by people taking statins are more common than reported in the media and at medical conferences. Increased rates of cancer, cataracts, diabetes, cognitive impairments and musculoskeletal disorders more than offset the modest cardiovascular benefits of statin treatment.”
Looking over two major statin trials, the researchers found that the drugs reduced cardiovascular disease risk by only about 1 percent, in comparison to public claims of a 36 to 54 percent improvement.
“Statin advocates have used statistical deception to create the illusion that statins are ‘wonder drugs,'” the researchers wrote.