Statin drugs, should you take one?
Recently I have had quite a few people ask me about statin drugs and my feelings toward them. To be honest, I really didn’t have an opinion ready to share (and truth be told it isn’t for me to encourage or discourage their use) however, in a quest to always be learning, I started doing some research.
As you most likely know, statin drugs are used to lower cholesterol in those who are deemed to be at a higher risk for heart disease. As with all drugs statins have multiple adverse effects. According to a paper by Pinal-Fernandez at al 1 there are multiple pros and cons to statin drug use.
Decrease in lipid levels which can contribute to heart disease. The authors mention that coronary heart disease has increased in incidence from 10% in 1900 up to 40% in 1960. It is interesting to note that stress encourages the body to produce more energy in the form of metabolic fuels, which cause the liver to produce and secrete more of the bad cholesterol (LDL). While it is undeniable our diets and activity levels have changed drastically from the early 1900’s it is also important to note our stress levels have gone up significantly since that time too…makes me wonder how much the stress of daily life impacts cholesterol levels (we will come back to this in another blog post).
Statin drugs have anti-inflammatory effects which is beneficial as inflammation within our body is a risk factor for future heart disease. It should also be mentioned that there are large bodies of evidence that stress can activate and inflammatory response2 , but that is a topic for another blog post.
Statins have immunomodulatory properties. What this means is that statin drugs have been shown to decrease the immune response. This can be considered a “pro” if you recently had an organ transplant or if you have autoimmune disease, otherwise I’m not sure why it made the list. There is research that showed that statin use following a stroke actually increased infection rates3. Call me crazy but especially in these times, I want an immune system that is working just as it should.
Statins can decrease clot formation which is good because there is growing evidence in the research community that certain cholesterol levels are associated with increased risk of blood clot formation. It is important to mention that clot formation can also be caused by chronic inflammation (from unhealthy lifestyle factors like poor diet, inactivity, stress, and more).
Other benefits found from small trials and observational studies show that statins “may reduce the rate of postoperative atrial fibrillation following cardiac surgery” as well as be beneficial to those suffering from respiratory disease, however it is worth again mentioning that this information is the result of small studies and further research is needed.
Increased risk of myopathy. Myopathy is a general term referring to any disease that affects the muscles that control voluntary movement in the body. Research suggests that the risk of myopathy with statin use is due to the body producing less ubiquinone (Coenzyme Q10/CoQ10), this decrease in production is the result of statin use. CoQ10 is a needed protein for stabilizing the cell membrane as well as many other functions in our body. While it is a rare occurrence, rhabdomyolysis may occur which can lead to renal failure due to muscle breakdown.
Increased risk of diabetes has been shown in large studies however according to the literature, is more common in people who have risk factors for both high cholesterol and diabetes. It has been hypothesized that an increased risk of diabetes is due to lowering LDL (good cholesterol) levels.
Increased risk of hemorrhagic stroke. There are 2 types of stroke, a hemorrhagic stroke is the result of uncontrolled bleeding in the brain. Remember, statins prevent blood clotting. This anti-clotting property helps to decrease the chance of ischemic stroke, the other kind that is the result of lack of blood flow due to a clot blocking the area, while increasing the risk of hemorrhagic stroke.
So, what do you do about your cholesterol levels with all this information? Even within the medical community there are several objections to the evidence underlying the widespread and growing use of statins. The biggest objection (in my humble opinion) is that statins were not compared with dietary management, which is the most appropriate alternative intervention4. To read more about this check out this article written by a cardiologist
Chiropractically speaking, the best thing you can do for your health is to get under regular chiropractic care. When your spine is moving free of interference your body is better able to dial down the stress response that comes from daily life.
The choice to start/stop taking any medication is one that should be made by you, under the guidance of your medical doctor. It is important to note that now more than ever you have to be an advocate for yourself. Ask questions and research. Sure, you may get an eye roll here and there (I have seen it plenty by medical doctors when I was working as a nurse) but ask and question anyway. You know you the best and don’t let anyone ever tell you different!
- Pinal-Fernandez I, Casal-Dominguez M, Mammen AL. Statins: pros and cons. Med Clin (Barc). 2018;150(10):398-402. doi:10.1016/j.medcli.2017.11.030
- Liu YZ, Wang YX, Jiang CL. Inflammation: The Common Pathway of Stress-Related Diseases. Front Hum Neurosci. 2017;11:316. Published 2017 Jun 20. doi:10.3389/fnhum.2017.00316
- Becker K, Tanzi P, Kalil A, Shibata D, Cain K. Early statin use is associated with increased risk of infection after stroke. J Stroke Cerebrovasc Dis. 2013;22(1):66-71. doi:10.1016/j.jstrokecerebrovasdis.2011.06.008
- McKee M, Moat SJ, McDowell I. Statins and micronutrients: unanswered questions. J R Soc Med. 2004;97(10):459-460. doi:10.1258/jrsm.97.10.459