MICHAEL NOONAN

Do the benefits of statin drugs to prevent cardiovascular disease outweigh the risks?

Posted Nov. 21, 2013, at 9:32 a.m.
Dr. Michael Noonan
Dr. Michael Noonan

New guidelines released by the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology suggest that many more Americans should be using statin drugs to prevent cardiovascular disease.

About 15 percent of American adults are on statins; these new guidelines would double it to about 33 percent. This translates to 22 percent of all adult females and 44 percent of all adult males. This recommendation was reached based on research showing that lowering cholesterol will reduce heart disease and strokes.

Is it just me, or does it seem that these advisories undergo major changes every few years? And are we really so sure of ourselves now that we can actually proceed with doubling the number of adult Americans on statins? These are potent drugs with serious, occasionally life-threatening side effects. Can we be sure the benefits outweigh the risks? Will the information we get in another 10 years cause researchers to again change their recommendations?

We don’t know all the long-term effects of these drugs. But we are probably going to find out the hard way. For example, it was recently shown that long-term use of medical testosterone raises the risk of heart attacks or strokes by 30 percent in men who already had some degree of heart disease.

This information could only be uncovered because a large number of men took this drug for quite a few years. There was not much increased risk for the first year, but it increased the longer they were on the drug. I was surprised to hear a medical doctor admit in a television interview that they simply are not aware of the effects of long-term use of the drug. Actually, that is true for many drugs.

Statins were first introduced in 1987; they have been in use for 26 years. During that time, several different variations have been introduced. It is known that relatively short-term use has side effects for some patients; what about 10 years of use? Or 20 years? I think it likely that more side effects have yet to be discovered.

Studies are starting to show that statins can worsen, and even possibly cause, diabetes. But in one of the ironies we have come to expect from modern medicine, the new guidelines recommend that more diabetics use statins.

As a doctor of chiropractic, I do not specialize in treating disease, including heart disease. What I do specialize in is improving health, with proper nutrition being a major tool. I find it interesting that the nutritional advice we were taught 30 years ago — to eat whole, minimally processed foods; avoid sugars and artificial fats; choose plant and animal foods raised in healthy environments, rather than a “factory farm” — went directly against the low-calorie, low-fat, low-cholesterol, high-trans fats advice of the time.

Medical nutritionists have since backed off on the idea that trans fats are healthful, and are even starting to agree that eating cholesterol-rich foods does not raise blood cholesterol. Hopefully the next bit of terrible nutritional advice to go away will be the low-fat diet. Give them a few more years, they just might get that right also.

Using drugs to prevent chronic disease is not without serious risks. I am going to stick with a wellness lifestyle — I doubt later research will find any problems with it.

Dr. Michael Noonan practices chiropractic, chiropractic acupuncture and other wellness therapies in Old Town. He can be reached at noonanchiropractic@gmail.com.

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