The Statin Controversy

The Mail on Sunday has just launched a hard hitting campaign defending the effectiveness of statins and condemning the growing number of experts who believe nearly all of the pro statin assertions are bogus. Here Low Carb Skipton founder and former food science professor Verner Wheelock weighs in to dismantle some of the common arguments put forward by the statin supporters, including most NHS doctors.

Cholesterol: Cause for Concern?

“Who on earth can I believe?” is a question I hear repeatedly from individuals about various medical treatments that are being recommended.

An excellent example is the use of the blood cholesterol level (TC) as an indicator of the risk of developing heart disease. A value that is “high” is regarded as very bad news. The official NHS stance is that anyone with high cholesterol should take steps to reduce it. These include changes to the diet and very often, a prescription to take statins regularly.

So, how critical is the cholesterol? There is only one way to find out. It is necessary to monitor the cholesterol and see what happens to those with the different levels. In my opinion, the only valid characteristic to measure is the mortality. It is not much comfort to learn that any reduction in heart disease deaths is accompanied by an increase in deaths from other causes such as cancer.

A major study in Norway started off with 52,087 men and women aged 20-74 years who were followed for a 10-year period (1). TC levels were measured and details of any deaths which occurred were recorded. The results are shown in Tables 1 and 2.

The critical aspect of the results is for those in their 60s and 70s because this is when most deaths occur.

Surprise, surprise, we find that the HIGHEST deaths rates are in those with TC levels < 5.0 mmol/L. It is especially marked in women. The astonishing fact is that these low values are regarded as optimum by the medical establishment. In the light of this knowledge, it simply beggars belief that anyone would wish to lower their TC to these levels. For women, the higher the TC, the lower the death rate.


The authors commented as follows:

‘’If our findings are generalizable, clinical and public health recommendations regarding the ‘dangers’ of cholesterol should be revised. This is especially true for women, for whom moderately elevated cholesterol (by current standards) may prove to be not only harmless but beneficial.’’

They went on to conclude:

‘’Our results contradict the guidelines’ well-established demarcation line (5 mmol /L) between ‘good’ and ‘too high’ levels of cholesterol. They also contradict the popularized idea of a positive, linear relationship between cholesterol and fatal disease. Guideline-based advice regarding CVD prevention may thus be outdated and misleading, particularly regarding many women who have cholesterol levels in the range of 5–7 mmol/L and are currently encouraged to take better care of their health’’.

This is not an isolated study. Confirmation has been provided by similar investigations in Japan, Hawaii, Finland and Holland (2).

This information is absolutely cast iron and it follows that the primary justification for the use of stains is a false prospectus. This is because there is no evidence that lowering TC will reduce the risk of developing heart disease.

Possible benefits of statins
Nevertheless, there remains the possibility that statins may be effective, irrespective of any impact on TC. We must accept that this can happen. However, the key questions are:

“How big is the effect?”

“How many people benefit?”

We are told that lives are saved but what this really means is that death has been delayed. A paper published a few years ago concluded that, on average, death was postponed by 3 to 4 days if a person took a statin for 5 years (3).

With respect to the number who would benefit, buried in the recent report from Oxford University that appeared in The Lancet, were data which meant that 1040 people would have take a statin for one year in order that one person would benefit (4). Data from other sources indicate that if those who are already suffering from heart disease take statins for 5 years, about one in 100 will benefit. Either way, the chances of deriving any worthwhile benefit from statins are infinitesimal.

Side effects
This is crucial. With most drugs and treatments, any expected benefit has to be balanced against the chances that there will be adverse side effects or that something will go badly wrong. You pay your money and you take your choice.

We need look no further than the patient information leaflet on the commonly used statin, Lipitor. There is a one in 10 chance of:

  • inflammation of the nasal passages
  • pain in the throat
  • nose bleed
  • headache
  • nausea
  • constipation
  • wind
  • indigestion
  • diarrhoea
  • joint pain
  • muscle pain
  • back pain (5).

In addition, there individual case histories of more serious damage to health. These can include memory loss (6) and major degenerative diseases (7).

The reliability of trials to test drugs
The drug Vioxx caused at least 55,000 deaths (possibly 500,000). As a result, the regulations for drug trials were tightened up considerably in 2005/6. Since then NO trials on statins have demonstrated effectiveness (8). Hence, there must be serious doubts about the quality and reliability of information used for the regulatory approval of statins.

Once all the hype is stripped out and we try to answer basic questions, it soon becomes clear that the benefits are very much less than we are led to believe by the high priests of the medical profession. It may come as a surprise to most that the possibility that any individual will benefit is so small. Even if one in 100 benefit, it is still possible to claim that 10,000 lives will be saved (ie death delayed) but to achieve that success, it would be necessary for one million people to be on statins. When set against the risks of very nasty side effects, it is difficult to see why anyone would agree to have the drug. Perhaps the clinching reason for avoiding statins is that they depress the vital metabolite CoQ10, which is an essential step in the synthesis of Vitamin D and several hormones. In other word it disrupts the normal functioning of the body. It would actually be a very great surprise if statins did not cause all these adverse side effects.