What they do:
Statin drugs lower LDL cholesterol (up to 60 percent, at high doses) as well as reduce inflammation and C-reactive protein (CRP) levels.
Some 15 million to 20 million people currently take statins. Drugs like Crestor, Lipitor, and Vytorin have become the first-line treatment, with some doctors even suggesting every adult should take them proactively.
Who can benefit:
People with known cardiovascular disease and high levels of inflammation, CRP, and LDL cholesterol. In Reverse Heart Disease Now: Stop Deadly Cardiovascular Plaque Before It’s Too Late (Wiley, 2006), James Roberts, MD, and Stephen Sinatra, MD, write that men aged 45 to 65 with proven coronary artery disease have “the most to gain and the least to lose” from taking statins.
Who should avoid them:
People who have no signs or symptoms of coronary heart disease. “If someone’s at low risk for cardiac disease and they go on statins,” says Roberts, “their yearly event rate may fall from 2 percent to 1 percent—a 50 percent reduction, but it’s kind of meaningless.” Adds James Wright, MD: “There’s fairly good evidence that we’re not accomplishing anything by all these people taking these drugs.”
The perceived wisdom says that statins’ only side effects are rare cases of muscle damage. “But,” says Wright, “that’s clearly not the case. There are a growing number of other serious side effects.” He mentions three: a numbness in the hands and feet (peripheral neuropathy); the collection of fluid in the lung sacks (interstitial pneumonitis); and a loss of memory or other cognitive powers. “Some of these patients appear to have permanent effects,” he says, “so I think we still have a lot to learn about these drugs. And it’s not surprising because they are blocking an enzyme that has a lot of important functions downstream [from the liver] and is present in a lot of cells.”
While some of statins’ adverse effects have already reared their heads, other longterm ramifications may still lie undiscovered. Until doctors learn all the ways statins affect you, more and more cardiologists advocate first using natural approaches to lower cholesterol and then, failing that, statins. Says Roberts, “I think in 10 years, we’re going to look back at this statin mania with some regret.”