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Statin drugs

Researchers Detail Statin Drug Dangers

Monday, February 09, 2009 by: Sherry Baker, Health Sciences Editor
Tags: statin drugs, health news, Natural News

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(NewsTarget) With familiar and widely-advertised names like Levacor, Zocor, Pravachol, Lipitor, and Crestor, statin drugs have become some of the most widely prescribed drugs in the world. In fact, the medications (technically a class of drugs called HMG-CoA reductase inhibitors) have been so hyped as a pill-popping easy way to quickly lower soaring cholesterol levels, some doctors have advocated they should be sold over-the-counter like aspirin. Others want children as young as two to be on these drugs that block an enzyme in the liver responsible for making cholesterol.

But many physicians and scientists -- as well as countless patients who have experienced side effects from statins ranging from some that are merely annoying to others that are devastatingly painful -- have urged caution and pointed to a host of potential dangers from the drugs. Now scientists from the University of California (UC) San Diego School of Medicine have published a review paper of nearly 900 research studies on statins to see just what the facts are. The verdict? The drugs may predispose many people to serious muscle and kidney problems, potentially deadly heart arrhythmias and a host of other health problems.

The paper, co-authored by Beatrice Golomb, MD, PhD, associate professor of medicine at the UC San Diego School of Medicine and director of UC San Diego's Statin Study group, and Marcella A. Evans, of UC San Diego and UC Irvine Schools of Medicine, was just published in the on-line edition of the American Journal of Cardiovascular Drugs. It provides the most comprehensive look to date of not only the reported side effects of statins, but the evidence of how these side effects are caused by the drugs. The paper also offers explanations as to why certain people on these medication are at increased risk for adverse reactions.

For example, the paper points to accumulated data showing higher statin doses and statin drugs with the strongest ability to lower cholesterol are linked to the greatest risk of developing side effects. Certain genetic conditions have also been found to place people at higher risk for serious problems from the prescription medications.

"Muscle problems are the best known of statin drugs' adverse side effects," Dr. Golomb said in a media statement. "But cognitive problems and peripheral neuropathy, or pain or numbness in the extremities like fingers and toes, are also widely reported." In addition, the paper discusses other negative health effects from the drugs, including irregular heartbeats, elevated blood glucose, and tendon problems.

"Physician awareness of such side effects is reportedly low. Being vigilant for adverse effects in their patients is necessary in order for doctors to provide informed treatment decisions and improved patient care," Dr. Golomb stated.

Specifically, the review of statin research found powerful evidence that statins induce injury to mitochondria, membrane-enclosed organelles often described as "power plants" inside the body's cells. They generate adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which is used as a source of cells' chemical energy. So by interfering with this pathway, statins may cause many of the adverse effects that occur to people taking the medications. With injured mitochondria, the body produces less energy and more "free radicals" are produced.

As they block the production of cholesterol in the body, statins also block the production of much of the body's coenzyme Q10 (Co-Q10), a compound important to the process of making energy within mitochondria and also to stopping free radical damage. In addition, statins reduce the very blood cholesterol that is needed to carry Co-Q10 and other fat-soluble antioxidants throughout the body.

"The loss of coenzyme Q10 leads to loss of cell energy and increased free radicals which, in turn, can further damage mitochondrial DNA," Dr. Golomb explained in the press statement. She added that statins may cause additional mitochondrial problems over time, leading to new adverse effects the longer a person takes the drugs. Hypertension and diabetes -- as well as advancing age -- are independently linked to higher rates of mitochondrial problems and associated with a higher risk of statin complications, too.

"The risk of adverse effects goes up as age goes up, and this helps explain why," Dr. Golomb said in the media release. "This also helps explain why statins' benefits have not been found to exceed their risks in those over 70 or 75 years old, even those with heart disease."

In other statin news, a study recently published in the New England Journal of Medicine showed a higher than expected number of cancer cases reported in people taking the drug Inegy, which is a combination of the widely used statin drug simvastatin and a new medication called ezetimibe.

In addition, a new study just published in the February issue of Cancer Prevention Research, a journal of the American Association for Cancer Research, found statins do not appear to prevent breast cancer -- a possibility some researchers have suggested in the past. National Cancer Institute (NCI) scientists, including Ronald Lubet, Ph.D., an NCI program director, and Clinton Grubbs, Ph.D., director of the Chemoprevention Center at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, conducted animal studies with the statins atorvastatin and lovastatin to see if the drugs would prevent both estrogen receptor(ER) positive and ER negative breast cancer.

"We saw no real efficacy from either statin," Dr Lubet said in a media statement. "Prior studies have shown some but limited efficacy in breast cancer models when these drugs were given through a method that would be the equivalent of intravenously in humans. However, that is not the way people take statins."

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About the author

Sherry Baker is a widely published writer whose work has appeared in Newsweek, Health, the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, Yoga Journal, Optometry, Atlanta, Arthritis Today, Natural Healing Newsletter, OMNI, UCLA's "Healthy Years" newsletter, Mount Sinai School of Medicine's "Focus on Health Aging" newsletter, the Cleveland Clinic's "Men's Health Advisor" newsletter and many others.

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