Originally published July 14 2009
Statins Given to Prevent Pneumonia in Elderly Actually Increase Pneumonia Risk by 61 Percent
by S. L. Baker, features writer
(NaturalNews) Published reports say that between 11 million to 30 million Americans are taking the supposedly wonder drugs called statins. These cholesterol lowering medications brought in over $34 billion in sales last year and have raked in a quarter of a trillion dollars since they were introduced two decades ago, according to a report published by Forbes last fall. But this market is apparently not big enough to satisfy Big Pharma. The drugs, which are sold under familiar names like Lipitor, Vitorin, Zocor, Zetia, Crestor and others, are beginning to be pushed for reasons other than lowering cholesterol -- including the alleged prevention of pneumonia.
If this use of the drug doesn't seem to make sense to you, you aren't alone. In fact, giving statins to elderly people to prevent pneumonia increases the risk they will get the disease.
That's the new finding from a study of more than 3,000 Group Health patients recently published in the British Medical Journal. "Prior research based on automated claims data had raised some hope -- and maybe some hype -- for statins as a way to prevent and treat infections including pneumonia," Sascha Dublin, MD, PhD, a physician at Group Health and assistant investigator at Group Health Center for Health Studies, said in a statement to the media. "But when we used medical records to get more detailed information about patients, our findings didn't support that approach."
What they found was disturbing: pneumonia risk was 26 percent higher in people using a statin than in those not on the drug. What's more, the extra risk soared up to 61 percent for severe pneumonia that landed people in the hospital.
Dr. Dublin claims she's a fan of statins. However, she admitted in the press statement that some of the claims concerning their benefits could be bogus. "But now we and some others have found that statins may have gotten some unearned credit for health benefits that they don't actually have, including preventing pneumonia," Dublin said.
She also spoke out against suggestions from researchers that expensive randomized controlled trials should be conducted to see if statins can prevent or treat infection. "Our study indicates that such trials would be an ill-advised use of limited research funds at this time," she added.
Unlike previous research on statins and pneumonia, the new study went to great lengths to review medical records in detail for every research subject. The scientists thoroughly investigated diagnoses to make sure every reported case of pneumonia was a true case of that disease. Remarkably, Dr. Dublin noted, prior studies rarely bothered to do this.
The new study focused on relatively healthy people between the ages of 65 and 94 who had healthy immune systems and did not reside in a nursing home. Dr. Dublin used the same group of patients, with their records coded to protect their privacy, in earlier Group Health research that was published in The Lancet last year. That research demonstrated another widely accepted medical "fact" was also wrong: the flu vaccine provided the elderly with little to no protection from pneumonia.
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