Friday, November 15, 2013

Less statins, not more

Earlier this week I wrote about Jimmy Moore's new book Cholesterol Clarity, which really dives into many of the misconceptions around the issue and tries to cut through the noise, so to speak.

You can read the full post here.

One of the main take-aways for me from that book was around the prescription and use of statin drugs, particularly how much of a "well oiled machine" this system has become. Most importantly, there are a variety of documented side effects and negative impacts on long-term health, which often get swept under the rug because they do one thing (which doctor's have been taught is really the only important thing about cholesterol) really well - lower LDL cholesterol.

As it turns out, however, we're likely to see the prescription of statin medication dramatically INCREASE in the coming years. Here's why.

On Tuesday of this week, the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology released new guidelines on obesity, cholesterol, risk assessment and lifestyle. In addition to stating that obesity "should be managed and treated like a disease" (that's the topic for an entirely different posting, and one that's stirred up quite a bit of controversy) the guidelines also suggest that "more Americans could benefit from statins."

Here are the groups who they recommend should take statin drugs:
  • People without cardiovascular disease who are 40 to 75 years old and have a 7.5 percent or higher risk for heart attack or stroke within 10 years.
  • People with a history of heart attack, stroke, stable or unstable angina, peripheral artery disease, transient ischemic attack, or coronary or other arterial revascularization.
  • People 21 and older who have a very high level of bad cholesterol (190 mg/dL or higher).
  • People with Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes who are 40 to 75 years old.
 So, if you find yourself in one of these categories and weren't taking a statin drug previously (and this (and this particularly applies to women where there is a great deal of evidence showing the significant drawbacks of taking statins), chances are your likely to hear the recommendation from your doctor the next time a cholesterol test shows high LDL-c levels.

I think a recent New York Times opinion article by Harvard Medical School lecturer John D. Abramson sums it up quite nicely:
"We believe that the new guidelines are not adequately supported by objective data, and that statins should not be recommended for this vastly expanded class of healthy Americans. Instead of converting millions of people into statin customers, we should be focusing on the real factors that undeniably reduce the risk of heart disease: healthy diets, exercise and avoiding smoking. Patients should be skeptical about the guidelines, and have a meaningful dialogue with their doctors about statins, including what the evidence does and does not show, before deciding what is best for them."

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