A study this week has suggested we should all take cholesterol lowering statins once we hit the age of 50 – to reduce our risk of a heart attack. The research looked at individual trials (mostly funded by the drug companies who make statins, according to Zoe Harcombe, my favourite expert on this subject) and concluded that even when healthy people take statins, there is a lower risk of heart disease.
But, as Dr John Briffa points out , a total of 500 healthy people have to take statins that they do not need for five years before one extra life is saved. That would be fine if taking a statin was no different from eating a smartie every day – but it’s not.
Zoe Harcombe explains: ‘These drugs work by slowing down the body’s production of cholesterol – and anything that stops the body doing something it is designed to do is serious and has side effects. Muscle aches and pains are common, sometimes to the point of disability, and memory loss is also a big problem for a lot of patients. The drug works by blocking a key liver enzyme (HMG-CoA reductase) but also stops the production of CoQ10 – the body’s energy spark plug. This explains the muscle damage, and can be fatal as the heart has a significant need for CoQ10 – ironic!’
More to the point, though, do we really need to lower our body’s cholesterol production?
The British Heart Foundation says that high cholesterol is just one factor in heart disease – the trouble starts when a lot of these factors come together: smoking, obesity, hypertension and high cholesterol. Smoking is top of the list of heart risks. Cholesterol on its own is far less of a worry – and a red herring if your diet is healthy (ie free of processed foods and trans-fats). As Zoe says: ‘The body is designed to make cholesterol. If a woman gets pregnant, the body makes more cholesterol because we need a lot of cholesterol to make a healthy baby. If we have an operation or injury the body will make more cholesterol because we need cholesterol to repair the damaged cells. If we are ill or stressed or compromised in any way our body will make more cholesterol – fat and cholesterol are the major tool kits that the body has. It’s why our bodies make them. This debate boils down to one question – do you think that we would have evolved and survived over 3.5 million years with a design fault that meant our bodies are trying to kill us? Or, could it be that – given that the first medical description of a heart attack was in 1926 – this modern disease is caused by modern substances: processed food, stress, chemicals and smoking?’