Big Pharma, statins and the war on cholesterol

PillsStatin cholesterol-lowering drugs are among the most widely prescribed drugs on the market. They are a top profit-maker for the pharmaceutical industry, in part due to relentless and highly successful direct-to-consumer advertising campaigns. But are these drugs really the best method for heart attack prevention? Evidence shows that not only is this treatment unnecessary for the majority of patients, but statins are also associated with an increased risk of kidney and liver failure, cataracts, muscle fatigue, diabetes and memory loss.[1]

A recent analysis of Australian data found that approximately 2.6 million Australians take statins and of that number, over-treatment of people at low risk is more common than under-treatment of people at high risk.[2]

With the revelation that cholesterol may not be the bad guy that Big Pharma has tried to create, many people are questioning why they should continue to take these drugs. Many experts now say that if high cholesterol is present with no other co-morbidities (like heart disease), taking statins is likely to do more harm than good.

The Dangers of Taking Statins.

In 2012, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced it would require additional warning labels for statins, one of which warned that statins may increase the risk of memory loss and confusion by creating a cholesterol deficiency. The brain needs cholesterol to manufacture new cells (neurons) that are critical for nervous system function, memory and cognition. Believe it or not, the brain is 70% fat, which makes a deficiency of cholesterol a serious problem.

Insufficient cholesterol results in the brain not having the raw materials it needs to make biochemicals critical for memory and cognitive function, including coenzyme Q10 and dolichols, the latter of which carry the genetic instructions from your DNA to help create specific proteins in your body that are crucial for cognitive function, emotions and mood.

High Cholesterol Levels May Be Protective.

Any discussion of statins would be incomplete without a discussion of cholesterol – the so called ‘villain’. The belief that high cholesterol levels will result in heart disease is not always correct. It is important to remember that it is not cholesterol that causes atherosclerosis and heart disease: it is the initial damage to the blood vessels that instigates the process. Cholesterol deposits are merely part of a repair process to blood vessels that are already damaged.

A recent scathing review of statin research, and the portrayal of cholesterol as an all round bad guy, clearly shows that much of the evidence for the prescription of statins is faulty, incomplete or misleading. The authors point out in their review:

“…We seem to have fallen into the marketing trap and ignored the niggling side effects with regard to the HMGCoA reductase inhibitors (statins). The only statin benefit that has actually been demonstrated is in middle-aged men with coronary heart disease. However, statins were not shown to best form of primary prevention… We are observing the revealing of the utmost medical tragedy of all time.[3]

The researchers also note that high cholesterol levels have been found to be protective in the elderly, not harmful as the drug companies would have us believe. Once again, the focus needs to come back to prevention: avoid damaging the blood vessels in the first place. Trying to fix the problem after the damage has been done is problematic at best.

Getting back to basics is the best answer: healthy eating, adequate exercise, reduce stress, limit alcohol consumption and avoid toxins (this includes cigarette smoking). Keeping to these simple principles will promote overall vitality and wellness, and reduce the risk of developing cardiovascular disease.


[1] Navarese. E.P et al. Statins and Risk of New-Onset Diabetes Mellitus: is there a Rationale for Individualized Statin Therapy?. Am J Cardiovasc Drugs. 2013 Oct 31.

[3] Hymes, N. Sultan, S. The Ugly Side of Statins: Systemic Appraisal of the Un-known Unknowns. Open Journal of Endocrine and Metabolic Diseases, 2013, (3) 179-185.