Do Statins Cause Heart Disease?
If you’ve been a reader for a while, you know how much we like to rail against statins here. They are one of the most prescribed drugs in America and may very well be one of the most damaging drugs, due to their widespread use.
So when I saw a new study that suggests stains may actually contribute to heart disease, I had to take a look. But first, let’s check out the evidence for any potential benefit of statin drug therapy for preventing death from heart disease.
In people who already have heart disease, it appears they may help. A little. A large meta-analysis published in 2010 found that among people with pre-existing heart disease who took statins for five years:
- 96% saw no benefit at all
- 1.2% (1 in 83) had their life span extended (were saved from a fatal heart attack)
- 2.6% (1 in 39) were helped by preventing a repeat heart attack
- 0.8% (1 in 125) were helped by preventing a stroke. (1)
So while statins may be protective against a fatal cardiovascular event for a lucky few, other studies have shown that statins do not reduce the risk of death from all causes. So while folks taking statins may have reduced risk of dying from a heart attack, their risk of dying from something else is equal to those not taking a statin.
What about folks without heart disease? Maybe statins do a better job protecting people who aren’t already terribly sick?
Not so much. They are actually less effective.
That same meta-analysis found that for folks without heart disease taking a statin for five years:
- 98% saw no benefit at all
- 1.6% (1 in 60) were helped by preventing a heart attack
- 0.4% (1 in 268) were helped by preventing a stroke.
To rephrase the analysis, that means you’d have to treat 60 people for five years to prevent one heart attack.
Now even more sinister research out of Japan suggests that statins may actually cause heart disease by damaging the mitochondria that power your heart.
It’s been known for a while now that statins deplete coenzyme Q10 levels, and even mainstream doctors recommend supplementing with CoQ10 if you take a statin. One pharmaceutical company is even looking to produce a statin/CoQ10 combo drug.
CoQ10 is essential in the mitochondria for ATP production. Without it, the powerhouse of your cells can’t produce energy. It’s especially important in the heart, and people with heart disease have been shown to have lower CoQ10 levels than a healthy population.
Paradoxically, folks with heart failure are more likely to be prescribed a statin, which would further lower their CoQ10 levels.
Remember that meta-analysis I mentioned earlier? It found that for folks with pre-existing heart disease taking a statin for five years, one in 10 were harmed by muscle damage. (Remember, the heart is a muscle, after all.)
The researchers from Japan have found another issue with statins that may explain how they can contribute to heart disease — they also appear to inhibit the synthesis of vitamin K2.
What’s the link between K2 and heart health?
While vitamin K1 is crucial for blood clotting, vitamin K2 plays a very different and important role in the body. In essence, it’s essential for getting calcium out of your bloodstream and moving it into your bones.
If you have good calcium and vitamin D intake but not enough K2 to tell that calcium where to go, that calcium can stick around in your arteries and cause calcification. But with enough K2, the calcium clears from the arteries.
While you can get K2 from your diet, modern diets aren’t very rich with K2 to begin with. And while the body can also convert K1 into K2, it’s already not very effective at doing so.
In fact, many experts believe that most people are deficient in K2. Coupled with the new research showing statins inhibit our body’s production of K2, the issue is further compounded and explains how statins may actually make heart disease worse.
Another issue with statins, according to the researchers, is that they impair the synthesis of glutathione. Glutathione is one of the body’s most important antioxidants; it’s essential for quenching the free radicals and preventing oxidative stress.
“Thus, the epidemic of heart failure and atherosclerosis that plagues the modern world may paradoxically be aggravated by the pervasive use of statin drugs,” the researchers wrote. “We propose that current statin treatment guidelines be critically re-evaluated.”
Now, to be fair, this paper did not prove that statins cause or worsen heart disease. It merely made a hypothesis. But we do know from that 2010 meta-analysis that statins aren’t very effective, and this paper may point to why.
But the biggest case against statins? It’s that we need cholesterol.
We need it to synthesize vitamin D. We need it to keep our brains fat and juicy. And we need it to create important hormones that keep us thriving.
And as Dr. Sears noted in his article, higher cholesterol levels have actually been shown to correlate with a lower risk of dying, according to a 10-year observation study that was published in The Lancet. (2)
Other research shows that statins may be even worse for women. I’ll be back soon to tell you exactly why, as well as what you can do if your doctor tries to write you a prescription for statins.
But for now, if you’re currently taking statins and you and your doctor think it’s the best choice for you, you really should consider supplementing with CoQ10, vitamin K2, and vitamin D3. Both CoQ10 and K2 are crucial for heart health, and D3 may help prevent some of the muscle damage caused by statins.
To living well,
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