Statins Corinth MS
By Erin Quinn
The notion that high cholesterol causes heart disease has allowed doctors to write millions of prescriptions for cholesterol-lowering drugs called statins that can reduce the risk of it. That seemingly indisputable notion has long suffered from an inconvenient fact: Half the people who have a heart attack don’t have high cholesterol. So, increasingly, doctors have flagged inflammation within the cardiovascular system as the culprit in these cases—an idea that has gained added currency from a study published late last year—and have discovered a drug that can help lower the risk of heart attacks for these folks: Lo and behold, it’s a statin.
The new research, called the JUPITER study, focused on C-reactive protein (CRP) because it is a marker of inflammation in the body. CRP levels in the blood go up whenever the body revs up the immune system. The study found that giving the statin rosuvastatin to men and women with normal levels of LDL cholesterol (the “bad” kind) but high levels of CRP (i.e., inflammation) reduced the incidence of heart attacks, stroke, and cardiovascular-related deaths by 44 percent. While this result does indeed seem “remarkable,” as the researchers say, it and the study itself raise some interesting questions.
First off, what does this new link between high CRP/inflammation and heart disease say about the millions of people currently taking statins, cholesterol drugs that include billion-dollar brands such as Crestor, Lipitor, and Zocor? Will they avoid heart disease even if their CRP levels are normal? Should everyone take statins to ward off heart disease, just in case? “I think this is the biggest myth in medicine right now,” says cardiologist Stephen Sinatra, MD, of the New England Heart & Longevity Center in Manchester, Connecticut. “Would I prescribe statins to a 60-year-old man who has high CRP levels and hardened arteries? Absolutely,” says Sinatra, “but I’m not convinced statins are worth it as a preventative measure, especially for women—the risks and side effects are just too great.”
Side effects may vary
If you believe the small-print warnings on ads for statins, the major side effect, muscle weakness and pain, occurs only rarely. The actual incidence is much higher, however, and muscle pain is a major reason why people stop taking the drugs. “Patients describe it as a general aching in their joints and muscles,” says Mark A. Moyad, MD, MPH, the Jenkins/Pokempner director of preventive and alternative medicine at the University of Michigan Medical Center in Ann Arbor. “The pain can start as soon as someone begins taking a statin—or not for several years. There’s no timeline.”
James Wright, MD, PhD, at the University of British Columbia, worries about more serious problems, including peripheral neuropathy, interstitial pneumonitis, and various cognitive and psychiatric effects. “I think we don’t really have a good handle on what’s happening there,” he says about these Alzheimer’s-l...
Author: Erin Quinn
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