The case against statins

Dr Malcolm Kendrick argues that disadvantages of statins outweigh possible benefits for the majority of people. Statin prescribing is increasing by 30% each year and soon everyone over 50 will be told they need them
TabletsThe case against statins

I tell patients with a cholesterol level of between 5 and 7 they’re healthy. If it’s above 7, it’s probably due to a family history of high cholesterol and if any relatives have early heart disease then it’s worth taking a statin.

The body needs cholesterol -25% of it is in the brain and is vital for it to function properly. For patients who have suffered heart attack or stroke or have existing cardiovascular disease (disease of the heart and blood vessels) taking a statin can benefit them. But, the real question is by how much?

Patients should ask doctors, “How much longer will I live if I take a statin?” The answer is, not very long. If you’re at high risk of heart disease or stroke and you take a statin for 30 years, you’re likely to live an extra nine months.

I believe statins have substantial side effects which can significantly affect quality of life. Some studies suggest such problems may be much more common than is recognised.

Side effects

A Dutch survey of 4,738 statin users asked about side effects. Just over a quarter (27%) said they suffered from them. Around 40% of these sufferers experienced muscle pain and almost a third (31%) had joint pain. It also reported that 16% had digestion problems and 13% had memory loss.

Other research shows patients who had definite or probable side effects tended to be dismissed by their doctors who denied any specific statin-linked side effects and failed to appreciate the effect on their life.

If you have problems ask your GP if your statin could be causing them and if it’s possible to reduce the dose.

Women and statins

To date, no large trial of women statin users who already have cardiovascular disease has been shown to increase life expectancy by one day. More importantly, the use of statins in women at lower risk has not increased life expectancy nor prevented heart attacks and stroke.

It raises the question whether women should be prescribed statins at all. I believe that the answer is no. Statins fail to provide any overall health benefit in women. The more recent heart protection study was hailed as a success for men and women, but despite the hype there was no effect on mortality in women.

If you’re on a statin because you’re at high risk of cardiovascular disease and you have muscle pain, it’s worth taking the vitamin-like substance Coenzyme Q 10. Statins cause levels of this to fall in the body. I’ve seen no evidence that taking it causes harm.

The Great Cholesterol Con by Malcolm Kendrick, John Blake Publishing, £9.99.

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.

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  • Beth

    Posted: Wednesday 26 March 2014

    I am 53 and suffered a stroke 2 months ago which I was told was caused by taking HRT for 6 months. Prescribed clopidrogriel and slimvastatin 40mg, I have never felt so ill in all my life. My back, legs, arms and knees ache, it hurts to sit stand or walk, I'm covered in eczema and moles all over and worst of all my head is dry with scabby bleeding lumps and my hair is falling out in handfuls I'm so depressed, I've been passed from doctor to specialist to consultant and nothing. I know now !!!!

  • Jackie Weston

    Posted: Tuesday 25 March 2014

    My Dr put me on statins and I got crippling pain in my ankle which my Dr said was gout. The pain went into all my muscles and joints until I had got housebound and unable to do things, I had no idea it was statins causing it, I thought it was my age until I read something a Rheumatologist wrote in the mail ( how statins affected him) and I decided not to take any more and after two weeks I was pain free and able to get out and do my shopping and able to do house work.

  • Pat

    Posted: Monday 24 March 2014

    Been on statins for a long time and Iam glad Iam as my fathers side have a history of strokes and heart attacks and my father dies at I think at 52 having his 4 bypass so I hope to live passed that with being on the statins

  • Ian

    Posted: Saturday 22 March 2014

    I was prescribed statins even though I had a previous life threatening episode of rhabdomyolisis caused by a type of myositis, (both well documented statin side effects) years earlier. When I developed the same symptoms again I was treated by my GP like a complete troublemaker, repeatedly denied help or a private referral for help and pretty much forced to leave the practce! It eventually cost me over £1000 in private medical costs and took many years in bed to recover! I am lucky I made 50.

  • kath smith

    Posted: Saturday 22 March 2014

    I was prescribed statins 3 months ago. My cholesterol at that time was 3.7(hdl 1.1 ldl 2.1). I took them for two weeks. The side effects were awful. Muscle ache and depression. I stopped taking them and after a recent blood test my cholesterol is exactly the same.

  • Barry Turner

    Posted: Wednesday 19 March 2014

    I took Simvastin for four years after having a heart attack and a stent fitted at 52 years of age. I have had years of cramps in lower legs and feet, memory loss, confusion, sinitus tinnitus, cough and complete lack of energy. I kept seeing my doctor and specialists and they all said it could not be the statins. I saw my chemist and he said to stop taking them for two or three months and I should see a difference, and boy did I. Everything got better. Now on Fluvastatin and getting bad again

  • norman brodie

    Posted: Sunday 16 March 2014

    3 years ago my doctor said my cholesterol was to high at 5.0
    and put my wife and myself on 40mg statins. With in a month I had terrible pains in my legs and arms . told the doctor I was stopping. and stopped taking statins. my wife after another month had the same pains and weakness she stopped .We are both doing fine , I am 76 and now do thirty push ups 5 times a week and other excises , my wife has osteoporosis but is still feeling better after stopping statins . norman

  • David Rodd

    Posted: Friday 14 March 2014

    I've been on statins since a heart attack in 2003. After some time, I found my legs were aching during and after exercise. I told my GP, who said it was lack of exercise. Later simvastatin was replaced by atorvastatin 20mg. Pain still there. In 2010, I severed my quadriceps muscle in a simple fall. I was off work for about 4 months. I have just had drug increased to 40mg and the pain in my legs is getting worse. I now have difficulty getting up from sitting. Imagination, coincidence or statins?

  • Rob D

    Posted: Wednesday 12 March 2014

    Following a heart attack in Oct 2013 I was prescribed 80mg Atorvastatin daily. After 3 months I was unable to walk more than 100 yards without excruciating pain in the calves of both legs and was barely able to get down the stairs first thing in the morning. I took myself off the drugs and now, 6 weeks later, am slowly getting back to normal. It seems that the doctors hand out statins like Dolly Mixtures without any regard for the consequences and I shall think very carefully before resuming.

  • Diana Brown

    Posted: Wednesday 05 March 2014

    I have been taking 20 mg of Simvastatin daily for over 10 years. For the last couple of years I have been having pain in my arms. I now have to hold my kettle with two hands, such is the weakness now in my arms. I have been told by my doctor that any muscle side effects would be evident within a few months of taking the statins NOT 10 years after. Any comments would be appreciated.

  • Jim

    Posted: Saturday 01 March 2014

    Took simvastatin for 5 years. Developed autoimmune disease, diabetes, drug induced myopathy, loss of sight and hearing, seborrheic dermatitis, fibromyalga, drug induced lupus, tingling in feet and arms, pressure in head, numbness in face, ringing in ears, itchy ears and anus, photo sensitivity and difficulty writing name. Have quit statins. Pharmacist says there is no antidote for simvastatin. I am hoping for relief.

  • susan maxwel

    Posted: Thursday 20 February 2014

    I was prescribed simvaststin and liptor--- first stationed made me feel as though my left calf was being stabbed with knives all day and night .unbearable ! Went to doc had all the tests and my liver s nd kidneys of then chaned to.liptor -- felt better for two days then worse ..0pains intense and more severe in left leg. Stopped statins 8 weeks ago and suffering muscle pain24/7 plus weakness in left thigh calf and knees . Awful. Can't imagine when I will feel normal again.devils drug

  • Simon Cave

    Posted: Saturday 15 February 2014

    I'd be very grateful for feedback, please. I've been on 20 mg simvastatin for about ten years. Over the past two or three years I have experienced constant lower-back ache which turns rapidly to pain on any kind of exertion (even dressing)and especially walking, which means I can't walk our dog for longer than 30 minutes or so without extreme pain and breathlessness. Some people have reported improvements after coming off statins. How long after stopping do people experience relief?

  • Colin Cable

    Posted: Friday 14 February 2014

    Hmmm, I have also been taking Atorvastatin, Clopdigerol, plus many more for many years. I have experienced severe pains in my feet and lower legs especially when laid down at night, and calf, and hip pains when walking 30 yards, and have to stop for a while. I also take Lansoprazol for indigestion which has not really been eased even after doubling dose.Erectile disfunction is another problem. I have pains in shoulders, and seem to walk more as a waddle. Gabapentin is another pill I have to take

  • Denzil Douglas

    Posted: Wednesday 12 February 2014

    I've been taking atorvastatin since 2009. I've had VERY BAD! Nerve pain and CHRONIC! Joint pain in feet hands hips actually every joint. my sinus usually one side is blocked at different times in the day also every morning. I have other unexplained health issues that come and go. I'm having memory problems that are worse at certain times.there is probably things I've forgotten. I don't no what to do ? ps I also take drugs for diabetes blood pressure nerve pain aspirin naproxen and more

  • Yvonne McNamee

    Posted: Saturday 08 February 2014

    3 years on statins (atorvastatin
    Pain and neuropathy and weakness in my arms hands and legs and feet.
    Severe frequent leg cramps particularly at night.
    All gradually increasing over time.
    Can't keep up with my peers as I used to. Some days can barely walk.
    CK test 2 months ago. Sky High (my doctors comment)
    Off Statins for 6 weeks.
    Pain dramatic improvement. Cramps gone. Memory improved.
    Still have neuropathy and wasted calf muscles.
    I will NEVER take statins again.

  • Polly Jones

    Posted: Thursday 06 February 2014

    I was prescribed Statins about 4 years ago, the muscle and joint pains were extreme and still affect my sleep. I'm writing this at 4am. I was working at a health centre and decided to ask one of the GPs about the pains, but more so about the vivid, disturbing nightmares. The comment I received was "well if we told people about them they'd all get them". Patronising and sanctimonious! When will this be exposed as a scam. Is the damage being caused and brushed aside not worthy of a public enquiry?

  • Beryl FOSKETT

    Posted: Thursday 30 January 2014

    Have been on Crestor about 3 years until last night! I stopped smoking nearly 3 yrs ago and have suffered various respiratory problems since then. Most 'helpful' people say, that that is the norm. I've had pneumonia 3 times, but after all the antibiotics, steroids etc., I continue to suffer from chronic sinusitis and cough. I have always linked this with my COPD, as have all the doctors and specialists. Until yesterday, when I had a brain storm and printed off the side effects of statins!!

  • Trevor

    Posted: Friday 24 January 2014

    I took statins for about three years. By the end I could not walk more than 100yds. I could only sleep sitting up, with wrist splints and after taking painkillers. In the morning I could barely stand and all my joints were very stiff and painful. It took an hour before I could do up buttons or hold a fork. I could not close my hands and my grip was very weak. 3 doctors said it was just old age (I was 63), but I stopped statins, took Vit D3 and omega 3 and after about six months I was fine again.

  • Yvonne

    Posted: Saturday 11 January 2014

    Three years on statins. Pain worsening over time in legs and feet also neck and arms. Tendons affected and nerves. Unable to walk with my peers as I have done for years.
    Sometimes hardly able to walk at all. Recent CK bloods revealed high reading. Stopped Statins one month ago. Symptoms markedly improved although feel my calf muscles have wasted and have difficulty flexing them.
    My quality of life was severely affected. I am never going on statins again.

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