Should You Take Statin Drugs?

I previously published a post referencing an article by Dr. Mercola which is very critical of the widespread use of statin drugs.  However, I recently read a book by Dr. David B. Agus, in which he extols the virtues of statin drugs, at least for a fairly large segment of the “over 40” market.

While I am not persuaded and still tend to agree with Dr. Mercola’s perspective, Dr. Agus does make some points worth noting and in the interest of keeping UpGraded Seniors informed of all sides of the issue I am making this post to present Dr. Agus’ point of view on statins.

[I’ll also remind you of my oft repeated mantra – I am not a doctor or health care professional.  I’m just reporting information which I find interesting.  Any decisions you make regarding your health should be your own in cooperation with your own health care professionals.]

Dr. Agus’ book is entitled A Short Guide to a Long Life.  Dr. Agus, according to his bio in the book, is one of the world’s leading cancer doctors and researchers.  He is a professor at the University of Southern California and also a CBS news contributor.  All that being said, his opinions are worth considering.

The book is just what the title implies, a fairly short “laundry list” of things you can do to increase your odds of living a long life.  It is a book for general audiences and, while it frequently mentions scientific research studies, there are no references or footnotes in most cases.  Since it is a “short guide” for general audiences, I think Dr. Agus was right to omit those details in order to make the book an easy read.

Dr. Agus’ Analysis of Statins

So, what does the good doctor have to say about statin drugs such as Crestor and Lipitor?  Here are some of  his comments:

Heart disease still remains the number one killer of Americans, trailed closely by cancer and then stroke.  Age-adjusted death rates from cardiovascular disease have declined 60 to 70 percent since 1950 thanks to advances in technology (including the use of statins) and better education about diet, exercise, and the risks of smoking.

Dr. Agus points out that researchers are discovering that there is a direct link between certain kinds of inflammation and our “most pernicious degenerative diseases,” which include Alzheimer’s Disease, cancer, autoimmune diseases, diabetes, and an accelerated aging process in general.  He goes on to  point out that virtually all chronic conditions have been linked to chronic inflammation.

One aspect of Dr. Agus’ analysis that I find interesting is that he doesn’t seem to want to exert much effort trying to determine why we have high inflammation markers in the first place.  His perspective seems to be to assume a prescription medication is the way to address the problem.

Dr. Agus points to a 2008 Harvard study which he claims showed that taking statin drugs:

could dramatically lower the risk of first-time heart attacks, strokes, and other artery problems in healthy men over fifty and women over sixty years of age who do not have high cholesterol but have high levels of inflammation markers – a sign that something isn’t right and that the body is experiencing lots of widespread inflammation.

He points out that the real underlying reason for cardiovascular events may not be all about cholesterol and that chronic inflammation is likely the cause.  I might interject the comment that advocates of the Paleo lifestyle have advocated this point strongly, suggesting that cholesterol is not really the problem, but rather inflammation caused mostly by dietary and lifestyle choices.

In conclusion, Dr. Agus states:

Since 2008, numerous other studies from impressively large controlled populations have demonstrated that statins can significantly lower our risk from dying of anything – cancer included. (Case in  point:  the New England Journal of Medicine published a study in 2012 involving 300,000 people that chronicled a dramatically lowered risk of death from cancer among those who took statins.)

Should Everyone Over 40 Take Statins?

Now, in fairness to Dr. Agus, he doesn’t argue statins are for everyone.  On the contrary, he says they are probably not for everyone, but he comes at it from a unique and interesting angle.  Here is his recommendation:

. . . it’s (taking statins) worth a discussion with your doctor if you’re over forty years old.  In fact, pose the question as follows: “Doc, why shouldn’t I be on a statin?”

Now that is a truly interesting point of view from a medical practitioner.  Let’s not bother trying to figure out why you have high inflammation markers to begin with. Let’s just accept that high inflammation markers are to be expected in older people and that anyone over 40 who is not taking statins should be the exception – not the rule.  Hmmm?

Another possibility occurs to me, however.  Perhaps Dr. Agus is a pragmatist and has come to the justified realization that the vast majority of adults in this instant gratification, quick-fix, pill-popping world today are not going to make the necessary lifestyle adjustments to deal with inflammation at its source, so statin drugs become the treatment of choice for most of the population.  If that’s the case, I think he’s absolutely correct, but that line of thinking obviously wouldn’t apply to UpGrading Seniors – would it? 😉

As they say, “I report – you decide.”



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