Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

With cholesterol drugs, devil's in the data

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Is it getting easier for patients to make the right health decision today compared to 50 years ago?

It should be, considering the huge advances in medical knowledge since that time. But unless you're blessed with the wisdom of Solomon, these advances may merely help you exchange one disease for another. Or, as one wise sage remarked, "Life would be easier if there were no 'buts.' "

For instance, a study reported in the Annals of Internal Medicine has depressing news for those taking cholesterol-lowering drugs (CLDs).

Researchers studied thousands of middle-aged and older women for seven years, who were taking CLDs. Their discovery? Compared to those who were not taking this medication, they were 50 per cent more likely to develop diabetes. This is hardly what one would call a therapeutic home run.

Another huge CLD study followed 150,000 women in their 50s, 60s and 70s for seven years. Again, this group was 48 per cent more likely to develop diabetes than those not on this medication. Earlier studies showed men on CLDs were 12 per cent more prone to develop this disease.

No one at the moment knows why CLDs are linked to the development of diabetes. But we've known for years that these drugs can cause liver, muscle and kidney problems. So it's not surprising that these can also have an adverse effect on the metabolism of sugar.

But researchers concluded that, although patients faced an increased risk of diabetes when taking CLDs, the benefits far outweighed this risk. This is particularly true for people who have existing heart disease or have had a previous stroke. But I think one could debate this point.

The history of CLDs shows several other situations where patients exchange one devil for another. For instance, a major study called Prosper revealed those taking CLDs had 22 fewer deaths from cardiovascular disease, but this was offset by an increase of 24 deaths from cancer. Hardly a good exchange!

In still other studies, high blood cholesterol was proven to be associated with increased risk of heart disease, but a low cholesterol level showed a greater risk of death from non-cardiac causes such as violent death, mental problems, liver and kidney disease, strokes and some cancers.

It has also been shown that low cholesterol after 50 years of age is associated with increased risk of death. At the University of Denmark, a report stated about 15 per cent of those on CLDs over this age suffer nerve damage.

The most notable case involved Dr. Duane Graveline, a physician and a superbly trained and conditioned U.S. astronaut. He reported that during a routine NASA checkup, doctors discovered he had an elevated blood cholesterol level and prescribed Lipitor.

Graveline arrived home several months later and did not recognize his family. NASA physicians refused to believe his mental deficiency was due to Lipitor, but they agreed to reduce the dose of this drug by half. The problem recurred, a disease called transient global amnesia.

Dr. Annette Draeger, a researcher at the University of Switzerland, took muscle biopsies from 44 patients on CLDs who were complaining of muscle pain. Some 57 per cent of these biopsies showed significant muscle damage.

It's not my intention to propose tossing away CLDs. Some 99 per cent of physicians are convinced these drugs are the be-all and end-all to prevent and treat cardiovascular problems. But I'm not convinced that is the case, and I do stress to patients and readers that I'm not related to the Almighty and could be 100 per cent wrong.

I like to have an open mind on new medical advances, but not so open my brain falls out. My brain tells me something must be wrong when you have to accept the increased risk of diabetes and so many other potential problems when taking CLDs.

Today, we could prevent 90 per cent of Type 2 diabetes simply by not being obese.

 

In addition, see my website www.docgiff.com to see how Dr. Sydney Bush, an English researcher, has shown large doses of vitamin C and lysine can reverse narrowing of coronary arteries and prevent heart attack. But cardiologists have closed minds when it comes to this research.

 

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 10, 2012 A19

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