Like many of my readers, at least those who are over fifty, I take a statin drug every day. I take a very small dose (10mg) of Lipitor.
I have read a great deal about these drugs, as should any consumer who puts anything into their body. I also have the benefit of a brother who is a physician and several other family members who are in medicine and research. Several years ago I had a simple heart scan that suggested one possible blockage problem.
I went through a battery of tests with a cardiologist, just to be safe. The prognosis was that I had normal damage. My pipes have mild corrosion from aging, as the cardiologist put it.
That, by the way, does help you focus on your mortality and your real age when you are nearing 60 as I am.
But what about statins? There is a lot of hype against statins that I receive nearly every day, especially via conservative Web sites like NewsMax that promote pharmaceutical conspiracies, via pop-up ads that I am sick of frankly. These ads play on the general feeling that most modern medications are the result of "greedy" drug companies who exist only to deceive the general public. Politicians play this same card from one of our two major political parties. (You can guess which one, since they use this kind of populism routinely to appeal to "ordinary" voters.) In addition, there are a number of natural health practitioners who rail on the statin drugs and warn of imminent danger to all who use them. (This multi-billion dollar industry has much in it that is truly good but it is also strongly driven by profits so who is kidding whom here? And it works when people fear drugs and doctors and buy the hype, almost none of which is subject to the kind of testing we use on drugs.) So, what to do?
Well, I for one, take my statin drug every single evening. Why? Real medical research, gained through serious testing, is quite overwhelming in saying that these drugs are great and save lives. (A few people have reactions to statins and cannot take them. I have one such friend.) Last year new tests revealed that people who take statins are less likely to die of influenza and chronic bronchitis. A study of 76,000 people, a most significant number, revealed that those who took them for 90 days had a much lower risk of dying from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
Now a new Reuters report from yesterday says statin drugs may reduce cancer risk, especially lung and colon cancer.
These hard-working, cholesterol-fighting drugs, may also cut the risk of developing cancer by as much as 25 percent according to new research done in the U.S. Veterans taking statin drugs had a 9.4 percent cancer incidence, compared to 13.2 percent for non-statin users, the researchers reported in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.
"Our findings support the hypothesis that statins may reduce the risk of cancer, in particular lung and colorectal cancers," said Dr. Wildon Farwell of the Veterans Affairs Boston Healthcare System, who led the study. "The risk reduction appeared to be around 25 percent," Farwell said in a telephone interview.
Statins—the world’s top-selling drugs—have been so effective at lowering low-density lipoprotein or LDL, the so-called "bad" cholesterol, that some doctors have jokingly suggested they should be added to the public water supply. Not only do they significantly cut the risk of heart attack and stroke but they also may reduce the risk of death from pneumonia and smoking.
For their study, Farwell and colleagues looked at the health records of nearly 63,000 veterans in the Veteran Affairs New England Healthcare System between January 1997 and December 2005.
The veterans were divided into groups that had used either statin drugs —including Pfizer Inc.’s Lipitor and Merck & Co. Inc.’s Zocor, now sold generically,—or blood-pressure lowering drugs for at least one year. After adjusting for age, prior cancer screenings, smoking, lung disease and other conditions, the researchers found statin users had a reduced risk of all cancer types compared with those not taking statins.
In all fairness it should be noted that this study did not show why statins seemed to lower the risk of cancer. And the study had a few limitations. Participants were mostly white males, which could skew results. "We don’t want to give the impression that this is the definitive study that proves statins reduce the risk of cancer," Farwell said. But he said the findings are compelling enough to warrant further study.
I am old enough to remember several huge drug breakthroughs over the past fifty-plus years. One was the shots to prevent the dreaded disease of polio in children. Another was the vaccination that virtually ended TB in America, which took the life of my grandmother and several others in my family line in that generation. (My parents so feared TB that they wanted me regularly tested for it when I had pneumonia several times over the course of my life.)
My late father was a dentist who labored long and hard to get to get flouride in the water supply of our small town in Tennessee. All kinds of conspiracy theorists suggested, back then in the 1950s, that this was the newest threat of the Communists to destroy us. My dad refused to be stopped and eventually was proven right. I can also remember when Crest became the first toothpaste to use fouride in its compound and then market it openly with the American Dental Society endorsing it. My dad came home from a dental meeting and said "We should buy stock in Crest." (We didn’t.)
I asked my rather young cardiologist (40ish) if the nine doctors in his practice used statin drugs. None of them, he told me, was a high risk cholesterol patient but he answered, "Eight of nine doctors here take statins for one reason. We are convinced that it is a great drug that does so many good things in the body that we all take it in low doses because we believe it is truly good for you." As they say, the proof is in the pudding.
In spite of all of this good and convincing research I still meet people who regularly refuse to use the statin drugs. They buy the hype, fear the drug companies, and believe the conspiracy theorists are actually on to something, in spite of all the good and scientific evidence to the contrary.
There is a parable in all of this. Almost every single conspiracy theory I know is wrong! Rarely, if ever, is such a theory actually proven.
But in a free society, where people are continually bombarded with constant nonsense and made to fear the next great threat, many otherwise intelligent people buy these theories and not the real science. Is it any wonder that researchers and physicians often think that some forms of religion help to foster such nonsense?
I have been to the Texas Book Depository building in Dallas, where Lee Harvey Oswald fired the bullets that killed President Kennedy. The conspiracy theorists are still on the streets outside that building, forty-three years later, selling their theories to whoever will listen.
These kinds of theories are just a part of Americana. I just do not buy any of it. The truth is almost never that complicated. Have we sometimes had drugs that later were found to do bad things? Yes, of course. But the incidents are really very few. We generally have a great system for preventing bad drugs from getting to the market, unless you get them elsewhere. Is our food supply tainted? No, not really. Some might be, now and then, but overall we are safe. Will we be overcome by avian flu? Not in the immediate future. But multitudes feared it and lived in terror while the media promoted it widely.
Conspiracy theories are a major, multi-million dollar, business in America. Cable television and the Internet feed it day-and-night. I suggest that you save your money and spend your time reading something else. And while I am at it, I really do think statins are the equivalent of a modern "wonder" drug. My friends in the industry, both physicians and researchers, believe that we will continue to find ways that statins help us that we never imagined. Why can’t Christians, of all people, "Celebrate and receive this gift with prayer and thanksgiving?" Answer: We are influenced by a cultural terrorism that wants to feed us continual rubbish so we are kept in fear. This is clearly not a very healthy way for people of real faith to live at all.