Few medications have captivated physicians more than statins. It is estimated that anywhere from 20 million to 40 million Americans now take drugs like Crestor, Lipitor, lovastatin, pravastatin or simvastatin.

There is a strong belief that statins save lives by preventing heart attacks and strokes. There is data to support that idea, but only for people with clearly diagnosed heart disease. In other words, patients who have substantial obstruction in their coronary arteries or who have suffered a heart attack do seem to benefit from statins.

Three fourths of the prescriptions that are written for such drugs, however, are for primary prevention. In other words, doctors are prescribing Crestor, Lipitor and simvastatin to healthy people who have no symptoms. These are people who may have “risk factors” for developing heart disease, but who are otherwise doing pretty well.

Is it logical for physicians to prescribe statins to healthy people in the hope that such drugs will extend their lives? If doctors truly believe in “evidence-based medicine,” the answer has to be no. A recent analysis of 11 clinical trials involving over 65,000 people produced no evidence that statins saved lives (Archives of Internal Medicine, June 28, 2010).

Even though there is no good evidence that statins prolong life when prescribed for primary prevention, there is no doubt that these medications do cause side effects. Muscle pain and weakness are the most common complaints, but some people also report cognitive problems (memory and thinking not quite right), peripheral neuropathy and elevated blood sugar. There is even a report that statins are linked to cataracts (BMJ, May 20, 2010).

Nevertheless, some physicians find the idea of reporting stain side effects sacrilegious. One doctor offered this comment:

“The benefit to risk ratio of statins has been estimated at 400:1. As an endocrinologist with a focus on preventive cardiology I can assure your readers that far more “statin-phobic” patients are suffering and dying needlessly from preventable cardiovascular disease than are harmed by statins. Yet, the wildly exaggerated and irresponsible statin-bashing continues…

“By the mid 1990’s muscle complaints went from rare to common very soon after the statin companies started direct to consumer advertising, which included FDA-mandated warnings about muscle symptoms (warnings which were due to the very rare cases of rhabdomyolysis). Now I deal every day with patients blaming every ache and pain (left knee pain, right shoulder pain, left thumb pain, woke up this morning with neck pain, you name it) on their statins, often with no logical temporal connection.

“And they are telling all their family, friends and neighbors about it. I believe that some people do have muscle symptoms from statins. I also believe that the vast majority of aches and pains that are blamed on statins are not due to statins, but rather to this mass public hysteria, fed by word of mouth and fueled by the media.” M.D.A, MD
Well, we don’t want to start a statin war, but we do wish physicians would stay on top of the medical literature. The most recent article in the Archives of Internal Medicine and an accompanying editorial should be required reading for any doctor who prescribes a drug like Crestor, Lipitor or simvastatin to someone without heart disease.

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  1. Sylvia A. E.

    After taking 5 mg. Simvastatin for just a few months, I developed excruciating burning, prickling, and stabbing pains in the soles of my feet. These symptoms occurred at night. I could not tolerate placing my feet between the sheets and had try to sleep with them hanging outside the mattress to avoid touching it. I have read numerous articles about the effects of Simvastatin on the feet.
    I was prescribed Neurontin to help with the “neuropathy” pain, but this had no effect whatsoever. I was placed on Simvastatin because my LDL level had crept up to 132, although my HDL was in the very high range. I had always been physically active and slender, and I am healthy. My physician, at my request, discontinued the medication given that I did not have heart disease. However, I was urged to follow a diet low in fats and red meats – which I seldom eat – and have another blood test within three months.
    Unfortunately, the LDL level has crept up to its previous level. My cardiologist, who follows me for a leaky valve, wants to put me back on Simvastatin, but I will not do so.
    Thank you for accepting these comments. It is reassuring to read comments that are similar to mine.

  2. Jon

    I was extremely active: swimming, hiking and bike riding most days. My cholesterol levels were good, but my LDL was 120, and since I have a family history of heart disease my doctor put me on statins to get my LDL down to under 100, in accordance with conventional “wisdom.” Three weeks later the excruciating pain set in. A week later I threw the medicine in the trash.
    The pain was mostly in my legs. I could barely walk. Now, over a year later, I still have pain, though it is somewhat less than it was initially. Hopefully in another year the pain in my legs will be gone or close to gone. I still exercise, but cannot do so at the same level I did before; leg pain (which I never had before taking statins) is the limiting factor.
    Do you suppose my risk of heart disease may actually have gone *up* from taking statins because my ability to exercise is limited? That’s what I think.
    Here is a link to an article in Muscle and Nerve that I feel every doctor should read. Essentially the article says that athletes experience muscle pain on statins at a much higher rate than the general public.

  3. J.B.

    My father, who has been prescribed multiple cholesterol and blood pressure medications since having a heart attack, and with whom I have been having discussions re: benefits and side affects, came up with a very interesting question.
    This year the FDA determined that Omeprazole, prescribed to people on Simvastatin to prevent potential heartburn/stomach pain/damage . . . was reducing the effectiveness of the statin by way of blocking its digestion/breakdown in the stomach into a form that could be absorbed and utilized. His impression is that the simvastatin benefit was reduced by 50%.
    He went off the omeprazole to see if his stomach could handle it. He’s on 40 mg of simvastatin. His question is this: Is taking omeprazole in conjunction with 40 mg of simvastatin the same, then, as taking 20 mg of simvastatin by itself without omeprazole?
    If the benefits are reduced, are the adverse consequences reduced also? The question may be due to the research showing that people on 20 mg simvastatin had way less side affects then those on higher doses.

  4. Paul43

    I would shop around for a good CHIROPRACTOR— ask your friends etc.
    They wanted to take 2 discs out of my back way back in the 70’s & I wouldn’t let them. My Dad first took me to his chiropractor when I was about 8 years old—got hurt playing football right outside the house.
    I remember my Dad carrying me up the steps to the Docs office and 30 minutes later I was walking down them by myself.
    I have been going to Chiropractors all my life — even when I worked overseas–they saved me from the operation & god knows what else.
    JUST REMEMBER– there are good one & bad ones just like the quacks—if your don’t like the guy you go to see and he won’t explain everything to you—get up an leave— I use a LADY CHIROPRACTOR now for only $25 a visit and she is great except for her constant chattering.
    Good luck,

  5. HJL

    Only good doctors can diagnose what is and isn’t wrong with you. Since you mention problems with Zocor, the present statin could be the problem. There is no risk to taking CoQ10 and some people claim it “cured” muscle problems with statins. See prior comments.

  6. W. Dowdy

    I have been experiencing much muscle ache and nerve tingling for the last 6 months. Thinking it was the cholesterol statin prescription I was taking
    (Simvastatin 10 MG), I stopped taking the drug and visited with my doctor. He thought it was related to a pinched nerve near my neck and the back specialist he sent me to confirmed this after extensive tests.
    However, he put me in traction at home and immediately my neck was in terrible pain. I stopped the traction, went to a physical therapist, who cured my neck ache. My body still feels like it is going to sleep and I wake up many times during sleep with my body hurting, and my left arm feeling like it is asleep. I had a similar experience with Zocar yrs ago and when they switched me to Tricor, the muscle/nerve tingling stopped.
    That’s why I thought it was the statin and I have heard some people experience these feelings when taking these medications. Also, I was told about 6 yrs. ago that I have gall stones, but doctors don’t advise treating them. Could these be the problem? I have also had carpal tunnel surgery, but it didn’t help my wrists.
    Thanks for your help. It’s much appreciated. I don’t know where else to turn. How about a chiropractor?

  7. M.T.

    I am 73 years old and have taken a statin since I have been in my 40’s or when Mevacor came on the market. I now take Lipitor 60 gm and have never felt pain or any side effects. I have high cholesterol in the low 200’s. I inherited this. I feel if I had not been put on a statin I would have full blown heart disease with a heart attack or stroke.

  8. P.M.

    My Dr. has been trying to put me on Lipitor or other statins. My total cholesterol is 230, but my good HDL is 68-70 My overall ratio is always in the perfect range. I started taking red yeast rice capsules & have not had my blood checked yet. I have no problems & wondering if I should follow my Drs. advice. I hate to get on medication if I can do without it. I am about 13 lbs overweight, never gain anymore in past 2 yrs. Just can’t seem to lose. Please respond, I am 70 1/2 yrs old, & am female.
    Thank You, P.M.
    P.s. the only med. I take in Klonopin for restless legs, nightly for last 5 yrs. 0.5mg

  9. ela

    I am wondering if the unusual pain in my arm (either one) when my blood pressure is being taken can possibly be traced to statins. I never had the problem before taking statins. I have been switched from one statin to another to another because my doctor is concerned that both of my parents died from heart disease, although I think their conditions were exacerbated by smoking and secondhand smoke. My cholesterol is elevated (230) but my HDL is also high.
    I have tried to discuss this with my doctor, but he just says that maybe we should increase the dosage of the statin. The pain is so excruciating that I am wondering if the elevated BP results are even accurate. The only other medication I take is generic Fosamax for osteoporitis and occasional Advil for arthritis. I am 68 years old and overweight but still working and generally feel fine. I guess what I am asking, is has anyone else had this experience with statins.

  10. EL

    My doctor had prescribed several different statin drugs over time for me always with the same results of leg pain and weakness so I would stop taking them. (I was not influenced by mass hysteria because I hadn’t discussed it or heard about it from anyone else.) Recently I read about taking CoQ10 with statins, tried it without much hope and lo and behold, the pain and weakness disappeared. My cholesterol counts all improved too! This may not work for everyone, but it seems to be working for me.

  11. Paul L

    Becky, Get a copy of a book called—THE CHINA STUDY— by T. Colin Campbell
    I know 3 people who were taking lots on pills for various ailments and after reading this book have gotten off most of their meds and their ailments are healing—one on the gentlemen told he was taking a box load of meds everyday & now takes nothing but aspirin.
    I am already working on the suggestions of in the book and feel better already.—No more SIMCOR for me!

  12. MV

    My doctor told me that 80% of the cholesterol in my body is produced by my liver. A dietitian has me on a regimen in which I ingest very little cholesterol from my diet. I am also very active and exercise daily.
    My question is – what’s wrong with my liver that it produces too much cholesterol? Let’s fix that instead of treating the symptoms. If the treatment is the same, fine. But show me that the treatment is reducing the amount of my cholesterol. I have seen no reduction in my lipid profile. My doctor laughed and wrote a script for Zocor since Lipitor was not effective.
    What is the connection? If you don’t get a lot of cholesterol from your diet, why does the liver produce so much?
    I have asked 3 different doctors and have not heard a response that even addresses the question.
    I can not see the reasoning behind being miserable while taking medication that might prevent something that may never happen anyway.

  13. Pete W.

    I took a statin drug for about two years and decided it did more harm than good. Muscle weakness and short term memory loss. Doctor checked my cholesterol a year later and said there was no change.

  14. JRP

    My husband’s remarkable memory changed very suddenly, I realized this coincided with his starting a Statin drug. I started “digging” to find a connection, but didn’t until you started writing about it.
    I convinced him to stop until he could discuss it with our Dr. (There is no history of heart problems in his family, and his parents lived to late 80’s and 92- eating sausage & eggs almost every day). Our Dr refused to believe a connection. I mentioned this to one of his secretaries, and she was very glad that I brought it up. She noted that for a while he seemed better, but returned to problems.
    That was when he stopped, & the Dr. started a different Statin.
    Our Dr is a friend, for whom we have great respect -but we don’t agree on this issue.
    He has been off the meds. for sometime now, but recently his memory seems to have taken a turn for the worse. I don’t know if this is a belated reaction, or if it has left him with problems.

  15. HJL

    My wife and I take statins. We also take COq10 daily after reading about, learning that there was no downside and learning it is mandatory for Dr. to prescribe COQ10 to all of their patients who are prescribed statins. We have told many friends complaining about muscle pain after starting statins to try COQ10. A number of noticed marked improvement.
    This is not scientific and is only anecdotal, but something to consider if the Doc says statins and the body says no. (COQ10 is also called Ubiquinol after the word unbiquitous since it is in every cell in the body). I believe it is a scientific fact that statins do lower levels of Ubiquinol.

  16. emh

    I totally agree that statins are prescribed way too much. I am very sensitive to drugs period. When my doc said I needed to take them because of a slightly, and I do mean slightly, elevated cholesterol level, I went ahead and took them. But the side effect of the muscle pains and weakness that I started having right away told me that I COULD NOT take them. I tried another one–same thing. After that I stopped them all.
    Why feel worse when I know I don’t need to take them and try to work off the numbers myself? I am close to normal now and I don’t take any statins!!
    I do take a BP med but I know I must this one. (this is after trying about 5 different ones to get the one that didn’t affect me)
    Thank you Thank you for all your info on meds and disease and natural remedies–I love you Peoples Pharmacy!!!

  17. Betty

    I have been on Crestor for 3 weeks and stopped taking it yesterday due to muscle and itching problems. I have had to put down the newspaper when reading same – even with my elbows resting on the arm of my chair. I am taking medication for blood pressure and the balance of pills I ingest are like Vit. C, D, COQ10, B12 all of which I researched and find they are good for me. I am 82 yrs. of age and hope to get back to playing golf when I have knee surgery in the near future – it better be “near”…..
    Enjoy your newsletter very much – thank you.

  18. a.s.

    I think I’ll just stick to my 1500mg (3×500) niacin and 1800mg (3×600) RYR. my doc likes the result & no other symptoms (except for occasional flushing) from the niacin.

  19. annewyth

    This is a good article, however my muscle problems while taking lipitor were not pain but muscle failure. I was collapsing 4 or more times a day, even broke 2 bones in my left hand, also I had diplopia, double vision, my ophthalmologist said the small muscles in my eyes that I need to focus with were affected but that my eyes were fine otherwise.
    I stopped taking lipitor Feb. 2008 and after 2 weeks stopped falling and the brain fog and brain freeze went away. I am 60 and in very good health other than chol. of 260 but HDL is 92 and no family history ever of heart problems.

  20. Niki

    This article has caused concern about my use of simvastatin to treat a triglyceride level higher than desired for a Type 2 Diabetic with other risk factors. I’ll be certain to speak to my doctor about the side affects at my next appointment.

  21. JS

    I was on a statin for 2 years, during which time severe pains went down my legs and sudden weak drops in my legs were noted. I’d get up at night and feel like I’d been worked over with a baseball bat, I hurt so much. Getting out of my car became more and more painful.
    A friend suggested I go off the statin for 3 weeks and the pain was reduced. I already had neuropathy and was told that would help the pain; it was worse. I was checked for fibromyalgia and it definitely was the statin. I tried the statin two more times and the pain came back in a week. I’m 73 now and a good ole heart attack would be a kind way to go; no statins for me!

  22. Becky R

    I agree. The statins are prescribed no matter what. I have high cholesterol and have had muscle cramps and also memory loss from three statins. The Dr still is trying to put me on statins. I am also a breast cancer survivor and do not want to take a chance of recurrence. I also tried red yeast rice and stomach upset from that.
    I want to lower my cholesterol but not with statins. I am also a type 2 diabetic, have gastritis, sleep apnea, fluid retention but no heart problems. Can you help me?

    • Anthony

      Have you tried Propolis?

  23. csoehl

    And now the drug companies are lobbying pediatricians to start prescribing statins to children in fifth grade! There is no end to the greed of Big Pharma and we are being led like sheep to be de-fleeced over and over again. The FDA should be looking at our food supply and the horrendous oversupply of MSG and other additives that encourage overeating, and at the loading of fat, salt and sugar in almost every processed food.
    Children don’t need statins, they need a supply of nutritious food and outdoor exercise.

  24. Terri T.

    Thanks for a very interesting and thought provoking article. It has been my feeling for quite some time that statins are widely over-prescribed, and in fact, nearly as dangerous as the conditions which they are purported to treat. We can hope that more studies are done to show whether or not using statins as preventive medication is in fact prudent.

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