older woman with her face in her hands

Doctors interested in preventive medicine often quote Benjamin Franklin approvingly. However, he wasn’t thinking of medicine when he noted that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. (Actually, he was thinking of fire safety.) While prevention is sensible in midlife, there may come a time when a person no longer needs to worry about cholesterol and blood pressure numbers and try to keep them at “normal” levels.

How Long Does a Person Need to Worry About Cholesterol Levels?

Q. My 93-year-old mother is still on a statin. Her doctor won’t take her off this medication because her cholesterol is considered “too high.”

She has experienced side effects, starting with debilitating muscle pain. Then she had balance problems, severe muscle weakness and dementia. Now she has developed diabetes. Does the statin really make sense at her age?

Who Needs to Take a Statin to Lower Cholesterol?

A. The American Heart Association recommends that virtually all men over 64 and women over 70 should be on statins even if their blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar are normal. However, a study in JAMA Internal Medicine (online May 22, 2017) showed no benefit in giving a statin to older people without heart disease.

There might be a justification for a 93-year-old person taking a statin if she had heart disease. Ask your mother’s doctor if her life expectancy justifies this preventive medication, especially given the side effects you describe.

Will Higher LDL Cholesterol Help Older People Live Longer?

OK, we admit that headline is heretical. It is what we call a classic man-bites-dog-story. That’s because we have all been told that the lower your LDL cholesterol the better your heart health will be.

But what if new data contradict that old perspective. A year ago an article in BMJ Open (June 12, 2016) found precisely that. Of course the results disappeared almost without a trace. When people have a long-cherished belief it is hard for them to give it up. If anything, they are likely to double down on the old way of thinking.

If you would like to read more about LDL cholesterol levels and longevity here is a link to the article we wrote about those results. You will discover that this is not the first study to reveal a relationship between higher cholesterol levels and longevity in older people.

Will Higher Bad LDL Cholesterol Help Older People Live Longer?

What do Readers Say?

Some of the most valuable insights we receive come from visitors to this website. Here is what one physician had to say about the article above:

K. Price, MD, from Florida wrote:

“Hi, I am a family practice physician. On the first day of medical school in 1977, the head of the school came out to ‘meet the class.’ Scowling at 400 terrified students from under the bushiest eyebrows I have ever seen and leaning on the podium with his knuckles, he glared at us, and finally spoke. I will never forget his words-booming at us!

“Fifty percent of what we are about to teach you is INCORRECT! UNFORTUNATELY, I cannot tell you WHICH 50% that is!!!”

“That is the best advice I got the entire 4 years!”

Dov in Haifa, Israel had this to say:

“I have showed this article to 3 doctors. Their reaction:

“Nonsense. New analysis will prove they were wrong.”

(P.S.-the doctors, friends of mine, are invited every year to 5 star hotel vacations sponsored by big Pharma…)

Maimee in Florida offered this:

“My mother lived to the ripe old age (lacking 3 months) of 98. She developed
high blood pressure at a much younger age and started medicine for it. Later on
she stopped taking medicine and had very little wrong with her. When she
died, it was not from high blood pressure.”

When people reach a certain age it is important to consider the benefit-to-risk ratio of the medications they are taking. We had the honor to interview two physicians who truly understand the value of “deprescribing.” Here is a link to our interview:

Show 1066: How to Fight Overmedication with Deprescribing

Talking to Your Mother’s Physician:

We encourage you to take the BMJ Open article with you when you and your mother visit her doctor. To prepare you for the conversation, we are sending you our Guide to Cholesterol Control and Heart Health. Anyone who would like a copy, please send $3 in check or money order with a long (no. 10) stamped (70 cents), self-addressed envelope:

  • Graedons’ People’s Pharmacy, No. C-8
  • P. O. Box 52027
  • Durham, NC 27717-2027.

It can be downloaded for $2 from this website:

Join Over 145,000 Subscribers
at The People's Pharmacy

Get our FREE daily email newsletter with breaking health news, prescription drug information, home remedies and a preview of our award-winning radio show.

  1. S Scaggs
    Reply

    I think high blood pressure causes strokes and other problems.
    I think age comes when many things like enzymes , and hormones cut back
    or stop. These are the things that make life work. I recently learned about storage diseases, when the body does not produce enough enzyme that metabolizes something like fat, protein or carbohydrates, it has to move it somewhere and sometimes moves it to the liver or spleen. It can kill those organs.

  2. sue
    brooklyn ny
    Reply

    Having finally found an excellent doctor, my 97 year old parents are finally off the damn statins. Crestor sent one parent from severe muscle cramps to muscle weakness, to wheelchair bound, to severe dementia and now diabetes. The other parent has muscle weakness from Lipitor. They didn’t live this long because of the drugs; they lived this long in spite of them, and their quality of life will now improve without them.

  3. Ann
    Charlotte, NC
    Reply

    I have high blood pressure and the medicine I take destroys my
    quality of life. Have made several attempts to quit Bystolic; however, the dangers of fainting prevent my giving it up altogether.

    When my numbers can be 180/110 I know that it is not good to continue driving because of the danger to others, so I take the two pills and despair of my balance ever again being restored. I am 89.

  4. Cindy
    Reply

    About 8 years ago my mother-in-law had a bladder infection. By the way, she was in her early 90s. She was put in the hospital for it. Without my noticing, a couple of other doctors besides the one she had added their ‘two cents’ and also their own prescriptions. Soon my vigorous walker seen all over the area she lived turned into a women who spent most of her days laying down.

    When I decided to find out what had changed I noticed the two added prescriptions to the one blood pressure pill she had taken for years. One was a blood thinner and the other a beta blocker. I wrote the two prescribing doctors that I was going to take her off of these and why. One said he would not take her as a patient if I was going to second-guess his decisions. I did some research and added a few more alternatives to accomplish what the meds were suppose to do. She is 102 now. Her present doctor can’t get over her vigor. She is on 1 blood pressure pill.

  5. Marilyn
    North Carolina
    Reply

    I am 82 yrs. old. Since the age of 40 I have had doctors TRY to push prescrips down my throat for high colesterol. My bad is really bad, last I knew 306. My good has always been VERY Good. I have taken several prescripts prescribed by what ever Dr. I was seeing. All kinds of BAD side effects happened with very few doses.

    At 75 I went to an Endocrinologist. She had been a physician for quite a number of years. Her words were: “If you have lived this long WITHOUT meds, I would not worry about it.” She also told me it had been proven that the Meds had caused some HEART ATTACTS. That is what the people making ALL THE MONEY and possibly making you sick DO NOT WANT YOU TO KNOW. I worked 13 yr. for a company making ALL perscrips. I take very few. Blood pressure and Thyroid. Other than that VITAMINS and eat mostly Mediterranian diet. Came by it naturally. My Father came from ITALY. I say what my Dr. did: ( DO NOT WORRY ABOUT IT.)

  6. Elaine
    Lopez Island, WA
    Reply

    I have a question: When LDL level is measured, is it the volume of LDL that is measured? If I was able to change my LDL (by dietary changes) from a lot of small, dense particles to benign large fluffy LDL particles, would that make the volume of LDL go up and thus look like my “bad” cholesterol had increased? I’m 71, play a lot of tennis, do weight training and gardening, and my LDL jumped to 201. I had a negative experience with Lipitor 16 years ago and won’t go near statins again!

  7. Barbara
    Spokane
    Reply

    I have received several “reminders” to make an appointment with a neurologist’s ARNP. When I first saw her following a stroke she wanted me on a statin (again.. .I’ve tried them before), and “that’s all I can do for you,” she said. I told her my preference was to skip them since I have had side effects and am 75. Later I received a phone call from my PCP office’s pharmacist again urging to restart the statin, quoting those distorted statistics about longevity. I have worked in health care and am well aware of the effects of pharmacy company reps on prescribing, not to the patient’s benefit. Well, we Boomers are taking charge of our LIVES now, and doc’s and other prescribers had better realize that this might mean being the “non compliers” they despise so much.

  8. Gale V.
    Illinois
    Reply

    I was put on Crestor, a statin to raise my HDL which was in the low 40s. Now it is 58 which is considered a good reading. My LDL was in the normal ramge and still is.

    Can you address the issues around HDL?

  9. Bob
    South Carolina
    Reply

    Add my mother to your list of people who was put on statin drugs when she was in her mid 80s to treat her high cholesterol numbers which was 292. She had side effects from and the statin only brought her numbers down to 260 at which time the doctor said: “Given your good health you seem to know more than I about being healthy. So quit taking the statins.”

    Mom was healthy all her life and lived to be 92 years old. Personally I believe that as we get older all of our numbers go up and more research is needed to understand why and IF this trend is natural or does it really indicate a health issue.

  10. Connie
    Norway
    Reply

    I am 86 years of age and have had very high LDL cholesterol for many many years. Since I have never had any of the symptoms of heart disease and am in perfect health otherwise, my doctor took me off statin medication 15 years ago. I live in Norway, still bike all over Europe, and give thanks for a body that makes it possible. And I also give thanks for your wonderful articles!

  11. Ramona
    NC
    Reply

    My mother lived to 99 (one month short of 100) and never took anything but a blood pressure pill. She did not have high blood pressure. Her Dr. believed in giving blood pressure medicine to anyone over 70. Something, I guess, they believed in 50 yrs. ago. Her sister lived to 98. I know they didn’t take statins.
    I am 81 and have great blood pressure (according to Drs.). Have never taken blood pressure medicine. Have tried statins, but could not tolerate them. My LDL is a little high. My pharmacist friend said she would never take statins. I told my Dr, he said she was crazy.

  12. L. L.
    Cary, NC
    Reply

    Change doctor and find one with good judgement. Or simply throw the statin prescription away and be merry. At age 90+ you don’t need any doctor’s permission to do anything. Of course the Graedon’s cannot say this :) but I can…

  13. Walter
    Buffalo, NY
    Reply

    I’m 81 and stopped taking all drugs 10 yrs. ago–blood pressure pills, statin pills, blood thinner pills–and switched to vodka and tonic as my drug of choice. Never felt better.

  14. Jackie
    Oregon
    Reply

    Still confused about Statins and also blood pressure.

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