2265 North Clybourn Avenue    Chicago, IL 60614    P: 773.296.6700     F: 773.296.1131

Making It Easier To Say No To Statins

Patients and doctors alike are understandably nervous about taking/prescribing any of the cholesterol-lowering drugs known as statins. You as a patient especially don’t want to hear “You’ll be on this pill for the rest of your life.” And if you’ve followed some of the recent articles on statins, you’ve likely felt annoyance at the mixed messages from the medical community. For example, I recently wrote that 40 years ago the sugar industry suppressed data proving sugar was a major cause of heart disease. Big Sugar went on to sponsor a deliberate campaign of misinformation that shifted the spotlight to fats and high cholesterol.

Assuming cholesterol was the sole culprit behind heart disease, an array of drugs were quickly developed and they’ve always been problematic. The original ones, like clofibrate (Atromid-S) worked by blocking absorption of fat into the bloodstream. Clofibrate was replete with side effects like diarrhea, abdominal pain, and even inflammation of the pancreas. Worse yet, clofibrate scored zero when it came to preventing heart disease.

The B vitamin niacin, with its facial flushing side effect, didn’t fare much better. After years of clinical trials, with side effects always outweighing benefits, Northwestern cardiologist Clyde Yancy, MD, said of niacin “It is no longer relevant in today’s world.”

This left everyone with the statins, the largest group of prescribed meds in the world. Statins interfere with your body’s ability to manufacture cholesterol, and yes, your cholesterol will drop when you take them. What doctors too often forget is that patients are only supposed to start taking statins if lifestyle changes (healthful diet, weight loss, smoking cessation, exercise) have failed to lower risk factors for heart disease.

But again, the big question is whether or not statins actually prevent heart disease. The debate continues, and recently took a nasty turn. A recent review in the British medical journal Lancet looked at more than 10,000 statin users, declared that side effects were minimal, and urged continued aggressive statin use.

Wait just a minute, said other researchers just a few days later. They claimed the Lancet group had misrepresented data: statins had plenty of side effects, and while statins were helpful in some situations, for the most part they weren’t all that good at heart disease prevention. One anti-statin correspondent reminded everyone that Oxford University (which had released the thumbs-up statins study) had, over the years, received “hundreds of millions of pounds from Big Pharma.”

This leaves you in a bind
“Okay,” you’re thinking. “My cholesterol is high and while I try to avoid my dietary preference of deep fried elephant ears and eat enough Mediterranean until I’m speaking Corsican, my cholesterol doesn’t budge. Do I really need the statin I was just prescribed?”

Good news. There are two tests you can take to find out. One is so inexpensive ($49) that you might as well pay cash and not bother to submit for reimbursement. The second, though a bit more expensive, is usually covered.

Test 1: CT scan of your heart If you have high cholesterol but no history of actual heart disease, consider a CT scan of your heart to measure the calcium in your coronary arteries. You can get this scan at many hospitals, the best price being here. Although scanning your heart for calcium has been around for years, it’s been so overpriced that health insurers weren’t paying for it, claiming it was unproven. But over the years, more and more data emerged showing that patients with low calcium scores on their scans actually did not go on to develop heart disease, regardless of their cholesterol levels. This German study published last week reconfirmed what cardiologists had suspected for years: low calcium=low heart risks=don’t bother with statins.

Test #2: Corus CAD If you have high cholesterol and some puzzling symptoms that are not actual heart symptoms (like chest pain with exertion) but can’t be completely ignored (like tightness in your throat, jaw, or abdomen), have your doctor order the Corus CAD test (I wrote about Corus CAD in a Health Tip a few years ago). It’s especially useful for women because their symptoms of heart blockage can be quite different from those of men. Using a blood sample, this test looks at your actual genetic risks for developing coronary artery disease. Here’s a sample report of a woman with symptoms whose doctor was likely debating whether or not to place her on statins or schedule a stress test. As you can see, the likelihood of actual heart blockage is minimal—just 3%. The combination of a low Corus CAD test result and a low calcium score can offer great reassurance to both patient and doctor.

So let’s take the worst-case scenario: people in your family develop heart disease during mid-life. You yourself have high cholesterol, and a lot of it is the bad LDL type. You have a high calcium score on the CT scan of your coronary arteries. You have a high percent risk on your Corus CAD.

You’re the one who needs a statin as part of your overall plan for prevention. You should also have regular visits with a cardiologist, preferably one who emphasizes prevention. In addition, take seriously all the recommended prevention efforts—healthful weight and blood pressure control, no smoking, regular exercise, a daily low-dose aspirin.

Because let’s face it. With information we can now obtain from a CT scan and a Corus CAD test, giving everyone with elevated cholesterol a statin seems just plain silly.

Be well,
David Edelberg, MD

Leave a Comment


  1. Jeff Wygodny says:

    Dr. Edelberg, In your example at the end, why do you not mention moderate alcohol intake? There are thousands of studies advocating this for heart disease prevention. It is hardly controversial except for scaremongers.Please see The Science of Healthy Drinking.

  2. Beth Wolszon says:

    Dr Edelberg: What about reports on the negative brain impact of satins? A friend researched those studies and took her monther, who was suffering from brain fog/memory issues, etc. off satins… there was a very noticeable improvement.

  3. Dr E says:

    Good point: simply forgot to list it

  4. Carla F. Steinbuchel says:

    Thank you for verifying that the approach I took last year was the best one for me! My CTA calcium score was zero and I am not having problems with chest pain. Triglycerides are WNL, LDL is moderately elevated, HDL is high.
    Minimal family history of heart problems. Decided to focus on diet & exercise.

  5. Doc, does dosage level correspond with development of symptoms (symptoms go up as dosage goes up) and if LDL is VERY low and hdl high can a stented person try to go off atorvastatin? (my cardiologist is on the fence)

  6. Dr E says:

    Hi Michael
    Side effects from drugs are very much dose related. Allergies to drugs however are not. For example, if you’re penicillin allergic, even a small dose will trigger a reaction.
    I am less on the fence than your cardiologist. If your LDL is low and HDL is high then the statin is of less importance. I think a small dose of a statin (Crestor 2.5 mg every other day) would be fine with your cardiologist

  7. Larry Lister says:

    I had a Heart CT scan 6 years ago and had a score of 0. Since then, we are treating for high BP, cholesterol, and a low dose aspirin daily. I’ve also gained about 15-20 lbs over the past couple years that I’m still struggling to lose. How frequently would a heart scan be warranted?

  8. Dr E says:

    Since they’re only $49, I suggest every 2 years

  9. Janis Wrich says:

    When I clicked on “more” to read the rest of the election/stress article, I got the article on statins instead. This happened every time I tried.
    Conspiracy? Paranoia? (Ha — but really!)

Join our Newsletter

Get health recommendations, delicious and time-saving recipes, medical news, supplement reviews, birthday discounts, and more!

BIRTHDAY

Health Tips

Dr. Edelberg’s Health Tips contain concise bits of advice, medical news, nutritional supplement and pharmaceutical updates, and stress relief ideas. With every Health Tip, you’ll also receive an easy, delicious, and healthful recipe.

When you sign up to receive Health Tips, you can look forward to Dr. Edelberg’s smart and very current observations arriving in your in-box weekly. They’re packed with helpful information and are often slightly irreverent. One of the most common responses to the tips is “I wish my doctor talked to me like this!”

Quick Connect

Get One Click Access to our

patient-portal

The Knowledge Base

Patient education is an integral part of our practice. Here you will find a comprehensive collection of staff articles, descriptions of therapies and nutritional supplements, information addressing your health concerns, and the latest research on nutritional supplements and alternative therapies.

Join our Newsletter

Get health recommendations, recipes, medical news, supplement reviews, birthday discounts, and more!

Upcoming Workshops

**Pain Relief with Myofascial Balls
Tuesday, October 29, 6-8pm
With Renee Zambo, C-IAYT Yoga Therapist

Course Fee: $65.00
(includes WholeHealth Chicago Myofascial Release Kit, $40 value)

Does that same spot in your neck, shoulders, back or hips seem to bother you every day? Do you have joint aches and pains in the hands and feet? Would you like to learn ways to alleviate that pain and tension?

Join WholeHealth Chicago’s Yoga and Movement Therapist Renee Zambo for an evening of muscle tension release with myofascial therapy balls.

Space is limited and registration is required.
Please register online.
Call the Center for additional information at (773) 296-6700
More>>

Recent Health Tips

  • Dandruff, Fungi, and Cancer of the Pancreas

    It’s an eye-catching title, I’ll admit. But the links are quite real and further research may guide medicine in new directions of cancer prevention and treatment. It all starts in your gut microbiome, the totality of microorganisms–bacteria, viruses, protozoa, and fungi–present in your gastrointestinal (GI) tract, mouth to anus. Until recently, researchers and clinical physicians alike paid virtually no attention to the microbiome and the Read More

  • New Hope For Sinus Sufferers

    When osteopath Dr. Rob Ivker moved to Colorado in the 1980s to set up his family practice, he had no idea that when he stepped off the plane he’d succumb to symptoms of chronic sinusitis that just wouldn’t go away: stuffy nose, thick mucus, pressure behind his cheekbones and above his eyebrows, dull aching headache, and thick goopy drainage in the back of his throat. Read More

  • Director of IV Therapies Katie McManigal, BSN, ANP

    Most people at some point in their lives have had an intravenous (IV) line. An adept nurse warned you about the tiny pinch of the needle as it was smoothly inserted and taped in place.  Then the  fluid dangling above your head slowly started making its way through a tube and into your body. IVs are all over the place in hospitals. They’re seen in Read More

October Sale – Save 20% off UltraMeal Rice

UltraMeal RICE is a tasty, non-dairy, nutritionally fortified, powdered meal replacement for those who want to support healthy body composition but may be sensitive to soy.

Click here to take advantage of this month’s promotion!