Study Finds Long-Term Statin Use Surprisingly Ineffective
Statins are one of the most prescribed classes of drugs available. By some estimates, up to 30 million people take these cholesterol-lowering drugs. But despite their wide usage, most studies have only looked at their effectiveness at reducing cardiovascular events in the short term. Not many have examined long-term benefits—until now.
Researchers in the Netherlands used mathematical models to figure out the likely boost in life expectancy of 2,428 participants aged 55 and older who took statins for 10 years or more. The web-based calculator computed gains in total cardiovascular disease-free life expectancy using age, sex, smoking, blood pressure, hypertension, lipids, diabetes, glucose, body mass index, waist-to-hip ratio, and creatinine as variables.
The researchers found that long-term statin therapy increased cardiovascular disease-free life expectancy by only seven months. Even more interesting, total life expectancy only increased by a mere three months.
According to researchers, “The predicted gains in life expectancy we found are generally small…Ideally, communication of personalized outcomes will ultimately result in better clinical outcomes. Improved understanding of potential gains will, however, not necessarily go hand in hand with an improvement in clinical outcomes, because patients could be less likely to choose statin therapy when more information on benefits is provided.”
So basically, if patients are clearly told the potential long-term benefits of statin use (a miniscule increase in life expectancy) compared to the downsides (significant cost and side effects), many people would probably make the decision to forgo statin use.
So Are Statins Worth the Risk?
Statins are serious drugs; just looking at the list of possible side effects confirms this: muscle pain and damage; liver damage; digestive issues; neurological problems; increased blood sugar and/or type 2 diabetes; headache; skin flushing or rash; nausea and/or vomiting; drowsiness; and dizziness.
Furthermore, statins deplete the body of an incredibly important antioxidant called coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10). CoQ10 is crucial for the health of your heart, protecting your heart and arteries from oxidative stress and inflammation. Our bodies naturally produce less CoQ10 as we age, and statin use compounds the issue even more. According to one recent study, just 30 days of statin use can decrease CoQ10 levels by up to 50 percent.
Only you and your doctor can decide if statin therapy is worth a try for your particular situation. But if you are put in the position of having to make this decision, this study gives you one more thing to consider.
Ferket BS, et al. Personalized prediction of lifetime benefits with statin therapy for asymptomatic individuals: a modeling study. PLoS Med. 2012 Dec;9(12):e1001361.
Rundek T, et al. Atorvastatin decreases the coenzyme Q10 level in the blood of patients at risk for cardiovascular disease and stroke. Arch Neurol. 2004 Jun;61(6):889-92.
Larissa Long has worked in the health care communications field for more than 13 years. She co-authored a self-care book titled Taking Care, has written countless tip sheets and e-letters on health topics, and contributed several articles to Natural Solutions magazine. She also served as managing editor of three alternative health and lifestyle newsletters — Dr. Susan Lark’s Women’s Wellness Today, Dr. David Williams’ Alternatives, and Janet Luhrs’ Simple Living.
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Article updated on: March 28th, 2013