I consider the benefits of most medications used to lower cholesterol (called "statin medications") to be modest at best in those without known heart disease (called "primary prevention"). These medications lower heart attack death risk by less than 2%. To put this in perspective, having thyroid levels be optimal (even when normal) is associated with a 69% lower risk of heart attack death and even owning a cat is associated with a 30% lower risk. Despite these minimal benefits, their being relatively expensive (costing the health care system over $12 billion per year), and aggravating pain and fatigue in some patients, they are being heavily pushed — even being heavily marketed to pediatricians now.
I suspect this would not be happening if the medications were not so profitable, as controlling high blood pressure, decreasing excess sugar intake, exercise, stopping smoking. and even eating fish are likely more heart protective than the medications — but simply less profitable.
Now a major new meta analysis using data from 13 clinical trials with 91,140 participants shows these medications are associated with a 9% increased risk of developing diabetes vs placebo.
It is a good idea, of course, to follow your doctor's advice here. But it's also OK to recognize they are being targeted with massive amounts of advertisements, including conferences described as "Advertisements masquerading as scientific activities." A review of the study at Medscape is an example where the reviewer has received money from several companies making these medications. To me, his "editorial" began to sound like a salesman for the drug companies, but his information is presented as "science." One could have thought that Medscape, one of the best information sources out there for physicians, could have found some expert somewhere who has not received money from the drug company to review the study. And then, maybe they couldn't…
If you have a known heart problem, the benefits of these medications go way up. If not, it is OK to ask your doctor if improving diet, avoiding sugar, exercising, eating oily fish (tuna and salmon 3-4x week) and stopping smoking may be more beneficial.
For more information on lowering cholesterol naturally, see "Lower Your Cholesterol — Naturally."
Read a review of the study at Medscape (free registration required).
Sattar N, Preiss D, Murray HM, et al, "Statins and Risk of Incident Diabetes: A Collaborative Meta-analysis of Randomised Statin Trials." Lancet. 2010;375:735-742. Epub 2010 Feb 16.
Jacob Teitelbaum, M.D. is one of the world's leading integrative medical authorities on fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue. He is the lead author of four research studies on their treatments, and has published numerous health & wellness books, including the bestseller on fibromyalgia From Fatigued to Fantastic! and The Fatigue and Fibromyalgia Solution. Dr. Teitelbaum is one of the most frequently quoted fibromyalgia experts in the world and appears often as a guest on news and talk shows nationwide including Good Morning America, The Dr. Oz Show, Oprah & Friends, CNN, and Fox News Health.