How Statins and a low fat diet nearly killed my Dad

My Dad has written an article about his experiences with statin drugs. He was put on these a few years ago when, despite being a slim, fit, healthy non-smoker, his heart disease risk was deemed high because his cholesterol levels were above the new recommended limit. Here is his story:

“Six years ago I walked into my doctor’s surgery a healthy 68 year old and walked out a man diagnosed with a potentially fatal condition.

I thought I was fit and well. That summer I had rowed in an eight miles Celtic Longboat race and prepared for this by six weeks of tough training. I regularly walked the Pembrokeshire Coastal Path, went hiking in the Preseli Hills and enjoyed sea kayaking. And the doctor’s initial checks seemed consistent with this: my blood pressure was 115/80; my resting pulse in the mid 50s; my weight 150 lbs; no signs of sugar in my blood; my BMI in the low 20s. All that was left was to check my cholesterol.

Returning for the result I was told that my GP wanted to see me. He said that new government advice had lowered the figures regarded as healthy for cholesterol. My cholesterol figures were now considered high. I was told that a high cholesterol puts you at greater risk of a heart attack. He offered free statins on prescription. So one minute I am active and very fit and the next I am offered statins as a precaution against a heart attack.

“I am not saying you should take them but this is the official government advice,” said my doctor.

Neither my wife (who is a doctor) nor myself, after much discussion, could see the need for these powerful drugs. Again, suppose I have a heart attack or stroke which they could have prevented. The two saddest words in the language are said to be “if only.” The government advice was clear, that statins offer exceptional protection against heart disease and other illnesses. Their benefits, they claimed, outweigh any possible side effects. They do not come cheap and are a vastly expensive cost on the NHS. I decided to take them.

“You will need to have a liver function test before you begin and then regularly to make sure they have not caused liver problems,” said the nurse. So, my healthy liver has to be checked every six months to ensure this drug does not wreck it. I still wonder why I did not see the irony, never mind stupidity, of what I was doing?

At this time statins had been hyped as the next wonder drug. I read that the majority of cardiologists over 50 in the USA were taking statins. In the USA the pharmaceutical companies spend more on marketing drugs than they do on research and development. Drug trials are often conducted by companies with a strong financial incentive to find the drugs effective.

What was not publicised is that high cholesterol does not cause heart disease. Nor does a high fat diet, saturated or not, affect blood cholesterol levels. Nor that the beneficial effects of statins are so minor for most people that they are not worth taking. Why spoil a nice piece of hype with some facts?

Side effects, some horrible, are ignored, denied or attributed to other causes. Doctors are overworked and don’t necessarily have time to question government advice; politicians are ignorant and just possibly influenced by drug companies; and the public is anxious and perhaps a little too trusting. Statins are the most profitable drugs ever and the pharmaceutical companies earn billions of pounds from them.

Within a few weeks a print out of my cholesterol reading from the surgery showed that the figures had almost halved. My liver was still normal. I remember poring over the low cholesterol figures, in the surgery, with my wife. We were delighted. The euphoria turned out to be brief.

Within weeks I became depressed, lethargic and fatigued. I had accepted the conventional dietary advice of fruit, vegetables, wholemeal bread, soya replacing milk and an olive oil spread replacing butter, and my weight had soared to 164 lbs. My love of exercise had gone. I had no interest in reading and writing and my memory had deteriorated dramatically. One day, after forcing myself to walk for twenty minutes, I feared that I might not be able to get home. My thighs ached, my legs felt weak and I was leaning in distress against a grass bank. I didn’t connect my failing physical and mental health to statins.

“This must be it,” I thought. “I’m knackered. Old age has hit me at last.” I dragged myself home. Grasping at straws I wondered if something in my diet had affected me? Did I have some kind of virus? Or was I now just old and decrepit?

The following week I read an article in The Sunday Times about the under reported and damaging side effects of statins. Doctors, having recommended statins, were none too keen to attribute ill health to them. By now statins were being distributed on prescription for healthy patients. This, of course, is the Holy Grail of money making for a pharmaceutical company: a drug that healthy people consume to stop them becoming unhealthy. And the state picks up most of the bill.

I followed some leads from the Sunday Times article via the Internet and bought my first book about statins and cholesterol. This was The Cholesterol Myths: Exposing the Fallacy that Saturated Fat and Cholesterol cause Heart Disease by Uffe Ravnskov M.D., Ph.D . Looking at the evidence, the research and the medical history produced a profound attitude change. I then read The Diet Delusion by Gary Taubes and The Great Cholesterol Con by Anthony Colpo.

I became convinced that the government advice on diet, cholesterol and statins is damaging to health. I, and millions of others, were the victims of a massive con while huge sums, funded by NHS budgets, flowed into the coffers of the pharmaceutical companies. Nothing convinced me as much as relating the damaging effects of statins, described in the literature, to my own experience.

I read that low cholesterol leads to reduced serotonin levels in the brain which leads to depression. Statins are associated with polyneuropaphy which amongst other problems causes difficulty in walking, decreased sensation in hands and feet and fatigue. I could have been reading about myself.

I stopped taking statins. My wife asked, “Are you sure? Before you decide you had better listen to this.” “This” was a consultant cardiologist on a phone in BBC programme advising that a caller should start taking statins as a preventive move.

“I have already stopped,” I said. By this time my symptoms were so similar to those I had discovered from my reading that I was convinced that statins were the cause. In three weeks my depression had lifted and I was soon as physically active as before. I also returned to my previous diet.

I drink organic full cream milk, eat butter and cheese and every day I eat eggs from our own chickens. My weight is again 150 lbs. Most of the diet advice peddled by the government and the diet gurus is wrong. We need fat as the brain cannot function without it. The villain in the diet is not fat but carbohydrates.

The foisting of these powerful drugs, with major side effects, on to healthy people continues. When this is allied to perverse dietary advice, supported by the government, the results are before us: an obesity epidemic. We cling to diet advice as if we were religious fundamentalists wedded to a faith. Accept the received wisdom. Do not question or you will suffer. And never think for yourself. ”

I saw the change in my Dad when he went on these drugs. But initially even the family didn’t question the wisdom of the government recommendations. Initially we trusted the advice Dad had been given.

The drug companies use statistics in clever ways that are very difficult to understand. You might be told “This drug reduces your chance of having a heart attack by 30%” Sounds good? What if they said:”If 1000 men with your health profile took this drug for 5 years, it would prevent one death”. This could be the same drug. It’s about how you present the figures. You need to ask about “all cause mortality” because the drug companies will say that statins reduce your chance of a heart attack but they won’t mention that they increase your chance of dying of other causes. And you need to ask about “numbers needed to treat” i.e. how many people will have to take this drug for how long to save one life?”

Another possible question to ask your GP is: “Would you advise your own father/mother/brother to take this drug?” The doctors are often in a difficult position. They may not feel that they should go against government guidlines. Sometimes this question makes it easier for them to give an honest opinion. In fact, Dad’s GP said that he wouldn’t advise his own father to take statins in similar circumstances.

Here’s a website for statin victims, with links to research:

Here are the comments appended to a petition to investigate statins. It makes scary reading.

This blog post has been moved from another website, so these comments have just been copied over:

Showing 1-10 of 19 comments

Marie (Guest):

i am taking statins, even though my cholestrol was only 4. i have high blood pressure, and an ecg showed i’d suffered a mild heart attack, caused by Vioxx a drug used for arthritis, i had been on Vioxx 3years, this was over 7/8 yrs ago approx. So i was put on statins as a precaution. I have lost weight, but have no appetite no energy, panick attacks depression, memory is terrible and i can’t remember or store any information, if you told me your name ,i will forget it before end of conversation, i have to write everything down, like app.I have no energy, depression, sleepless nights, muscle pain, and joint pain, and irratible leg syndrome,I am now 8st 2ib down from 9st 13ib.i use d to rid e my horse, walk every where,now i won’t go out and mix. I also have IBS. My life is constant pain, i am 61 and feel like 100.i now have no interest in my home, I love my partner dearly. but have lost all interest in the bedroom, i am emotionaly drained. so i am now going to stop the statins for 1month and see if coming of them makes a difference. i can relate to others on here and found their experiences have helped me. i thought i was a total neurotic.

  • This is exactly what would be expected based on an objective assessment of the science. If you look at an article on the Number Needed to Treat website you will find that for those who do not have heart disease after 5 years treatment with statins absolutely zero lives were saved. On the other hand at least 10% suffered from side effects such as muscle pain. here is a link…
    But it gets worse because in men and women over about 60 years old, when most deaths actually occur, the higher the blood cholesterol value, the greater the life expectancy.
    Current government policy is a scandal but unfortunately no-one in a position
    to change things is prepared to listen.

  • Pat

    I am only 45 years old and had perfect health except a slight increase in cholesterol, depsite following a fat free vegetarian diet. The local doctor bullied me into taking statins and after years on them, I now have permanent nerve damage in both my hands and feet and my life is completely ruined- as I have burning pain every day of my life. I cannot even exercise now without burning pain. Statins should be taken off the market! No one should take them!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Plus, high fat diets do not make cholesterol go up significantly- high cholesterol is a liver issue! Fats don’t affect this, but sour/acid foods and drinks with high acid content do. I am a health care professional and have studied food science and chemistry for 14 years. The American info on the amrket is 50 years outdated.Acids cause bile obstruction which affect LDL receptor function, etc.

  • Donwhite68

    You are eating too many carbs and not enough protien. I am far healthier as a meat eater than ANY of my veggie leaning friends.

  • Lionel

    It is not as simple as presuming that everybody’s needs are the same.

  • Rozwatkins

    So true. Some people thrive on a veggie diet and others feel better eating more meat. The only diet which no-one seems to thrive on is the Western diet of processed junk and sugar!

  • Rozwatkins

    Thanks for commenting. I’m so sorry to hear your story about statins. It makes me so angry the way they are handed out like sweets (not that sweets are so great for you either!) As far as I am aware there is no research suggesting they help women in any way. I hope now you are off them (and also off the low fat diet) you will gradually improve although I realise repairing nerve damage is a long process.

  • Sa11yann

    Thank you for this, my daughter suggested I read this as I too have no energy and have put on weight. I am going back to my Doctor!

  • Rose

    There is an interesting piece in Easy Living magazine July 2010 called “Why does this young, fit, healthy woman have high cholesterol?” It describes the conflicting advice she is given regarding her cholesterol status and how “dangerous” this supposedly is. It also talks about statins and Co-enzyme Q10.

  • Denis Watkins

    Please do not be lulled by the bland comments of Chris. I and many others went to our doctors. If you think this is a “silly” blog you might try the paperback “the Great Cholesterol Con” by Dr Malcolm Kendrick published by published by John Blake in 2007. If that doesn’t convince you nothing will. And I suspect Chris is beyond convincing. But for all I know he may have excellent reasons why he would prefer not to be.

  • Marilyn Lawrence Collapse

    My husband became an invalid, after taking statins prescribed for a slightly raised cholesterol level. He became depressed, uninterested in any aspects of life, and worryingly, eventually was unable to walk more than a few yards without becomong breathless, and unable to tackle hills at all.
    Then, someone pointed out that statins reduced the amount of co-enzyme q10 available for cellular activity, and especially to heart cell muscle. My husband began a course of co-enzymes, and ” woke up ” . He was able to walk normal distances, tackle hillls once again, and resume a normal active life. I had my husband back again.
    We then subsequently questioned whether it was helpful to take these statins at all, especially given the new research, which points away from cholesterol as causative in heart disease.
    The statins were duly abandoned, and we have never looked back.
    Typically, and sadly, our GP was not at all interested in the miraculous improvment in my husband’s health, only wanting him to return to them. What does that tell you about the emphasis in modern medicine ?

      • Roz

        Hi Marilyn, thank you for commenting and sharing your husband’s story. What a terrible experience for him but thank goodness he is now well again.
        I hadn’t heard about the the co-enzymes so that is very interesting.
        Thanks again.

      • Chris

        Publish this if you will. Nice story. All drugs have possible side effects and statins are no different. However, bear the following in mind.
        1. Governments and doctors make policy- not drug companies.
        2. Trials may be run by manufacturers but results are scruitinised before publication by independent doctors
        3. Since goingoff patent some statins now cost the NHS less than £3.50 per month. At that price they are not promoted by pharma companies so doctors are prescribing off their own back.
        4. All side effects should be reported to your doctor. Don’t just grumble and cease medication. He needs to know to build up evidence to see if side erects are common.
        5. We all know of people who have smoked 60 a day and lived into their 90s but smoking is still a killer.
        Some peopl who have read this far may really need this drug. Don’t scare them off with individual stories. If you are concerned….. Go and see your do for and stop Reading silly blogs!!!!!

      • Meg Learner

        1. Have you heard of lobby groups?
        2. But the manufacturers can pull certain results if they don’t like the outcome, so only the trials that show positive results for the drug in question are given to the scrutineers.
        3. Doesn’t necessarily make it correct, nor is this an argument in favour
        4. Agree
        5. Agree

      • Denis Watkins

        Since I wrote this article, and I now hope to have it published in a national newspaper, I have been amazed at the number, intensity and entirely understandable bitter resentment of the responses. So many people hurt and their health damaged. The effects hit families, relatives and friends as well. The outrage is also growing in the USA. The only way forward is exposure and that is what I hope will happen in the UK with more publicity. The depth of cynicism, and the determined cover up from the drug companies, beggars belief. I realise how very lucky I was to “get out in one piece.” I hope some benefit may come if all our efforts at exposure prevent this drug being inflicted on more victims. To my co victims and sufferer’s I send you my good wishes.

        Roz’s Dad

      • Scary indeed, Roz. I have forwarded to my sister as I believe her husband had a similar experience. Big Pharma at their worse.

      • mark, Nottingham

        Hi Roz,
        I have familial hypercholesterolemia and have been prescribed a variety of statins-Some have hospitalised me as I had a severe rise in my CK and Liver function. I am non smoking, swim 3 times a week and got to the gym 3 times a week and have normal blood pressure. I remember after taking one of the statins for 2 months laying on the sofa crying for no reason just wanting to die. Didn’t see the low mood coming as it was a gradual thing. A few days of ceasing them things returned to normal. No changes in my life just no statins. All statins cause me that much muscle pain I end up stopping doing excercise.Despite this my GP continues to want me to take them. I have been threatened by cardiologists that I am refusing treatment however I would argue that by keeping myself fit, normal weight and non smoking and I maybe refusing the statin but not advice. Out of interest 14 years ago I swapped to a veggie diet not due to animal rights but just due to cholestrol and reduced my cholestrol down from 12.9 (as a huge meat eater) to 7.8.

      • Roz

        Hi Mark, thanks for commenting. That’s really interesting. I suppose the issues are a bit more complex with your condition, but I can’t see how statins can be a good idea if they make you too ill to exercise and severely depressed! Sounds like you are taking a very sensible approach.

      • Annie

        I totally agree with this article. I was a reasonably fit, 48 year old women, eating a healthy diet, when I was told I had high cholesterol at a work health check. Off I went to my GP who after a blood test agreed my level was unacceptably high – about 8 – apparently anything over 5 is high. I was prescribed statins. After about 6 months, I was lethargic, permanently exhausted, but the worst symtom was aching legs at night. I did a bit of research and have come of them approx three months ago and feel much better. Although I’m still not back to my level of exercise, I will get back to it now the summer his here. I feel I have lost about six months of my life. I feel that the NHS are prescribing statins without giving patients ALL the information. I had no other risk factors, so why was it given to me, I should have been more informed.

      • Roz

        Hi Annie, thanks for commenting and helping this situation become more widely known. What a terrible experience for you. It’s shocking that a relatively young and healthy woman should be prescribed these drugs. My understanding is that there is no good evidence that they even help women with heart disease, let alone healthy women. Well done for doing your own research and getting off them.

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