Prescription drug spending has increased sharply in recent years and continues to be the fastest growing segment of healthcare spending. Americans spent $40.3 billion for prescription drugs in 1990; by 2006 that figure had risen to a staggering $216.7 billion.
What kinds of drugs did Americans consume in the greatest numbers? In 2006 and 2007, the bestsellers were statin drugs, at an annual US sales figure of $15.5 billion. Statins are used to lower cholesterol levels in people with or at risk of cardiovascular disease. Heart disease remains the number one killer in America.
In addressing heart disease, much of the conventional medical focus has been on a patient's total cholesterol numbers, regardless of evidence of heart disease. In fact, Harvard researchers in 2007 noted that just 8% of those taking statin drugs actually had a heart condition. Even President Bush, with an enviable low risk of heart disease, was prescribed a statin drug as a precaution.
The latest Italian research now reveals that in over 4500 patients with chronic heart disease, statin drugs did nothing to extend life or prevent hospital care. And Dr. Beatrice Golomb has found that there is little evidence to recommend statin drugs to women-they may help the heart but they do not help the patient.
Moreover, the assertion that taking a statin drug may help men who do not have an existing risk of heart disease is simply not backed by science. John Abramson, MD, in his book Overdosed America, made the case that prescription drug firms pushed statin drug prescriptions instead of teaching patients that lifestyle changes had more success treating their heart disease than did the drug. Harvard-based research indicates that 85% of heart disease can be prevented by lifestyle changes alone. Even in a subset of patients-men with an existing risk of heart disease-the success rate of statin drugs is less than 50%.
The recent recommendation by the American Academy of Pediatrics to prescribe statin drugs for children as young as 8 has ignited a controversy in many circles. While the FDA has approved Prevachol for 8-year-olds, the potential risks are weighty for a growing child. Duane Graveline, MD, former NASA astronaut and scientist, has spelled out in his book Statin Drug Side Effects the link between statin drugs and potential neurological problems, including memory loss and Lou Gehrig's Disease.
The risks of statin drugs do not end there. Peter Langsjoen, MD, has expressed his concerns to the FDA regarding the potential link between heart failure and the chronic use of statin drugs, and Australian researchers have called for a study of the link between heart failure and statin drugs in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology. Heart failure is the number one reason Medicare-age patients are hospitalized. Statin drugs can deplete coenzyme Q10, and that depletion is linked to congestive heart failure as well as muscle aches and pains. According to the Mayo Clinic, statin drugs can impair the production of certain proteins involved in muscle metabolism and function. In severe cases, statin drugs can cause muscle cells to break down, causing a potentially life-threatening side effect known as rhabdomyolysis.
Given the overwhelming science behind a lifestyle-based approach to heart health along with the solid science behind heart-healthy nutrients like fish oil, l-carnitine, coenzyme Q10, d-ribose, and l-arginine to name just a few, the bias from the FDA and Medicare against supplements and lifestyle medicine, and the emphasis on statin drugs as a treatment for heart disease, is disturbing to many. Statin drug use continues to skyrocket, and it takes its toll financially as well as in side effects and complications.