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Heart Disease


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Ask the Pharmacist

Should I Start Taking a Statin?

If you’re older and don’t have coronary artery disease, the answer is probably no

Statins can cause serious cognitive problems. A study published in the journal Pharmacotherapy in 2009 found that 75 percent of patients “experienced cognitive ADRs [adverse drug reactions] determined to be probably or definitely related to statin therapy,” and that 90 percent of the patients who stopped statin therapy reported improvements in cognition, sometimes within days. According to the study, some patients even reported having a diagnosis of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease reversed after they had stopped taking statins.

Statins increase your risk of developing type 2 diabetes. A study published earlier this year showed a nearly 50 percent increase in diabetes among longtime statin users. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently required the manufacturers of statin drugs to add a new safety warning about the increased risks of diabetes to the prescribing information.

It’s also important to remember that the older you are, the more dangerous statin drugs may be. Doctors often fail to recognize the side effects of statin drugs and prescribe additional drugs to treat problems that could be resolved simply by withdrawing the statins. Whenever I see patients who’ve been diagnosed with restless legs syndrome, for example, I’ve learned to immediately check to see if there’s a statin on board. Nearly always there is.

I’d suggest you talk with your doctor or other health care provider about treating your slightly elevated cholesterol with a combination of sublingual (under-the-tongue) vitamin B12 (1000mcg daily), folic acid (800mcg daily) and vitamin B6 (200mg daily). This approach should boost your level of protective HDL, or “good” cholesterol, benefit your overall health, and help keep you on your bicycle and walking laps for many years to come.

Also of interest: Flavenoid-rich foods lower heart disease risk.

"Ask the Pharmacist" is written by Armon B. Neel Jr., PharmD, CGP, in collaboration with journalist Bill Hogan. They are coauthors of Are Your Prescriptions Killing You?, to be published this year by Atria Books.

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