Statin side-effects that the pharmaceutical industry appears not to want you to know about

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There is generally unbridled enthusiasm in the medical establishment for cholesterol-reducing drugs known as statins. While they do have the ability to reduce the risk of cardiovascular events such as heart attacks and strokes, they don’t appear to reduce overall risk of death in individuals who have no history of cardiovascular disease when they start taking them (primary prevention). Also, you need to treat lots of people with statins for one person to benefit over, say, a 5-year time period. In my opinion, they just ain’t the wonderdrugs some people portray them to be.

The other side to statins, like all medication, is that taking them is not without risk. They are know, for instance, to deplete the nutrient coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) in the body, which can lead to symptoms such as muscle fatigue and muscular pain. See here for more about this (and what to do about it).

I think one of the problems with the side-effects of statins is that there’s not enough recognition about them. One reason for that appears to be the fact that doctors are generally reluctant to entertain the notion that someone’s symptoms might be as a result of the statins they’re taking (see here for more about this). One potential problem here is that the side-effects of statins can start a long time after drug therapy is commenced. Because of this, it can be difficult for some doctors to look to statins as the potential cause of someone’s symptoms.

However, I was reading an article yesterday which suggests another reason why there is a lack of acknowledgement about the side-effects of statins: drug companies don’t want you to know about them. The article, published in the Drugs and Therapeutics Bulletin [1], makes the point that in February 2008, the UK Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Authority stated that “Following a review of clinical trial data, spontaneous reports of suspected adverse drug reactions, and published literature, product information for statins is being updated to reflect a number of different side-effects as class effects of all statins.”

Yet, getting on for two years later, these warnings have not made it into product information inserts. The folks at the Drugs and Therapeutics Bulletin have discovered why: the proposed updates regarding side-effects has been delayed throughout the European Union (EU) because “one of the innovator MA [marketing authorisation] Holders was not in agreement with this wording.”

The article goes on to say: In other words, a drug company has been able to stall the inclusion of key safety warnings. In our view, this situation is unacceptable and should be rectified quickly. The longer it persists, the bigger the impression that EU regulatory systems are more sensitive to the needs of the pharmaceutical industry than to the welfare of patients.

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a blog post which featured evidence that the adverse effects of drugs are not given the attention they deserve in terms of how trials are conducted and reported. And now it seems, even when science does turn up problems drug companies will do what they can to such information seeing the proper light of day. But, you know, who cares about the fact that people are wandering around needlessly suffering from fatigue, muscle pain, depression and impotence, as long as money is being made.


1. Uncommon Knowledge. Drug and Therapeutics Bulletin 2009;47:121; doi:10.1136/dtb.2009.10.0044

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