There has been a lot of discussion on The Dr. Oz Show regarding statin use. The cholesterol-lowering drug is widely prescribed by many physicians who believe it can reduce the risk of cholesterol-related heart disease. However, it comes with many dangerous side effects, including muscle pain and damage, memory loss, liver toxicity, and kidney failure.
Despite these side effects, some physicians consider it is essential for adults over 40 to take a statin, because they believe its anti-inflammatory actions can slow the aging process and reduce the risk of many chronic diseases. Other physicians consider it to be a sign of a physician’s lack of confidence in their own patients, and urge patients to focus on eating right and exercising instead.
Despite the differences in opinion, a new study from the New England Journal of Medicine suggests that taking statins may reduce one’s risk of cancer-related deaths.
Between 1995 and 2007, researchers followed nearly 300,000 Danish participants who were age 40 or older and had received a diagnosis of cancer. They split the participants into a group that had received a statin prior to their cancer diagnoses (18,721 patients) and those who hadn’t received a statin prior to their cancer diagnoses (277,204 patients).
Because the Danish Civil Registration System keeps track of all health records with a unique civil registration number for each Danish citizen, participants were very easy to find and follow-up on during the 12 years of the study.
During that time period, 162,067 total persons died from cancer-related causes. However, the researchers discovered a 13%-17% lower rate of death in the group of patients who had been taking statins before the cancer was diagnosed. They also found a reduction in overall causes of death.
They discovered that those who were taking statins had either no change or higher rates of death from cardiovascular causes. However, this may be because those persons had more risk factors for cardiovascular disease anyway, which could have been why they were prescribed statins in the first place.
The researchers attributed the statin’s cholesterol-lowering effects as a method of slowing cancer growth. Cholesterol doesn’t just block your arteries; your body uses it to make important hormones and to strengthen the cellular wall. By reducing cholesterol levels, cancer cells would have fewer available resources to grow and spread. This could theoretically reduce cancer-related death or stop its recurrence. Some studies have also linked statins to a cancer’s increased sensitivity to radiation treatments.
Opponents to the study may argue that prescribing a statin for cardiovascular disease or diabetes may make a person more health-conscious, and being health-conscious may actually be the cause of the reduction in mortality instead of the statin itself.
While this is possible, when the researchers accounted for those variables by matching statin and non-statin users with similar stats and eliminating those who had been diagnosed with diabetes or heart disease, they found similar results.
So should you be on a statin, regardless of your risk factors? The jury is still out on this issue; however, you can always start a conversation with your physician regarding this medication. She or he can go over your risk factors, and help you weigh the pros and cons of taking a statin medication.
However, the best thing you can do for your health is to adjust your risk factors for these dangerous chronic diseases by eating a proper diet, exercising for at least 30 minutes three times a week, and quitting smoking.