A Review of Statin Drugs Side Effects and the Misguided War on Cholesterol
A Review of Statin Drugs Side Effects and the Misguided War on Cholesterol by Dr. Duane Graveline, M.D.
Self-Published, April 2005
Review Published September 13, 2005
“But statin drugs don’t do that.”
This was the answer Dr. Duane Graveline, MD, former NASA astronaut, heard repeatedly from doctors and pharmacists as he began to question whether Lipitor — a drug he now titles “Thief of Memory” — was the underlying cause of the transient global amnesia he experienced while taking the drug.
Although Dr. Graveline, now the author of Statin Drugs Side Effects and the Misguided War on Cholesterol, had been a flight surgeon for the U.S. Air Force, conducted space medicine research, been a NASA astronaut, practiced as a family physician for 20 years, and had written eight books during his retirement, he remembered none of these experiences during his second bout with Lipitor-induced amnesia.
Dr. Graveline’s consciousness regressed to his teens, having precise recall of his high school classmates. Yet he remembered neither his wife nor his four children.
But statin drugs don’t do that, he was told.
This was not the first time Dr. Graveline experienced transient global amnesia (TGA), a disease that involves a lapse in the ability to form memory for a period of minutes or hours, sometimes but not always involving the forgetting of past memories, from Lipitor. Nor was Dr. Graveline the only person to experience TGA as a side effect of the newest class of cholesterol-lowering drugs called “statins.”
Lipitor — Thief of Memory
Statin Drugs Side Effects and the Misguided War on Cholesterol tells the story about how Dr. Duane Graveline discovered that his experience with TGA was attributable to the statin drug Lipitor — the only drug he was taking at the time — and how he brought this side effect of statin drugs into the public consciousness with the publication of a letter, which generated hundreds more letters from patients who had similar experiences with statin drugs.
In Dr. Graveline’s first experience with amnesia, he had been taking Lipitor for six weeks, prescribed by the physician overseeing his astronaut physical at the Johnson Space Center.
He’d gone for his usual morning walk in the woods, but when he returned, he circled about aimlessly through his driveway and yard. Although he failed to recognize his wife, he reluctantly accepted the milk and cookies she offered. Yet he refused to enter their home, and only consented — hesitantly — to be driven to the hospital after much coaxing by an old physician friend that his wife called on the phone.
The neurologist had no explanation for the condition, and Dr. Graveline had returned to normal– though remembering nothing of what happened — before he left the hospital. Dr. Graveline was given the diagnosis of “transient global amnesia, cause unknown.” He considered various possible causes, and, after eliminating each of them, considered the possibility that Lipitor, a new drug for him, and the only one he was taking, might be the root cause of his problem.
“But statins don’t do that,” was the response he heard from each physician and pharmacist to whom he spoke. Nevertheless, Dr. Graveline terminated his Lipitor, and had no subsequent experience with amnesia.
The following year, he was once again prescribed Lipitor at his Johnson Space Center annual physical, at which point he began taking the drug again. Sure enough, six weeks later he experienced another bout of TGA. This time, he experienced a significant retrograde component to his memory loss, his consciousness regressing to that of his teen years.
Again, he was diagnosed with “transient global amnesia, cause unknown.” Again, the doctors insisted Lipitor was not involved. Again, Dr. Graveline heard nothing from his colleagues except the refrain, “But statin drugs don’t do that.” After all, as his wife had hinted, “the aging process alone does terrible things to the body.”
Statin Drugs Side Effects — Kiss Your Memory Goodbye
That year, in 2000, Dr. Graveline initiated the first in-pouring of patient testimonies of statin-induced memory loss when the syndicated column “People’s Pharmacy” published a letter he had sent to them about his experience. Since then, they have received hundreds of similar testimonies.
Yet there are millions of people taking statins, an industry that brought in $26 billion in 2004. Do “hundreds” of cases of TGA indicate a major side effect?
As Dr. Graveline points out throughout Statin Drugs Side Effects, we should expect TGA and other memory problems to be severely underreported.
Since memory loss is considered a natural part of the aging process, most people will simply chalk up any symptoms to the supposed effects of that process. Many will be embarrassed, and many more involved in operating machinery, aircraft, or other vehicles, might fear losing their job for reporting such problems. Even five years after the initial exposure, the average doctor still has no idea that statins have cognitive side effects, and any memory loss that is reported is highly unlikely to be considered as a possible effect of a statin drug by the supervising physician.
Dr. Graveline also points out that for every episode of TGA, there are likely to be thousands of less severe cases of forgetfulness, confusion, difficulty concentrating, or other cognitive symptoms that are simply chalked up to the gradual erosion of the body and mind by the aging process, when they are in fact attributable to cholesterol-lowering statin drugs.
In Statin Drugs Side Effects, Dr. Graveline cites a study by Muldoon, et al., that found “100% of patients placed on statins showed measurable decrease in cognitive function after six months, whereas 100% of placebo treated control patients showed measurable increase in cognitive function during the same time period.”
In Issue #003 of our free newsletter a study was cited finding that the roughly 30% of patients who stop taking statins within 1-3 years of beginning them have an 88% increased risk of all-cause dementia and a 154% increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease, compared to those who have never taken statins.
Statin Drugs Side Effects — It Doesn’t Stop at Your Brain
Although a large focus of Statin Drugs Side Effects is transient global amnesia, Dr. Graveline discusses a variety of other side effects of statin drugs. Polyneuropathy, rhabdomyolysis — a fatal condition involving the destruction of muscle tissue that was responsible for the recall of the lethal statin Baycol — congestive heart failure, coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) and carnitine deficiency, inflammation and rupture of tendons and ligaments, and interference with the production of endorphins are among the side effects that Dr. Graveline attributes to statins. He also discusses the possibility that CoQ10 depletion-induced mitochondrial mutations will present a cumulative effect over time increasing the risk of various diseases.
Perhaps the most interesting discussion of the effects of statin drugs that tends to be left out elsewhere is their inhibition of nuclear factor kappa B (NF-kB).
NF-kB inhibition is the mechanism by which statins inhibit inflammation, which is probably responsible for the mild decrease in heart disease mortality that relatively short-term studies have found for statins, rather than cholesterol-lowering, which is also achieved by a variety of drugs that fail to reduce mortality, including fibrates, which increase mortality. (Dr. Graveline cites a 10-year follow-up review of statin trials finding an increased risk of death attributable to statins, and other reviews have found that trial length is associated with a diminished finding of mortality protection.)
Yet in most discussions of statins’ anti-inflammatory effects, an in-depth discussion of nuclear factor kappa B is usually absent. Even in reviews that are critical of the cholesterol hypothesis and statin treatment usually refer to their anti-inflammatory effects as unequivocally a positive effect.
Yet Dr. Graveline applies a closer critical eye to statin-induced NF-kB inhibition. NF-kB is actually an important mechanism of the human body’s immune system, which is regulated delicately in a complex system into which statins enter as a large, blunt and indiscriminating weapon.
Different infectious organisms modify NF-kB in different ways. E. coli and Salmonella, for example, are both organisms that are able to infect the body by, like statins, inhibiting human NF-kB. Chlamydia, on the other hand, exerts its dominance in the urogenital system by enhancing NF-kB.
The Epstein-Barr virus suppresses T cells in the blood, enhancing its ability to infect the blood tissue causing mononucleosis, by, like statins, inhibiting NF-kB. Yet when the same virus later triggers nasopharyngeal carcinoma and Burkitt’s lymphoma, it does so through sustained NF-kB activation.
What is the ultimate long-term result of suppressing NF-kB through statin use? We simply don’t know yet. Since NF-kB regulation is a complex system, its elevation being neither strictly “good” nor strictly “bad,” it is likely that NF-kB reduction will have varying results, some good, some bad, in different people with different conditions.
As pointed out in Issue #005 of our free newsletter omega-3 fatty acids are almost twice as effective as statins at reducing mortality through their own anti-inflammatory mechanism. They are also much cheaper to supplement with, and even available in the right foods.
Yet omega-3 fatty acids do not inhibit NF-kB or any other important component of the body’s immune and inflammatory system. Instead, they simply supply the body with a hormone precursor called “EPA” that is stored inside of cell membranes until the body decides to use it, releasing it enzymatically. Thus, the risk of side effects are much lower with omega-3 fatty acids, because they simply enable the body to utilize its own tightly regulated systems, rather than interfering with the body’s tightly regulated systems like statins do.
Dr. Graveline Exonerates Cholesterol
Statin Drugs Side Effects not only details some of the wretched and even humanity-stripping side effects of statin drugs (like the loss of memory of your life experience, wife, and children), but Dr. Graveline is also one of a growing number of physicians and researchers who lead the way in overturning the decades-long triumph of junk science over reason that has led us to blame cholesterol as the cause of heart disease.
Dr. Graveline discusses the work of Dr. Uffe Ravnskov, author of The Cholesterol Myths, Dr. Paul Rosch, Sally Fallon and Dr. Mary Enig of the Weston A. Price Foundation, and others. He devotes particular attention to the work of Dr. Kilmer McCully, who questioned the attribution of heart disease to elevated cholesterol levels from the beginning, and began discovering the link between homocysteine and heart disease in the 1960s.
The importance of Dr. McCully’s research shows that not only does the cholesterol hypothesis indentify the wrong culprit, but its paradigm is fundamentally backward. While the cholesterol hypothesis falsely identifies heart disease as a disease of excess, McCully’s more thoughtful and evidence-based research shows heart disease to be a disease of deficiency– a deficiency of certain B vitamins, lost in modern processing and modern food preferences, that are used to metabolize the abrasive and toxic homocysteine into a harmless byproduct.
Contrary to the cholesterol hypothesis of heart disease, Dr. Graveline uses Statin Drugs Side Effects to show that cholesterol is one of the most important and valuable molecules in the body, responsible for the production of steroid hormones, bile acids, and the formation of synapses. This is a message that this website strives to hit home, but one that has been lost on most people in the mire of anti-cholesterol hysteria.
Who Should Read Statin Drugs Side Effects
Anyone who has suffered the ravages of statin-induced memory loss will identify with this book. But more importantly, if you have a friend or family member on statins, or who is considering using statins, this may be the most important book you could use to convince them to consider other options.
If your doctor is not aware of the cognitive side effects of statins, you must alert her or him to the existence of this book. Unfortunately, most doctors even in 2005 are not aware that statin drugs have serious cognitive side effects. Your doctor needs to be aware of this even if she or he has no intention of prescribing alternative treatments to her or his patients. It is imperative that when physicians are encountered with a case of amnesia or other type of memory dysfunction that they consider the statin drugs the patient is on as a probable contributor to this problem.
If they do not, serious damage to the patient, the patient’s family, or even the public could be a result. If a pilot suddenly has an attack of TGA while flying a plane, or a driver while driving a truck or car, and this involves a serious retrograde component where memory is lost through the period during which the operator received her or his training, will the operator be able to drive the truck, car, or fly the plane? We do not yet know the answer to this question.
While transient global amnesia is generally rare, its incidence has exploded since the advent of the strong statin drugs such as Lipitor. For the sake of both public and patient safety, every physician needs to know that TGA is a side effect of statin drug use.
Drawbacks of Statin Drugs Side Effects
If there is a fault to Statin Drugs Side Effects, it is its organization. For example, after three chapters on TGA, case reports of TGA again appear in half of the “How the Statin Drugs Work” chapter, and there is a general tendency to muddle the distinction between chapters and topics.
A secondary effect of this tendency is the tendency to duplicate information. Topics that appear in multiple chapters sometimes have almost identical paragraphs explaining a concept, rather than a simple reference to the previous explanation in a previous chapter.
While the separation of the book into the main body meant for all readers and a very lengthy addendum for more scientifically oriented individuals is meant to benefit the reader, its primary effect is to introduce another layer of unnecessary duplication.
Dr. Graveline tends to use moderately flowery language, which the more scientifically oriented individuals might be disappointed to find reduces the information density of the book somewhat– an effect that, on the other hand, will probably make the book more easy to read for the typical reader.
Add Statin Drugs Side Effects to Your Library
Drawbacks aside, Statin Drugs Side Effects, though geared towards the lay reader, is not only essential for physicians to read, but is a valuable contribution to the scientific inquirer’s library. In particular, Dr. Graveline’s discussion of the inhibition of nuclear factor kappa B is a unique contribution that is generally overlooked in most discussions of statins.
It is reassuring to see more and more doctors and researchers joining the ranks of those skeptical of the cholesterol hypothesis and aware that just because America’s favorite drug habits are legal does not mean they are safe.
Statin Drugs Side Effects is a welcome addition to our collective pool of knowledge, and Dr. Graveline must be commended for his brave and persistent resistance of the common denial to uncover the truth about the side effects of statins.