Six months ago or so, I wrote a couple of posts praising a two-part series titled The Heart of the Matter, which ran on ABC Catalyst in Australia. I also embedded videos of the episodes that ABC Catalyst had put on YouTube. Part one of the series questioned the Lipid Hypothesis, and part two questioned the benefits of statins.
If you click the play button for the video embedded in this post now, you’ll get a message that the video doesn’t exist. That’s because ABC Catalyst bowed to pressure from the Statin Empire and agreed to pull the videos.
The excuse was that the program violated the network’s journalist standards. (Yes, I know … these days journalistic standards is almost as oxymoronic as government assistance.)
I sincerely doubt the program violated ABC’s standards. I suspect it was more of a case of someone from the network being sat down and given an updated version of this speech from the 1976 movie Network – which, if anything, seems more relevant now than when it was released.
I could go through the excuses the network offered for its cowardly cave-in point by point, but I don’t have to. Dr. Malcolm Kendrick already did. Here are a few paragraphs from a lengthy post I urge you to read in its entirety:
As an important aside, I find it fascinating that the committee accepted that there is no ‘definitive proof’ that saturated fats cause heart disease. Check.
Yet, in a complete rupture of logic, the report stated that the ‘National Heart Foundation believe there is enough good quality evidence to recommend a diet low in saturated and trans-fats.’
Well, if there is enough good quality evidence, there must be, by definition, definitive proof. Either one statement is correct, or the other. They cannot both be, as they are mutually contradictory. This I am afraid is the level of thinking that goes on here. As expected, there is no criticism of the National (Australian) Heart Foundation for recommending a diet for which where is no ‘definitive proof.’ ‘It’s okay, they believe there is enough good quality evidence, and they are good chaps. So that is good enough for me.’
This is the usual kowtowing to the experts. If the roles had been reversed, Catalyst would have been crucified for promoting dietary advice based on nothing at all. Yet, the NHF are completely let off the hook with this pathetic statement.
‘Notwithstanding the lack of definitive proof, mainstream medical organisations such as the National Heart Foundation (NHF) believe there is enough good quality evidence to recommend a diet low in saturated and trans fats.’
Hang your heads guys. What is sauce for the goose should also be sauce for the gander.
There was another part of the report where the judgment is so weird that I cannot understand it. I defy anyone else to understand it either. You can read the whole report if you wish, and see what you think.
It seems to be saying that stratifying risk in primary prevention of heart disease is something that is contentious, but a lot of doctors believe in it, so it should have been mentioned. Something with no evidence to support it, that happens to be believed in by a number of doctors, should be presented as what….the truth? That bit is bonkers. It seems they thought they should say something, but descended into gibberish.
ABC Catalyst isn’t the only organization to retreat recently after being attacked by the Statin Empire. The British Medical Journal did likewise with a report of statin side-effects. Here are some quotes from an article in The Australian:
Patients have been urged not to shy away from statins after a key claim about potential harm caused by the cholesterol-lowering drugs was withdrawn.
The British Medical Journal has accepted that research that claimed that 20 per cent of patients on statins suffered side-effects was flawed. That claim, which was likened to scaremongering over the MMR jab, has been retracted after the journal accepted it was the result of errors not spotted by researchers, peer reviewers or editors.
Author John Abramson, of Harvard Medical School had used the claim about higher rates of muscle pain, tiredness and diabetes to raise concerns over more widespread use of statins.
The error the researchers failed to spot is the unwritten rule that you’re not allowed to criticize statins in medical journals. Billions of dollars depend on that rule being vigorously enforced.
BMJ editor-in-chief Fiona Godlee said the journal was making a public retraction “so that patients who could benefit from statins are not wrongly deterred from starting or continuing treatment because of exaggerated concerns over side-effects”.
Yes, indeed, let’s not have patients suspecting the muscle pain they’re experiencing is caused by statins. Much better for The Statin Empire if doctors attribute the muscle pain to old age or some other cause and prescribe a painkiller – as my mom’s doctor did. In what was apparently a matter of pure coincidence, however, I talked my mom into giving up the statins and her mysterious muscle pains vanished soon after.
The paper the BMJ is retracting concluded that the rate of statin side-effects is around 20%. The researcher who (ahem) corrected the data in the BMJ paper says that according to his research, only about 1% of people on statins experience adverse side-effects. That conclusion, of course, is based on data provided by the manufacturers of statins, who routinely 1) don’t publish studies with negative outcomes and 2) refuse to release raw study data to independent researchers, even for the positive studies. I wouldn’t expect their data to show anything other than a very low rate of side-effects.
However, there was a study conducted a couple of years ago that calculated the rate of side-effects by (how’s this for a wacky idea?) checking the records of patients from two large medical centers. As an article on the NPR site explained:
With one-quarter of adults over age 45 taking cholesterol-lowering statin drugs, it figures that more than a few people would have trouble sticking with the program.
More than a few, actually. A big new study of statin use in the real world found that 17 percent of patients taking the pills reported side effects, including muscle pain, nausea, and problems with their liver or nervous system.
That’s a lot higher than the 5 to 10 percent reported in the randomized controlled trials that provided evidence for regulatory approval of the medicines.
This study, which was published in Annals of Internal Medicine, looked at more than 100,000 people who’d been prescribed statins from 2000 through 2008 at two academic medical centers.
About two-thirds of people with side effects quit taking statins. All in all, half of all the people who been prescribed the drugs quit them at last temporarily. Twenty percent quit for more than a year.
So in a real-world setting, 17 percent of the patients on statins reported nasty side-effects. Twenty percent of the patients quit taking statins for more than a year. Darned if that doesn’t sound eerily similar to the 20 percent figure cited in the BMJ paper – which the BMJ later decided to yank.
Those are likely older patients, by the way. Three years ago, I wrote a post about a study showing that 72 percent of professional athletes on statin therapy ended up dumping the drugs. Why? Because while a middle-aged desk jockey may not notice if he gets a little weaker thanks to statin-induced muscle damage, a professional athlete will notice right away. His livelihood depends on it.
So what’s the BMJ’s fear here, exactly? That people will become too aware that statins might cause muscle pain and other side-effects? Isn’t that better than being too unaware that a drug can cause damage to your muscles and nerves? For Pete’s sake, medical organizations think nothing of warning everyone to cut back on salt, even though only a tiny fraction of the populations is salt-sensitive. They’ll tell me not to smoke cigars because my risk of developing mouth cancer will climb from 1 in 10,000 to 2 in 10,000 (thus doubling my risk!!) Seems to me they have a rather different standard for warning people about hugely profitable drugs that can make you weak and foggy-brained.
I suspect someone at the BMJ got the same updated version of the speech from Network that caused ABC Catalyst to tuck its tail and lick the master’s hand.
Let’s not be pessimistic, though. These incidents may be the Statin Empire’s version of the Battle of the Bulge – a last-gasp attempt to turn the tide of a war they’re going to lose eventually. In case you didn’t read it, here’s another quote from Dr. Kendrick’s post:
As a disclosure of interest, I did help the programme’s producer and presenter, Dr Maryanne Demasi, with questions and background information whilst she was putting the Catalyst programs together. I tried to give her as much factual information as possible. The day after the programmes came out, I wrote her this e-mail on 31st October 2013:
Just seen part II. Brilliant, well done…….. I feel a sense of pride being able, in a small way, to help you put this together.
I now hope that you are viciously attacked, because that means you have won. (And it also means that thincs has won). Be ready – I suspect the attacks have already started.
THINCS is The International Network of Cholesterol Skeptics, a group of doctors and researchers who believe anti-fat and anti-cholesterol hysteria is misguided. And while THINCS may not have won yet, I believe it (along with many other like-minded individuals and organizations) has the Statin Empire more than a little worried. That’s why the ferocious counter-attacks were launched so quickly.