The (Statin) Empire Strikes Back

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.


57 thoughts on “The (Statin) Empire Strikes Back

    1. Chuck

      But if you’re brain dead from taking statins, they can use their Jedi mind tricks on you. This is not the cat you are looking for…go on about your business…keep taking your statins…now move along.

  1. Bret

    Unregulated information (the horror!) is something we simply cannot tolerate on our pure, clean, government-regulated airwaves. If it is not stamped ‘approved,’ then it ain’t no good.

    Think for yourself, you ask? Surely you jest. We at the FCC and elsewhere in government are going to help you think for yourself. You’re welcome.

    Boy, how could anything go wrong with such flawless logic? Let’s get the government involved in more things, like health care.

  2. Catherine

    Hi, Tom! This article was on the BBC website today:

    Dr Kendrick’s blog was just brilliant, wasn’t it? My husband is one of the 17% to suffer horrible side effects, from Simvastatin, and I’m happy to say that he flatly refused to take the alternative one offered to him (Pravastatin, I think).

    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      Dr. Kendrick’s blog is usually brilliant.

      So the BBC assures us that statin benefits outweigh the risks … meaning according to the positive studies the statin-makers published.

    2. Daci

      “Patients should contact their doctor if they are worried or experience any symptoms.”

      And the Dr. will offer a different one..Mine did…She just does not understand that no means no.

  3. Boundless

    At some point it’s going to become obvious to everyone that statins have no safe use other than in very limited circumstances (possibly just middle aged males who have already had one MI, and even there, why it’s helpful is apparently not the reason given by big pharma).

    I understand that some of the side effects can be irreversible.

    Yes, that’s a cohort of class action lawyers loitering just off-stage.

    Any physician prescribing statins routinely needs to ask themselves if the defendant list will be limited to just the pharmaceutical manufacturers, or whether it might also include reckless MDs. If I were a malpractice underwriters, I’d be worried about this.

    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      I would be too, although I suppose the “state of the art” defense would come into play.

  4. Lisa

    I am an Australian with a type 1 diabetic child. I use a high fat low carb diet to manage his disease . This means his insulin usage is low compared to other diabetics. Even though he eats saturated healthy fats , his blood lipids and cholesterol are on the low end of NORMAL. Most diabetics on low fat diets have poor blood lipid profiles. This is because a high carb high insulin diet promotes fat storage and triggers VLLP from the liver. Yep, bacon and eggs every day for breakfast. Coconut oil and butter in all his meals, but with normal triglycerides!! He is fit and healthy and does lots of exercise. Fat is fuel for the body. I did my own research to find this out. Why don’t doctors understand it is a high carb diet together with industrial fats which lead to heart disease? It is because they believe what the drug reps tell them. The diabetes associations in Australia all promote a high carb low fat diet-the complete opposite of what diabetics should be eating. Also my father in law has Alzheimers disease which I believe is the result of years of statin usage and a high carb low fat diet. Cholesterol and fat are essential for brain function but statins rob the brain of it.

  5. Stewart Mclean

    As an Aussie and huge supporter of the ABC, like most Aussies are, I was very disappointed the ABC caved in. Having said that, the report into both program’s found no errors! And the people who investigated the two program’s actually looked at the studies used therein! The report is a great read. Importantly, the Australian National Heart Foundation hasn’t said a word re: the report. I wonder why? Were they expecting the report to tear the two episodes apart and be full of errors? Instead, the investigators found in favour of Catalyst. The only thing the investigators found wrong with the two episodes was that episode two wasn’t balanced in its reporting of statins. Whatever!


    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      That’s why ABC’s decision is so disappointing. They caved based on one minor complaint: the second episode wasn’t balanced enough. You could come to that conclusion about almost anything aired by any news station.

    2. Lisa

      The Australian Heart Foundation has alot to learn, as does Diabetes Australia and our governments healthy eating pyramid.

    3. Firebird

      You guys Down Under gotta light up the ABC switchboard with complaints and take to writing editorials in your newspapers! Let them know your anger!

  6. Kathy from Maine

    It’s going to take a long time to convince people that cholesterol isn’t the bogey-man and that statins are dangerous. It like trying to convince a diabetic that he/she should restrict carbs. A friend of mine at work was just diagnosed with diabetes, and there he sat at his desk eating a LARGE bowl of Raisin Bran cereal with skim milk and a sugar-filled yogurt, all washed down with a bottle of orange juice. When I mentioned that he should be avoiding carbs, not drowning in them, he said this is exactly what the doctor told him to eat!

    I tried to tell him that he needs to control his insulin, and the best way to do that is to restrict carbs. He said, “Do you have diabetes? Does your husband? My wife has had diabetes for 9 years now and so do I. This is what our doctor says to eat. You think you’re smarter than my doctor?”

    I told him not all doctors treat diabetes in the same way, and that the smart ones tell their patients to restrict carbs. I also told him that I know of many people who actually got off their insulin shots just by restricting carbs.

    He just laughed as if that was the most hysterical thing he’d ever heard … that his doctor might be wrong.

    As Dr. Mike would say, Jesus wept.

    I finally just said, “Look, you’re a smart guy. Get on the internet and learn about your disease. Read all you can about it and the various treatment options (including the success people have with low-carb eating), and then make an informed decision for yourself.”

    I seriously doubt he will. Too bad.

    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      Unfortunately, that’s a very common attitude. If a (hold your breath in awe, now) DOCTOR says it, it must be the truth.

      1. Bret

        You, a mere mortal, dare question me??

        This reminds me, I have heard of some doctors “firing” their patients for refusing to accept their prescriptions or treatments. Such arrogance (really, the bass-ackwards incentives, thanks to you know who) leads me to believe that it won’t be 10 years before people we call ‘doctors’ are more or less obsolete — and instead, both nurse practitioners and physician’s assistants will have taken over the industry.

        1. Tom Naughton Post author

          Aw, heck, I’ll tell it again …

          A doctor dies in auto accident and finds himself in a long, long line to get into heaven. After losing his patience with the slow pace, he gets out of line and approaches St. Peter. “Look, St. Peter, I was a doctor on earth. I healed a lot of people and did a lot of good. Perhaps you could just let me go in now?” St. Peter replies, “Sorry, everyone’s equal up here. Back in line, please.”

          Shortly after the doctor returns to his place in line, an old man wearing a white coat and a stethoscope walks past everyone, nods to St. Peter, and enters heaven. The doctor strides back to St. Peter and says, “Excuse me, but if everyone has to wait in line, why did you let that doctor go on through?”

          “That’s not a doctor,” St. Peter replies. “That’s God. He just thinks he’s a doctor.”

      1. Tom Naughton Post author

        Let me clear a spot for you. I’m cleaning a shotgun and you probably don’t want to bang your head on that.

    2. Curt

      Yep, similar story. One of the guys in our poker group was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes last December. I gave him some paleo low carb advice, suggested a couple of books to read and sent him links to a couple of websites.

      The following month, he said his doctor said, “that a low carb diet would be bad in the long run”. I laughed and said, “how can getting rid of sugar and processed and packaged crap that spikes your blood sugar be bad for you? How can eating nutrient dense natural whole foods including lots of vegetables be bad for you?”

      Even though I’m proof that someone can reverse type 2 diabetes with diet and get off the insulin injections, he’d rather listen to his doctor. Now, when ever I see him give himself an insulin injection, I say jokingly, “I’m so glad I don’t have to deal with that crap anymore”. Just a little jab, a little reminder.

  7. Firebird

    The interesting thing about statins is that they bombard the airwaves with ads for Lipitor, etc., for fighting cholesterol, yet it is illegal to use Anavar, which is an anabolic steroid with virtually no side effects or toxicity. One of the many benefits of Anavar, in addition to fat loss, muscle mass and strength gains, is that it lowers cholesterol. Yet, when my doctor was concerned about my high cholesterol, he didn’t say, after I refused the Lipitor, “How about Anavar?”

  8. tony

    “the Statin Empire’s version of the Battle of the Bulge ” That’s a good one.

    I hope to see them in the bunker.

  9. Lynn

    My doctor said he’d be sued if he did not offer statins. He’s a close friend. My triglycerides were 64 and HDL 86. Total 248. Of course I refused.

    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      I’ve heard that from doctors too. Don’t offer a statin, patient later dies of a heart attack, some slimeball trial attorney might make a case it’s the doctor’s fault for failing to treat properly.

  10. Lynn

    He also said HE took statin drugs 6 ft tall 140 pounds … I then said… I thought you valued your brain?!

  11. Stephen

    Against my doctors advice, I recently went off statins. He wanted to keep me on them despite the fact that my cholesterol numbers have improved as a result of my new high fat/low cab diet.

    As odd as it may seem, I’m still going to keep the guy as my doctor because he is genuinely concerned about his patients, takes whatever time is necessary to talk to me and others, and is a kind and decent man. Yes, he’s misinformed, but I know he’s simply doing what he was taught in med school. Plus, I still need him to prescribe my blood pressure meds (That’s genetic and has a long history in my family. Unfortunately, no diet will ever make that go away).

    Nonetheless….thanks for making these posts Tom. Please keep up the good work of educating the public about these issues. You are making a difference!

    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      I still go to a doctor who once suggested I might want to try a statin to bring down my “high” cholesterol. I said no, he dropped the subject. If I wanted to find a doctor who would never suggest a statin, I might have to drive hundreds of miles for an appointment.

  12. Stewart Mclean

    You don’t turn around decades of misinformation, half truths, and lies in the space of a few years. Educating the general public will take time but not as long as before. The Internet and “The Wisdom of the Crowds” changes everything.

    FatHead, Fed Up, The Men Who Made Us Fat, Cereal Killers, Carbloaded, etc are making a difference too. As are the numerous books, blogs, etc out there.

    Stay the course…..


    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      I agree. The tide is turning, and that’s why The Empire is counter-attacking so desperately.

  13. Jan

    I read on some blog that one of the reasons that everyone’s cholesterol is so high is that it is taken fasting. You are fairly dehydrated at the blood draw. My husband’s Dr. always wastes our money on lipid testing. So on his last two tests he has pushed water on the night before and the morning of the blood draw. He was floating! Amazingly, his cholesterol is way down. She thinks that he still takes a statin (stopped 3 years ago). I can’t find the numbers at this moment, but there were big differences.

    1. Phyllis Mueller

      I suspected as much. It may be the mechanism by which diuretics have the side effect of raising cholesterol. Because people on lower carbohydrate food plans tend not to retain water, how might that alter other blood test results? Hmmm.

  14. Bonnie

    When my husband decided to quite statins – he values his brain – he was a little worried that his doctor would give him a hard time at his next appointment. His doctor’s response? “Good for you.” And proceeded to tell him about a colleague who prescribed statins for a 90-year-old lady. The good doctor thought it was ridiculous. 🙂

  15. Chris

    As an Australian I might just offer that the ABC is our public broadcaster and does, in fact, have a charter requiring a balanced view. So during elections, for example, people check whether one party is given as much air time as another, and whether the critical commentary about one policy is balanced by critical commentary about the other party’s policy. This is not just rhetoric, its strictly followed. Where this program fell down was not seeking the other side of the story – which, in fact, would have made it a better program as well.

    Also the statement “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.” is wrong. There are plenty of situations where we have evidence pointing to one result but without it being definite. Health, mental problems, economics – all the social sciences and many of the newly emerging sciences work on this principle. Its not definite that carbs, for example, cause all of the problems they are blamed for, but there is good quality evidence (as well as contradictory evidence). Cigarette smoking was for years not ‘definite’ but there was good evidence. I think, Tom, that you of all people should know about the differnce between definitive and good quality.

    That said, I am not impressed by this. It was quite bizarre that no one in Australia pressured the Heart Association for a response to the specific questions raised and the evidence contradicting its position.

  16. Jayemsee

    Tom, I don’t think you’re being completely fair to the BMJ and its editor Fiona Godlee.
    Immediately after the passage quoted in The Australian, Godlee’s editorial goes on to say

    “The true incidence of adverse events from use of statins in people at low risk continues to be disputed. Data compiled by the CTT Collaboration show that rates of adverse effects are similar in the active and the placebo arms in trials of statins. However, generalising from clinical trials to wider populations may be problematic because of patient selection; for example, exclusion of older patients, patients with co-morbid conditions or potential drug-drug interactions, and women. In addition, when compared with the full clinical study reports, published accounts of clinical trials in medical journals report only a minority of adverse events.4 Access to the full data from trials of statins would help determine the rates of serious adverse events in statin and control groups; although in their correction Abramson and colleagues say that this probably won’t help to determine the frequency of statin related events that are less than serious.”

    It was Rory Collins, professor of medicine and epidemiology at Oxford University and head of the CTT Collaboration (whose data were reanalysed by Abramson and colleagues) who was the prime mover in insisting that the statements about 20% of statin users suffering adverse effects should be retracted. He is now pressing the BMJ to retract both the Abramson study and the Malhotra article. Godlee is NOT cravenly caving in to this without demur. She says that “as the editor responsible for publishing the articles, I have a vested interest in not retracting them unless the case for doing so is completely clear. So I have decided that the right thing to do is to pass this decision to an independent panel…Meanwhile The BMJ will continue to debate the important questions raised in both these articles: whether the use of statins should be extended to a vastly wider population of people at low risk of cardiovascular disease; and the role of saturated fat in heart disease.”

    Collins and Godlee were interviewed on BBC radio when this story broke. Godlee gave the impression that she was deeply unimpressed by Collins’ grandstanding and attempts to smear the entire study/article by turning a concentrated spotlight on errors in the way certain data was described.

  17. Kla

    Tom, as always, a great blog. I know one of the “1%” of folks with side effects. She had sleeping trouble after only about a few months. She was also worried about adversely impacting her liver. When she told her doctor she stopped taking the meds, he did not fight it, but months later she got a call from the drugstore to pick up her script.

    It is just amazing how many of the 1 percent-ers just happen to be people we know, love, and respond to these posts!? 🙂

    Thank you, keep up the open dialog! It helps me to keep an open mind. I am now reading “Death by food pyramid” based on your “page turner” recommendation — it really is.

    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      That was my thought about the 1% as well: Gee, why is it that roughly half the people I know who’ve taken statins have had problems?

      1. Walter Bushell

        And that’s just the people *who recognize* their problems as satan^W statin caused. Or even recognize they have a problem.

        Or go to their doctor who tells them statins don’t cause that kind of problem. It’s really hard when a drug causes all kind of symptoms, because it wrecks havoc over so many biological processes depending on the relative weakness of the victim in those areas.

        1. Tom Naughton Post author

          That’s why I think the fact that most athletes dump their statins is illustrative. They notice changes in muscle function many desk jockeys wouldn’t.

  18. The Fat Emperor

    Hi Tom

    Loved your film and catch all your lectures – great data inference and super wisecracks together – excellent mix. I did a little seminar on cholesterol that’s getting a few views since I posted Saturday – it explains a lot of what you already know, but might have some juicy, fatty bits in there that you can savor!

    I’m steering clear of the Statins, and sticking to the raw science, but the pesky little beggars do get a mention at 49:00, viz-a-viz their unfortunate tendency to be over-prescribed……!

    Best Regards and keep it up

    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      Thank you, Ivor. I’ll watch the full video later, but I like what I’ve seen so far.

  19. Susan

    Greetings Tom!

    For the past five years, my PA at the VA has been trying to get me back on a statin for my cholesterol and back on a biophosphate for my bones. I wasn’t able to tolerate either of those poisons. Thanks to you, Jimmy Moore, and many others, for the past five and a-half years I have been eating a low-carb diet and learning as much as I can about staying healthy (I can’t believe that at the age of 60 that I have suddenly become so interested in bio-chemisty!). Because my PA knew of my relatively high-fat diet she let me know that I was a walking heart attack waiting to happen, even though I had lost 50 pounds and have excellent blood pressure and triglycerides in the 50’s.

    I recently had my yearly physical and was informed by my PA to continue to do whatever it was that I was doing, because my LDL appeared to be coming down and my bone density had improved significantly. I think she also realizes how futile it is to keep hounding me to take drugs that she knows I won’t take.

    Thanks, Tom, for presenting your blog in such an entertaining way. I have been enjoying watching you and your family these past five+ years. Your girls and your farm appear to be growing in a sweet manner.


    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      Congratulations on the weight loss and the health improvements, Susan. You may have nudged the PA towards re-thinking her beliefs.


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