My husband and I were having a conversation the other day about the number of medications  we were placing into our two-week pill organizers. My doctor had added statins to my list of medications during an in-person visit prior to COVID-19. She explained that it was necessary to reduce the likelihood of heart disease and strokes. Most of the time I go along with my doctor’s recommendations without question. This time I wasn’t so sure what had triggered the need to make this change in my health care. Finally, she said something about “proper protocols” for my age. Protocols for my age?

I knew that my husband, who is a few years older than I, had started receiving  statins from his doctor a few years ago. He also questioned the need for statins. My husband’s doctor reassured him by saying that he insisted his own father receive statins too. A little emotional tug there on the heart strings!

We both appreciate our current health plans and the HMO that provides our care, AND our individual doctors. What I object to is the “one size fits all” mentality that assumes I need a new medication because my birthday tells my doctor that I’m within a new category that places me at risk for heart disease, and strokes.

Frankly, I’m more concerned with medications that place me at greater risk for other conditions especially dementia. I have a strong familiar connection to dementia. My mother suffered for the last ten years of her life with this crippling disorder that left her a prisoner of her failing mind. So imagine my surprise to seeing this article in the August 11-17th edition of Epoch Times, “Statins Double Risk of Dementia, Are Linked to COVID Deaths,” by Dr. Joseph Mercola.

I would highly recommend that you read this article for yourself or one of his many best selling books about taking personal responsibility for your health through reasonable lifestyle and dietary changes. For those who don’t want to do that these are my take-aways from this article.

What exactly do statins do?

They are cholesterol-lowering medications. High cholesterol is a legitimate health concern, and for persons for whom this concern has been documented through annual lipid panels from blood samples, they are great. [Just to help you out, because I have trouble remembering, HDL is the “good cholesterol,” and LDL is the “bad cholesterol.”] For myself, I have had documented low cholesterol over the years. I remember my doctor telling me in 2018 that I was at 12.8% risk of cardiovascular disease. That was based on my age and my cholesterol level, which was 174 mg/dL at that time, which is far below the standard range (Standard range  <=239 mg/dL). The recommended course of treatment for me, according to Cardiology and Neurology specialist, was a 20 mg dose of Lipitor.  Since I started taking statins, my levels have lowered to 144 mg/dL. Seems like a positive result, right? Well, maybe not.

Not all statins are alike. Hydrophilic statins such as Pravochol, and Crestor, dissolve more readily in water, while lipophilic statins, such as Lipitor, Zocor, Altoprev, and Lescol dissolve more readily in fats. Lipophilic statins easily enter cells and are distributed throughout the body, while hydrophilic statins focus on the liver.

So what is the problem?

Currently 50 percent of U.S. adults over 75 years old take a statin daily to lower their cholesterol. According to Dr. Mercola, “Not only is there strong evidence suggesting that statins are a colossal waste of money, but their use may also harm your brain health–more than doubling your risk of dementia in some cases.” He further states that they have been “linked to a number of health conditions including dementia, diabetes, and even an increased risk of death from COVID-19.”

What is necessary for good brain health?

Contrary to what you may have heard, your brain needs cholesterol. Neurons are the information messengers of the brain. They use electrical and chemical signals to transport information to various parts of the brain. The brain uses cholesterol to develop and maintain plasticity and function of your neurons. Decreasing cholesterol levels in the elderly contribute to neurological degeneration associated with cerebral atrophy which occurs with demetia.

In a study was conducted at UCLA by Prasanna Padmanabham to clarify the relationship between the effects of statin use on long term cognitive trajectory. Subjects were divided into groups based on cognitive status, cholesterol levels, and type of statin used, and followed for eight years. Subjects with early mild cognitive impairment and low to moderate cholesterol levels at the start of this study who used lipophilic statins had more than double the risk of dementia compared to those who didn’t use any statins.

Do statins do what they are supposed to do?

Yes and no. Even though the number of persons receiving statins is on the rise, heart disease remains a leading killer. Dr. Mercola states,”Four groups of persons are targeted for statin use; those who have already had a cardiovascular event; adults with diabetes; individuals with LDL levels >190 mg/dL; and persons with an estimated 10-year cardiovascular risk >7.5 (based on an algorithm that uses your age, gender, blood pressure, total cholesterol, high-density lipoproteins (HDL), race, and history of diabetes to predict the likelihood you’ll experience a heart attack in the coming 10 years.”

Dr. Mercola ends his article with these disheartening conclusions: “In short these drugs have done nothing to derail the rising trend of heart disease, while putting users at risk of health conditions such as diabetes, dementia, and others which include: cancer, cataracts, triple risk of coronary artery and aortic artery calcification, musculoskeletal disorders, including myalgia, muscle weakness, muscle cramps, rhabdomyolysis, autoimmune muscle disease and depression.”

What are better options?

If we avoid the greater harm of taking these drugs, it is encouraging to note that there is still a great deal we can do to protect our brains and our overall health. It will come as no surprise that if we eat a healthy diet including such things as healthy fats like avocados, and nuts, and  colorful fruits and vegetables we can make a real difference. That, and regular exercise will have a much better outcome for your health.