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Do Lipitor Side Effects Outweigh the Potential Benefits?
October 30, 2016
The “epidemic” of high cholesterol has taken many parts of the Western world by storm, and physicians seem to have the answer: cholesterol-lowering drugs like Lipitor that do all the work your body apparently can’t anymore. Great news, right? Not exactly. There is a laundry list of rather concerning Lipitor side effects that should cause anyone to take a moment to pause and consider the benefits and drawbacks of a prescription that you will likely take until your dying day once you start.
If you’re at risk for heart disease or high cholesterol, I urge you to seriously consider the truth behind the dangerous cholesterol-lowering drugs that are so often a first choice for doctors rather than a last-ditch effort. While they have the potential to help in certain cases, I find the solution to be a more complex one than you may have heard, and Lipitor is no exception. For instance, Lipitor side effects include potential damage to the musculoskeletal system, elevated risk of diabetes, mental decline, nutrient deficiencies and more.
What Is Lipitor?
Lipitor is the brand name for a drug in the class of pharmaceuticals known as statins, which function in two ways. First, they block an enzyme known as HMG-CoA reductase that signals to your liver to produce cholesterol, thus reducing the amount of cholesterol in your bloodstream. Then, they cause your body to reabsorb existing cholesterol, which your body needs to function, and further decreases how much cholesterol is found in the blood.
There are seven common brands of statins that all work in slightly different ways. They include atorvastatin (Lipitor), fluvastatin (Lescol), lovastatin (Altoprev), pitavastatin (Livalo), pravastatin (Pravachol), rosuvastatin (Crestor) and simvastatin (Zocor). All of these drugs reduce cholesterol in similar ways but have different drug interactions and differing lists of side effects.
According to the science behind them, statins are able to decrease the amount of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol in your body while increasing high-density lipoproteins (HDL) cholesterol. Lipitor is touted as the No. 1 statin for people with a high risk of heart disease, impacting cholesterol levels by over 50 percent (while other statins may not have as dramatic an effect).
The results are not only clinical, however. Pfizer, the pharmaceutical conglomerate that owns Lipitor, has found cumulative sales totaling some $130 billion since its release. Lipitor’s website, while including the extensive list of Lipitor side effects, also rejoices that more than 29 million people have filled their Lipitor prescriptions since 2002, that it has been backed by 400 ongoing and completed clinical trials, and that it’s backed by 20 years of clinical experience.
There is no doubt that statins do truly decrease cholesterol levels. But why is that so important? Are high cholesterol levels as dangerous as we have been led to believe? Do the benefits truly outweigh the risks when it comes to a medication with dangerous side effects, particularly Lipitor side effects?
First, I’ll detail the benefits of what happens to your body when you take Lipitor. Then, I’ll explain the darker side of this medication and the truth behind the cholesterol and heart disease crisis in the West. The answer may surprise you, particularly when you learn about all the potential benefits and side effects of Lipitor.
Potential Benefits of Lipitor
1. Lowers Cholesterol
As you already know, Lipitor operates by reducing overall cholesterol and causing “good” cholesterol to increase while “bad” cholesterol decreases. It also lowers high triglycerides (a measure of a particular kind of fat in the blood) by up to 37 percent. High levels of triglycerides are associated with hardening and/or thickening of the artery walls, a heart condition known as atherosclerosis.
Generally, doctors will prescribe the combination of a statin prescription, such as Lipitor, with a low-fat diet to reduce the risk of heart disease in people with a high risk and decrease the risk of heart attack, stroke and certain heart surgeries for those already suffering from heart disease.
However, before you get too excited, remember that simply “lowering your cholesterol” is not always the answer. For example, people adhering to the Mediterranean diet, which is essentially the opposite of a low-fat diet prescribed by most doctors, have a 30 percent reduced rate of cardiac death and a 45 percent reduced rate of sudden cardiac death. (1)
Why would eating a diet high in healthy fats be so good for your heart? And why do people in the Mediterranean region rarely struggle with cholesterol that’s out of whack?
It’s because, sometimes, low cholesterol levels are worse than high, and the actual numbers measuring HDL and LDL cholesterol are not nearly as important as the ratio, which should remain around 2:1 (HDL:LDL).
If you eat a diet loaded with inflammation-causing foods, it’s likely that your cholesterol will peak at a dangerously high level at some point in your life. I’ll discuss this in depth later.
2. May Help Treat Certain Cancers
Recent research has suggested that statins may have a positive impact on the risk of colorectal, ovarian and prostate cancer. These results were found with a low to medium dose of statins, as high doses after long periods of time have mostly unknown effects.
3. May Reduce the Risk of Liver Disease
In a study of 1,005 individuals, researchers as part of the St. Francis Heart Study found evidence that Lipitor may be able to reduce the risk of liver disease as well as treat certain aspects of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. (2)
Other studies have highlighted the improvement in liver enzyme levels in patients treated with Lipitor, suggesting that it may positively impact the liver in some ways.
The Many Dangerous Lipitor Side Effects
1. May Cause Damage to the Musculoskeletal System
One of the most common side effects associated with Lipitor is pain. Arthralgia (joint pain) is stated to occur in up to 11.7 percent of patients taking the drug, while other types of pain, such as neuropathic, general or pain in the extremities, are also on the long list of Lipitor side effects.
In fact, on Pfizer’s detailed label of side effects associated with Lipitor, the company warns first and foremost of “rare” cases of rhabdomyolysis, the death of muscle fiber that leads to the release of a dangerous protein into the bloodstream. Symptoms of this condition include discolored urine, often dark red, muscle pain and muscle weakness. This rare disorder can usually be reversed within the course of a few weeks if caught early enough, but if left unchecked, rhabdomyolysis leads to kidney function decline and eventual failure.
Lipitor is also known to, in rare cases, cause immune-mediated necrotizing myopathy, an autoimmune pain associated with the use of statins. Symptoms of this underlying condition include proximal muscle weakness and a decreased level of serum creatinine kinase.
For patients on a total of 23 different medications or medication combinations, Pfizer warns physicians of an elevated risk of general pain and these specific conditions.
2. May Cause Common Cold
Another extremely common Lipitor side effect is contraction of a cold, or “nasopharyngitis.” Up to 12.9 percent of patients on Lipitor can expect to form a cold within a short period of time of starting Lipitor. No studies have been done on the recurrence of colds or damage to the immune system that may also occur later on for those taking this drug long term.
3. Associated with an Elevated Risk of Diabetes
Because Lipitor is a high-potency statin, it was among the drugs tested in a large meta-analysis published in the British Medical Journal in 2014. This large, overarching study found that high-potency statins were associated with an increase in the risk for new-onset diabetes. (3) This study included almost 137,000 patients from studies conducted all over the world and found that the most risk of new-onset diabetes generally occurred within the first four months of taking the drug.
Another study from Brazil had similar results after reviewing 90,000 cases, although researchers in that case claimed to believe the benefits of statins outweigh the dangers. (4)
These particular studies have awarded Lipitor’s parent pharmaceutical company, Pfizer, with a large amount of bad press. As of September 2015, there were recorded incidents of over 2,400 individuals suing Pfizer, claiming the company had known about the diabetes risk and failed to communicate it to patients. These diabetes lawsuits were filed almost exclusively by women and have been unequivocally denied by Pfizer to be associated with Lipitor. (5) The current status of these lawsuits can be found on the District Court website of the District of South Carolina.
The FDA recognizes statins to be responsible for occasional development of diabetes but claims, “Clearly we think that the heart benefit of statins outweighs this small increased risk.”
4. Can Cause Mental Decline
On the short list of Lipitor side effects found on its website, memory loss and confusion are recorded as potential side effects. In 2014, the FDA released a statement regarding statins and their ability to cause mental side effects, such as memory loss. Complains generally contain some reference to mental “fuzziness.” These reports have come from people taking the drug for as little as a day to as many as several years. (6)
Interestingly, Amy G. Egan, M.D., M.P.H., deputy director for safety in FDA’s Division of Metabolism and Endocrinology Products (DMEP), said in the official statement to those concerned with mental decline as a result of statins, “Talk to your health care professional. Don’t stop taking the medication; the consequences to your heart could be far greater.”
5. Reduces Necessary Nutrients in Your Body
A very revealing study from back in 2002 studied the impact of diet and statins (focusing in this study on Zocor — simvastin — a drug very similar to Lipitor but not considered nearly as “potent”) on serum lipids, insulin and antioxidants in men already diagnosed with high cholesterol. First, and probably least important, the medication successfully lowered cholesterol more than 20 percent in comparison to the Mediterranean diet alone, which lowered cholesterol overall by only 7.6 percent.
More fascinating (and a bit alarming) are the results researchers found regarding other nutrients impacted by statins.
To start, patients taking the statin had increased insulin by 13 percent in their bloodstreams, without affecting glucose levels. This suggests a dangerous path for patients on cholesterol-lowering medications leading to insulin resistance. These findings are significant because insulin resistance is a precursor to type II diabetes and its related conditions, such as kidney disease, heart disease and blindness.
Insulin wasn’t the only affected element, however. The study cites a reduced blood level of several vital nutrients by 22 percent, including alpha-tocopherol, beta-carotene and coenzyme Q10. This does not bode well, as one of the antioxidant qualities of CoQ10 is that it helps protect the heart and blood vessels from oxidative stress, while statins are meant to protect the heart. (7)
This leads to an incredibly important question: Is it worth reducing cholesterol levels only to rid your body of antioxidants responsible for counteracting damage you encounter every day in the form of oxidation? Or, on the other hand, is it simply a tactic used to keep cash in the pockets of pharmaceutical companies?
6. Has a Large Number of Drug and Food Interactions
Patients on Lipitor are urged to stay away from grapefruit juice, which can block the effect of the enzyme-blocking drug. They’re also told that a permanent low-fat diet is necessary to managing their cholesterol problems, and we already know that low-fat diet risks present their own issues.
In addition to these, Lipitor interacts negatively with at least 43 medications, from mild to severe. While your physician should be aware of these interactions, it’s concerning that there are so many caveats to taking Lipitor.
7. Associated with a Long List of Additional Side Effects
In addition to these fairly extensive Lipitor side effects, you can find a massive list of more side effects that range from mild to severe. Lipitor is also associated with:
- Liver dysfunction
- Endocrine disruption
- Stroke in patients who have experienced recent stroke or transient ischemic attack
- Urinary tract infection
- Difficulty swallowing
- Fast heartbeat
- Swelling of the eyelids or around the face
- Skin rash
- Unusual tiredness
- Belching/excessive gas
- Painful urination
- General malaise
- Loss of appetite
- Trouble breathing
I don’t know about you, but these Lipitor side effects seem like a high price to pay for a condition that has only been around for the last few decades. There must be a better way.
Better Natural Alternatives to Lipitor
A few decades ago, high cholesterol (hypercholesterolemia) was diagnosed in patients with staggering cholesterol levels of over 240, usually with other risk factors or heart disease, such as smoking. Decades pass, and that number has been lowered to 180.
However, the surge of cholesterol-lowering medication seems to have little impact on the mortality rate of patients with heart disease. This is because statin drugs are not the answer. High cholesterol and its associated treatments are another Western medicine attempt to treat symptoms of an underlying problem: horrendous dietary habits that cripple the body’s natural ability to operate.
There are better alternatives. There are some incredible cholesterol-lowering foods that help your body regulate cholesterol levels safely, including leafy greens and the incredibly powerful turmeric. Instead of chemically adjusting these levels, you can vastly decrease your risk of heart disease by feeding your body the kind of nutrients it needs to protect you.
If you’ve already found that your cholesterol levels are getting dangerously out of sync, you can lower cholesterol naturally and fast by adjusting your diet to not only include good foods, but also eliminating the types of food and drink that are most likely to drive your levels through the proverbial roof. For example, eliminating trans fats wherever possible, avoiding sugars and refined carbohydrates, and limiting your alcohol and caffeine intake will have great impact on the way your body functions.
Remember, there is evidence that dietary fat from healthy sources does not negatively affect you. (8) Simply heading toward a low-fat diet is not good for your long-term health. Fill your body with nutrients that give it life, and you will find the question of high cholesterol to be a much less scary one.
Final Thoughts on Lipitor Side Effects
Lipitor is the single most lucrative drug ever produced. While tens of millions of people have taken this pharmaceutical, there are many alarming side effects associated with this particular statin.
Like many other statins, Lipitor causes a large variety of pain in many individuals, may be responsible for new onsets of diabetes, can cause colds, supports mental decline and reduces vital nutrient levels in your system — and these are just some of the harmful Lipitor side effects.
While it can effectively reduce overall cholesterol, Lipitor is not the end-all, be-all of reducing cholesterol. More factors are at play within your body, and your diet and lifestyle have a lot to do with the long-term health of your heart.
When consulting with your physician about methods to reduce cholesterol, I highly encourage you to do all you can to seek out natural and effective dietary methods and avoid Lipitor and all the Lipitor side effects that can negatively impact your health.