Cholesterol Drug Tendon Rupture: New Debate over Side Effects

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Believe it or not, there’s a big fight happening in Britain right now that has nothing to do with what to do with Brexit but everything to do with cholesterol drugs. Yet another study shows again the horrendous side effects of these drugs known as statins. So let’s get into the British debate and the new research on cholesterol drug tendon rupture.

Cholesterol Drugs

Cholesterol-lowering drugs, like Statins, are given to patients with high cholesterol to lower their numbers. The idea is that high cholesterol can cause heart attacks and strokes, a concept that is now under assault.

Most people believe that these drugs are highly effective in preventing these awful diseases, but the facts are different. As an example, the video to the right reviews a recent study that shows that you need to treat almost 400 patients with these side-effect-laden drugs to save just one from a heart attack.

One of the issues with the “barely there” effects of these drugs is that the side effects are significant:

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The British Debate

I recently blogged a press release out of Oxford that suggested that as a society, we were killing tens of thousands of people each year by not prescribing every middle-aged and older human a cholesterol drug. Ultimately, when I looked up the university professor making that assertion, it wasn’t hard to see that he and his lab had been on the receiving end of likely the biggest university payola in history (a cool quarter-billion pounds from pharma). However, little did I know that this was merely one salvo in an epic battle being fought over cholesterol-lowering drugs in Great Britain.

On one side of this British controversy is, of course, the quarter-billion-pound pharma professor described above, Rory Collins. On the other is the British Medical Journal (BMJ), which has taken the position that cholesterol drugs have barely-there results and many side effects, so pharma guidelines that everyone should take them are inappropriate. According to the Washington Post, this fight has gotten ugly with Collins calling on the BMJ to retract articles that have been critical of the drugs. This paper then led to the Lancet (a prestigious medical journal competitor to the BMJ) to publish a 30-page Collins manifesto on why the BMJ was wrong on cholesterol drugs. The BMJ editor then shot back, calling for an independent review board to settle the dispute.

While the Washington Post never ventured into why Collins would be the protagonist of this story (i.e., that he has 250 billion reasons to plug the drugs), the Daily Mail in a recent piece entitled “Statins War” had no issue with letting the public know about the potential conflict:

“Concerns have also been raised that many of the academics promoting their benefits are being funded by the pills’ manufacturers. These include Professor Collins and the two other academics involved in last week’s review, whose past research had been paid for by drug firms making statins.”

More Side Effects Emerge

The anchor point of the procholesterol drug camp is that these drugs have few side effects; hence, even though they only prevent heart attacks in very, very few people, if you give them to massive numbers of individuals, a lot of cardiac deaths can be avoided. However, the other camp argues that if the drugs do have side effects, then giving them to a huge number of healthy people is obviously a bad idea.

As you see above, many studies have shown potential issues with these drugs. Now a new study shows that cholesterol drug tendon rupture may be an issue. The research exposed rat tendons to the two most common cholesterol-lowering medications: atorvastatin (Lipitor) and simvastatin (Zocor). The rats that got the medications had tendons that were weakened. The researchers discovered that the drugs make the tendons more likely to get microtears and rupture by destroying the extracellular matrix that holds the structures together.

The upshot? Statin cholesterol drugs have many documented side effects, so while giving them to the masses will supercharge pharma share prices, it will also likely hurt many people. I applaud the BMJ for sticking their collective necks out and trying to do the right thing by patients, as pharma money is so intertwined with modern medicine and universities that what they’re doing is tantamount to career suicide in academics. Great job, BMJ!

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Chris Centeno, MD is a specialist in regenerative medicine and the new field of Interventional Orthopedics. Centeno pioneered orthopedic stem cell procedures in 2005 and is responsible for a large amount of the published research on stem cell use for orthopedic applications. View Profile

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