My friend Alan Cassels – who publishes the Media Doctor Canada site that does basically the same thing our HealthNewsReview.org site does – had a biting column in the Vancouver Sun this week. Excerpts:
“…is there convincing proof that statins will help people with high cholesterol yet without established heart disease live longer?
The answer to this $2-billion question is a resounding “no.”
Low-risk Canadians, like the patients in this study, spend about $2 billion on statins every year.
While doctors have known for some time that statins can help people with established heart disease ward off a second heart attack, and prevent death, the alleged life-saving benefits of cholesterol drugs to healthy people has been in dispute for many years.
Let me put all of this in simple terms: At least $2 billion per year is spent in Canada on a class of drugs that have no proven life-saving benefit in the people who swallow them and which can cause considerable side effects. Against this backdrop is a strong desire for physicians and patients in Canada to obsess about their cholesterol levels.
In 2009, there were 4.7 million physician visits related to cholesterol in Canada and given that each visit involves a physicians’ fee and laboratory costs means hundreds more millions is spent managing what is not a disease, but a “risk factor” for a disease.
Cholesterol-lowering criticism used to be relegated to a smallish band of cholesterol skeptics. But no longer. Cholesterol questioning has gone mainstream. I have said this before and this recent research begs me to say this again: Someday we will look back on society’s zeal for checking and chemically altering our blood cholesterol in the same way we now regard blood letting and purging: A medical barbarity that good science cannot support.”
The Sun apparently doesn’t post online user comments – which is not altogether a bad thing. But, darn, this is one case in which I would have loved to have seen the reactions of statin-pushers. And I’d love to see more of a discussion of these issues in the US as well.