The dark truths about Atorvastatin that some doctors play off as myths

Back in January of this year, I read an online article about seven so-called myths surrounding the cholesterol-lowering medication Atorvastatin, also known as Lipitor.

In this article, the writer, a physician with the Keck School of Medicine of USC (University of Southern California), minimized the adverse effects of Atorvastatin (Lipitor) almost like I might expect a pharmaceutical representative would do.

Let me clarify the facts…

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The myths, the excuses, and the facts

The author began by defending Atorvastatin, writing it… “is great at lowering cholesterol but often gets a bad rap.”

First off, lowering heart disease risk is what you and I are concerned with, not lowering cholesterol. In 2009 it was revealed by the American Heart Journal that nearly 75 percent of patients who are hospitalized for a heart attack have LDL cholesterol levels within the recommended target for LDL cholesterol.

Moreover, researchers of the Framingham Heart Study tells us that “Total cholesterol was not associated with the risk of coronary heart disease” and a 1994 JAMA article reported that hypercholesterolemia or low HDL-C are not important risk factors for deaths by a heart attack in persons over age 70 years.

Her next comment did not make much sense to me…

She explains that muscle pain, cramps, diarrhea, and upset stomach are some of the known adverse reactions to Atorvastatin and that approximately 50 percent of Atorvastatin users quit taking it within 6 months…due to side effects. Not reassuring for sure. Even though 60 percent of those 50 percent restart it later, side effects are still quite high.

She then addresses other “rumored side effects of atorvastatin” as she plays them down.

  1. “Atorvastatin causes cancer” is clearly a myth and hardly mentionable
  2. “Atorvastatin is bad for your liver” is clearly a possibility: liver enzymes rise in 0.5-3 percent of patients taking the drug. Know that liver enzymes rise as a late (not early) manifestation of damage to your liver. Symptoms manifest long after the disease has progressed, not at the onset.
  3. “Atorvastatin causes joint pain or arthritis” in 9-12 percent of takers and “we’re not sure why that is.” She offers a weak explanation: “…one theory is that joint aches are more common in older folks who also happen to take more statins.” Remember the 1994 JAMA article I reported earlier which reported that high cholesterol or low HDL-C are not important risk factors for deaths by a heart attack in persons over age 70 years? So, why prescribe them in the elderly? What’s more, she quietly inserts that muscle aches occur in 48 percent of takers! This is certainly not a “rumored side effect.” This is a major concern and reason for discontinuation of the drug!
  4. “Atorvastatin causes depression.” She wrongly asserts, “Atorvastatin is not associated with an increased risk of suicide or depression.” To the contrary, there is growing evidence that statins may actually cause depression, as cholesterol itself plays an important role in neuroprotection. The authors of a 2013 review of the literature concluded that in clinical practice, “we should be alert to the risk of mood disturbance in the increasing number of patients receiving lipid-lowering therapy, especially in patients with depressive tendencies or patients with normal or low serum cholesterol level.” For example, the more lipophilic statins simvastatin and lovastatin have been associated with depression. You can read more about the neuroprotective roles of cholesterol in my book, The Cholesterol Super-Brain.
  5. “Atorvastatin causes sleepiness, headaches or rash/hives.” True, yet how about we focus on the more serious adverse effects that are not just “rumored side effects.”

Not just rumored side effects

Beatrice Golomb, MD, Ph.D., associate professor of medicine at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) School of Medicine and director of UC San Diego’s Statin Study group has reportedly cited nearly 900 studies on the adverse effects of statins in various published articles. The adverse effect that is certain is that statins damage mitochondrial function.

In her 2008 article published in the American Journal of Cardiovascular Drugs Dr. Golomb gives scientific evidence that statins lower the antioxidant Coenzyme Q10 (“Q10”) in your body through the same pathway that they lower blood cholesterol and thereby damage mitochondrial function. Mitochondria are our energy-producing cells, which control harmful molecules called oxygen free radicals.

Furthermore, aging and chronic illness correlate with fewer and weaker mitochondria, Therefore, the longer you take a statin drug the more you’ll worsen chronic illnesses. The manufacturers and studies show that the risk of statins is worse than their benefit in patients over age 75 years, even in those with known heart disease.

Dr. Golomb shows that by damaging your mitochondria, statins contribute primarily to the following:

  • Cognitive problems, behavioral and emotional disorders, chronic nerve and muscle damage and even neuromuscular degeneration (much like Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, a.k.a. ALS) are all reported from taking statins. Some have even reported memory loss or confusion after taking statins.
  • Peripheral neuropathy (pain or numbness in the extremities): Thousands of statin users have reported peripheral neuropathies, and there is a tendency toward resistance to all traditional medical treatment for this.
  • Blood glucose elevations or type 2 diabetes may increase when you take a statin.

Safer alternatives to statins

Indeed, there are safer alternatives to statins for cardiovascular disease risk reduction.

I have written previously in more detail on this. Here are those highlights summarized:

  • First eliminate these more dangerous risk factors: persistent uncontrolled hypertension, uncontrolled diabetes mellitus, tobacco smoking, and excessive visceral adipose tissue (VAT), a.k.a. belly fat
  • Nutrient-rich foods
  • Exercise
  • Stress management
  • Teeth and gum health
  • Amla; safer and as effective as statins
  • Thyroid gland functional balance
  • Testosterone balance

Editor’s note: While you’re doing all the right things to protect your brain as you age, make sure you don’t make the mistake 38 million Americans do every day — by taking a drug that robs them of an essential brain nutrient! Click here to discover the truth about the Cholesterol Super-Brain!


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Dr. Michael Cutler

By Dr. Michael Cutler

Dr. Michael Cutler is a graduate of Tulane University School of Medicine and is a board-certified family physician with more than 20 years of experience. He serves as a medical liaison to alternative and traditional practicing physicians. His practice focuses on an integrative solution to health problems. Dr. Cutler is a sought-after speaker and lecturer on experiencing optimum health through natural medicines and founder of the original Easy Health Options™ newsletter — an advisory on natural healing therapies and nutrients. His current practice is San Diego Integrative Medicine, near San Diego, California.