Statin stupid

If we followed the lead of the pharmaceutical industry and my cardiology colleagues, we would all subscribe to the "statins for all" philosophy. There is now $2 billion of clinical "research" to back up this "evidence-based" practice.

I do not endorse this "statins for all" philosophy. I believe it is a product of the raw profiteering of the pharmaceutical industry, who are adept at recruiting physicians to their cause.

But lost in the confusion of tainted studies and over-the-top media saturation is the fact that there are small groups of people who likely do obtain benefit from statin drugs. They would certainly benefit from better informed scrutiny of their lipoprotein and metabolic abnormalities. But treatment may involve statins.

This is entirely distinct from the "statins for all" argument, the simpleminded rule that primary care physicians and cardiologist are told to follow.

Groups who may indeed benefit from statin therapy include:

Homozygous or heterozygous familial hypercholesterolemia--Lacking a receptor for LDL particles, LDL piles up to very high levels in these people. LDLs of 300+ are common and lead to heart disease and stroke at relatively young ages.

Combined mixed hyperlipidemia--Among the one or more genetic defects underlying this condition involves excessive production of apoprotein B and VLDL particles. This leads to high risk for heart disease.

People unable to follow a diet to correct their lipid disorder--I have 80+-year old patients, for instance, who say, "I've eaten this way for 82 years. I'm not going to change now!" In the absence of diet and other efforts (e.g., omega-3 fatty acids from fish oil), drugs may be the answer.

In other words, of the $27 billion annual bill for statin drugs, perhaps a tiny fraction is truly necessary. The majority of people taking statin drugs would not really need them if they had the real answers. But don't let that confuse us: There are some people who do indeed benefit.