Cholesterol-lowering statins, touted as “wonder” drugs, are in the news—again. And the news is not all good. Here’s the latest on statins…

  • It’s Cholesterol, Not the Drug, That Protects Against Colon Cancer.

Taking statins is statistically linked to lower colon cancer risk. But it’s not the drugs that protect—it’s having high cholesterol in the first place! University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine researchers reported in the journal PLOS ONE that colorectal cancer occurred at the same rate in participants with high cholesterol—whether they were taking a statin or not. In fact, a drop in cholesterol often preceded colon cancer diagnosis. But don’t raise your cholesterol to avoid colon cancer! Here’s a better way.

  • Muscle Pain Side Effects Are Real—But Not as Common as Claimed.

Muscle pains are a common complaint in people who take statins—between 5% and 20% of people on the drugs complain of  myalgia (muscle pain). Now, in the first major placebo-controlled, blind clinical trial, the American College of Cardiology confirms that statin-related myalgia is real—but only for 43% of people who complain of that side effect. The rest may have muscle pain, but it’s not caused by their statin drug. If you think a statin you’re taking is causing muscle aches and weakness, here’s some help.

  • For Women with Diabetes, No Heart Benefit.

Statins aren’t heart-protective for postmenopausal women newly diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. A 14-year study from the University of Massachusetts Medical School, published in European Journal of Epidemiology, found that newly diabetic women over age 50 had the same incidence of heart attack, stroke and cardiovascular-related death whether they were taking statins or not. (Ironically, one of the side effects of these drugs is an increased risk in women of developing diabetes in the first place.)

  • Overblown Lifesaving Claims.

In people at high risk for a first heart attack, claims that statins are protective are wildly exaggerated and based on a “statistical deception,” concludes a University of South Florida analysis reported in Expert Review of Clinical Pharmacology. Let’s say you read that taking a statin reduced the risk for a heart attack by 36%. But here’s what really happened—3% of people taking a placebo had a heart attack, while 1.9% taking a statin had a heart attack. The absolute risk reduction is a mere 1.1 percentage points. That is, you’d need to give statins to more than 100 people to prevent one heart attack. The researchers concluded that for people at high risk for a first heart attack, statin drugs “fail to substantially improve cardiovascular outcomes” and their “modest benefits are more than offset by their adverse effects.”