If you have elevated LDL cholesterol levels, many conventional doctors will likely want to prescribe you a statin. And they will give you a high enough dose to make sure that your LDL levels are substantially lower than normal. The idea is that the lower your LDL levels are, the lower your risk of dying from a heart attack. Although this is not true, let's assume for the moment that you believe it is. In that case when your LDL levels came crashing down, you would probably be pretty happy with the drug. At least, you would be until you found out about one of the statin's deadly side effects.
Statins are often touted as lifesavers. I'll admit that in a few cases they can be. But can you really call something a lifesaver if it increases your risk of other deadly diseases? I don't think so! And that's exactly what statins can do, particularly if you take them for a prolonged period of time. But you also have to be concerned if you're a cancer survivor.
It's hard to take a drug and have it affect just one area of your body. That's why the effects of statins aren't limited to your cholesterol. Statins also affect your immune system by increasing your body's number of regulatory T cells (Tregs). This may sound like a good thing. And indeed, Tregs can help prevent plaque from building up in your arteries. But they also can keep effector T-cells from doing their jobs of preventing tumor growth. In fact, it's often the case that the more Tregs are found in a tumor, the less likely a patient is to survive.
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This can be particularly problematic if you've already suffered from cancer. In fact, analyzing large statin trials reveals that the better a job the statins do of lowering LDL cholesterol, the higher the patient's cancer risk goes. This is especially true for the elderly and for people who have previously experienced breast or prostate cancer. If you haven't yet beat the cancer and are currently undergoing immunotherapy to treat it, statins can even make the cancer worse.
Another study of statins in an elderly population found that the decrease in mortality risk from cardiovascular disease was completely canceled out by the increase in mortality risk from cancer, likely because the statins increase Tregs. A different trial focusing on women found that women taking a statin were more likely to develop breast cancer. As many of these women had previously experienced breast cancer, statin trial developers responded by excluding them from their trials! While this may be good news for women who would have increased their risk of cancer recurrence by participating in the trials, it allows the results of these trials to send a skewed message regarding the safety of statins, particularly for cancer survivors.
If you're elderly or have a history of cancer (or both), unless you have a serious case of coronary artery disease, I strongly recommend you stay away from statins. There's absolutely no sense in preventing one disease just to increase your risk of another. I don't recommend them to any of my patients. If you're truly concerned about your cholesterol, try Advanced Cholesterol Formula instead. Rather than increasing your cancer risk, it will promote your overall health by reducing your risk of heart disease and providing cancer-fighting polyphenols.
Yours for better health,
Frank Shallenberger, MD