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Topic summary contributed by volunteer(s): Jessica

Risks versus Benefits of Lipitor

Lipitor and other statins, which are meant to lower cholesterol, are some of the most commonly prescribed medications worldwide. However, the actual health benefits they provide are much lower than widely believed. Studies have found that patients typically credit Lipitor and the other statins to be about 100 times more effective than they actually are in the prevention of heart attacks.

In reality, the best that statins may do is to lower one’s absolute risk of a heart attack by 3.1% over a span of 6 years.

Up to one-third of patients on statins like Lipitor have adverse reactions, which include effects on the liver, kidneys, and muscles; abdominal pain; nausea, constipation, and dizziness; flushing; and skin and neurological disorders.  In February 2012, the FDA issued new alerts about side effects from statins, advising that they are also associated with cognitive effects, including memory loss and confusion; increased blood sugar; and new diagnoses of diabetes. The research surrounding these alerts suggested that for every 200 people taking statins, one of them will develop diabetes.  

Lipitor and Muscle Damage

The effects of Lipitor and other statins on muscles deserve special attention. It has been found that 1-5% of people taking statins experience muscle damage, noting pain and weakness. Such side effects can be detected with blood tests. However, one study found that blood tests can be normal while patients are still experiencing muscle damage (based on muscle biopsies). Considering the number of elderly patients on statins, muscle weakness over time can increase fall risk.

Lipitor versus a Plant-Based Diet

To decrease atherosclerosis (plaque formation in the arteries associated with cardiac disease), the goal is typically to achieve a serum total cholesterol level of less than 150. Lipitor and the other statins are often used to achieve this. However, a whole-food, plant-based diet has been shown effective in reaching this same goal, without Lipitor’s side effects.   

Following a whole-food, plant-based diet may provide a 60% absolute risk reduction of heart attack over a period of less than 4 years. Put another way, 99.4% of patients who maintain such a diet may avoid a major cardiac event, such as dying of a heart attack.

The information on this page has been compiled from the research presented in the videos listed. Sources for each video can be found by going to the video’s page and clicking on the Sources Cited tab.

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