In the United States, coronary heart disease is the most common cause of death in both men and women. Risk factors for coronary heart disease include smoking, lack of exercise, high blood pressure -- and elevated cholesterol levels, which statins effectively reduce. Previous studies demonstrate that statins are one of the most efficacious drugs in reducing the risk of having a future heart attack. In addition, statins have been shown to reduce the risk of strokes.
In 2011, simvastatin -- one of the drugs in the current study -- was the second-most prescribed medication in the U.S., accounting for 94.1 million prescriptions. Unfortunately, statins are also associated with a number of side effects, including muscle aches, flu-like symptoms, and liver toxicity. Moreover, the adverse reactions become more severe as the dose of the statin is increased.
And now fatigue and exercise intolerance may be added to the list of side effects.
"Statins have obviously the best track record for reducing heart attack and strokes," said Dr. Carl Lavie, medical director of cardiac rehabilitation and prevention at the University of Queensland School of Medicine in New Orleans. "These benefits have to be weighed against these symptoms [of fatigue and exercise intolerance]... and in most cases prevention of heart attacks, strokes, and deaths should win out."
In the meantime, Sobel is no longer taking any statins. Instead, under Rader's guidance, he has his blood filtered once a month with a procedure that directly removes bad lipids from the bloodstream.
"I couldn't do anything on statins," said Sobel. "I believe Dr. Rader's program has saved my life."