A recent study seems to show that a new cholesterol drug, pitavastatin, could be a godsend for people who can’t tolerate the side effects, such as severe muscle aches, brought on by other statin medications. But one of the nation’s top cardiologists, Chauncey Crandall, M.D., tells Newsmax Health that he is skeptical.
“While this could prove to be a good treatment for patients with high cholesterol, we have a lot of good tools in our arsenal now, so I am waiting to see more research,” said Dr. Crandall, head of preventive medicine and cardiology services at the world-renowned Palm Beach Cardiovascular Clinic. “Too often, I’ve seen claims for new drugs made that just don’t hold up.”
About a quarter of Americans age 45 and older take statins to protect against heart disease and strokes. It’s estimated that about 15 percent of those who would take statins are unable to because they can’t tolerate side effects such as severe muscle aches, nausea, gas and liver dysfunction.
The study, which focused on 40 patients who had tried at least two other statins, found that 68 percent of them were able to tolerate the side effects of pitavastatin. The study also found that pitavastatin lowered cholesterol by an average of 34 percent.
Pitavastatin is the newest statin in the U.S. Since it was brought to the market in 2010 by Eli Lily under the brand name Livalo, the company has sought to position it as an alternative for patients who cannot tolerate the older statins. They say that because the body metabolizes Livalo more slowly, it has a lower potential for side effects.
However, there are other ways to deal with side effects, Dr. Crandall says. He has found that many of his patients find that muscle aches and other problems disappear if they temporarily stop their medication and resume. He also said he is skeptical of early studies, such as the one on pitavastatin because they are notorious for being later proven wrong.
Also, while Dr. Crandall believes in the short-term use of statins to bring cholesterol under control for people at high risk of heart attack, he believes the medications are overprescribed.
“Doctors are very quick to prescribe drugs, but it is lifestyle change that permanently lowers cholesterol,” he said. “Eating a plant-based diet, exercising, getting down to your ideal body weight, getting eight-to-10 hours of sleep a night, and reducing stress are the things that always win.”