When I first wrote about the possible dangers of cholesterol-lowering statin drugs, back in 2010, it felt pretty controversial to question their safety. Statins are considered by many doctors to be lifesavers, for their ability to reduce risk of heart attack and stroke in patients at high risk.
But statins pose side effects, some of which are so serious that today the FDA released new safety alerts about statins warning patients that the drugs can cause memory loss and increase blood sugar levels (which increases the risk of type 2 diabetes). The FDA alert included an announcement that people taking statins no longer have to have their liver enzymes routinely monitored unless their doctors think there's a reason to do so, because statins so rarely cause liver injury.
Although these side effects are rare, and the cognitive side effects are reversible once you stop taking statins, it's important to be aware of them if you are considering starting these drugs. Statins offer a proven benefit for people at high risk of heart attack or stroke (and of course if your doctor has prescribed them you should certainly keep taking them as prescribed), but some overly enthusiastic (in my opinion) medical professionals have proposed prescribing them to healthy adults and even to children, and some people have even joked that we should put statins in the water supply. I'm hoping that the FDA's acknowledgement of statins' potential risks will temper that enthusiasm and send the message that drugs should only be taken when we know for certain that they offer a proven benefit that outweighs their risks.
More news about statins: