It was only a matter of time. A few years ago, statins were hailed as the miracle drugs of the decade--helping people to lower their cholesterol effectively and reduce their risk for heart attacks and cardiovascular disease. Statins are bestselling drugs globally, accounting for more than $14 billion in sales in the United States alone. Some doctors have suggested that more prescribed statins can help save millions more each year. But the noise on the other side of the table is growing louder and gaining momentum as a handful of experts ponder the financial, physical, and ethical implications of relying on statins to, quite literally, fund a fatty lifestyle. Is it okay to have your cake and eat it too so long as you pop a superpill?
But now there's even more fuel to the debate. Last week I read an article online
pointing to new research from the American Heart Association detailing
side effects previously un-identified. Turns out some
statins -- particularly the kind that get absorbed into the brain -- can mess
with sleep and provoke nightmares and insomnia. These statins include
Zocor, Lipitor, Mevacor, and Vytorin. People on Pracachol and Crestor,
which do not get into the brain so easily, seem to avoid the troubled
Two items to note about this finding. One is, how many people on
these medications experience restless sleep but never think to link it
to their meds? (Not to mention the fact their doctors are likely not
asking them about sleep. Cardiologists are more concerned about a
statin's effect on the liver than on sleep.)
And second, how many
statin addicts continue to eat poorly and keep extra weight on? Scores
of studies have linked poor sleep habits to becoming overweight and
more prone to health problems including obesity, diabetes, and heart
disease. But now that one of our most trusted treatments for high
cholesterol is pegged with a new warning sign, we are left wondering
exactly which comes first in the proverbial chicken-egg enigma: Can
statins trigger poor sleep, which then sets the stage for gaining
weight, becoming obese, perhaps dealing with sleep apnea on top of all
that weight, and a higher risk for heart troubles?
In other words, can
statins ultimately have the opposite effect from what they are intended
to do by virtue of this cascade?
Granted, statins do have a powerful effect on many and they may be
the best solution for those stuck with genetics that call for high
cholesterol. But one has to wonder the ultimate cost of these drugs on
people. Every year we seem to add one more side effect to the list. If
you can control cholesterol relatively well through your lifestyle
(i.e., diet and exercise), eat your Cheerios and Oatmeal and practice
good sleep habits, you stand to gain more than a happy heart. I bet
you'd welcome a flurry of positive outcomes, the least of which is no
longer needing any medication.
Which leads me to believe that some day we'll see cardiologists
prescribing sleep as a partnering remedy for high cholesterol alongside
diet and exercise. How dreamy is that?
Follow Dr. Michael J. Breus on Twitter: www.twitter.com/thesleepdoctor