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Dr. Michael J. Breus Headshot

Statins Linked to Nightmares and Insomnia

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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

sleep.

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?

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