June 17, 2004
We Are Sleep-Walking Into What Could Become A Major Medical Disaster Because Statin Drugs Will Soon Be Sold Over-The-Counter
By Dr. Malcolm Kendrick
It always amazes me that some things seem to strike terror into the hearts of mankind whilst other, much more dangerous things, are accepted with a shrug of the shoulders. As my son has taken to saying ‘Yeh, whatever.’
Around the world, for example, car crashes wipe out thousands of people each and every day, yet few people worry about getting into a car. On the other hand, one plane comes down; killing a couple of hundred, and it hits the front page of the newspapers around the world. And we are all nervous about getting into planes – especially the landing bit.
The things that frighten us, it seems, bear absolutely no relationship to the level of risk that they represent.
Looking at a medical example of irrational fear, the world still reels in terror at the word “thalidomide.” However, it turns out that this drug provides huge benefits in the treatment of myeloma – who would ever have thought? Yet, it is almost impossible to prescribe thalidomide to many who need it, due to extremely strict controls on its use. Which is completely mad, because it only has one major side effect, which is to cause birth abnormalities in pregnant women.
So, why is it so difficult to prescribe it to a seventy-year-old man? Because it is thalidomide, and thalidomide is scary.
On the other hand, in the UK we are going to allow statins to be made available over the counter and - hey, guess what? If you are a woman, and you get pregnant whilst on statins there is a massive risk of severe, horrible birth defects. Worse defects than were ever caused by thalidomide.
At least thalidomide didn’t affect the brain, causing ‘defective septum separating lateral cerebral ventricles’, or ‘duplication of the spinal cord.’ Duplication of the spinal cord!
We are sleep-walking into what could be a major medical disaster. Most people, and most doctors, are unaware – or don’t seem to care – that statins should never ever be taken by a women of child-bearing age. The risk, it would seem, is greater than that posed by thalidomide, and no-one seems to be the least bit bothered. ‘Yeh, whatever.’
Yet, when statins go OTC it is absolutely certain that women of childbearing age will take them, knowing nothing of this risk. It is equally certain that a number of these women will become pregnant, and many of these pregnancies will result in horribly deformed children.
How can this possibly be allowed to happen? I can only suppose that it is because everyone believes statins to be utterly safe and cuddly. ‘Statins, why they can’t do any harm. They are safer than aspirin aren’t they?’
I am quite certain that many of you won’t know what some of these defects actually are; neither do I. Arthrogryposis….. isn’t that the fabled winged beast in Harry Potter?
But these defects shouldn’t exactly come as a surprise. Cholesterol is essential for the development of neural tissue, so we should expect to find that if the mother is taking a drug that inhibits cholesterol synthesis at a time when the fetus is developing – horrible developmental abnormalities will occur. Such as failure of the brain to develop in the right way, or duplication of the spinal cord.
For more complete details of the birth defects caused by statins consider reading the New England Journal of Medicine, April 8, 2004: pages 1579 – 1582. It’s a letter by Robin J Edison and Maximilian Muenke.