The Tao of Statins
Today the lead story on the front page of the Daily Telegraph(1) is about how millions of people are being prescribed statin medications for ‘no good reason’. The article highlights an ‘authoriative review’ which concludes that there is no good evidence that statin medications, which are used to lower blood cholesterol levels, protect people who are not already at high risk of heart disease, and that doctors should stop prescribing them for such people, as this is not only a waste of money (the figure mentioned is £450 million per annum, which roughly equates to about 13 million acupuncture treatments) but also a way of potentially doing more harm than good as there is evidence that statins can increase the chances of liver problems, initiate acute kidney failure, and cause muscle damage. As far as the latter of these side effects goes, it is not unusual for us here to see patients with unexplained muscle or joint pain who have been taking statins for a while, and whilst this is no proof of causality, it starts to look a bit suspicious.
So it must be pretty confusing being a patient these days. One day your doctor tells you one thing, the next day you read something else in the paper. And people, including me, are often intuitively suspicious of pharmaceuticals. My dad recently told his GP that if all the pills she has him on were ground up and a light applied, it would be like Hiroshima! This distrust of pharmaceuticals might be dismissed as uneducated prejudice, but the case of the statins makes you think. Human beings are the result of millennia of evolution, we are supremely well adapted; why should we all suddenly need a drug to stop us getting heart disease? Of course the answer to that might be, we need them because our lifestyles now mean we are at a greater risk of heart failure than we used to be.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, which has some of its roots in Taoism, there is a substantial emphasis on living in harmony with nature, and the belief that a life lived like that is a healthy one. Needing a drug to guard against heart disease is, from this perspective, already an admission of failure, and an admission that we have lost the connection either with the natural world around us, or with who we really are in the core of our being.
Also I wonder about the way the pharmaceutical industry makes a packet from our ageing population. Of course the fact that we are living longer might be taken as a feather in that industry’s cap; but as for myself, I would rather do my best to live simply and in accord with the Tao, and if I succumb to heart disease, so be it. A good life is not necessarily one prolonged indefinitely by dependence on a cocktail of pharmaceuticals, half of which pharmaceuticals are there to deal with the side effects of the others. As far as I am concerned, that is not a good way to live, and my dad sort of has a point.
Written by Vimalaprabha