At Fault: Ignorance,
Not Statins

ast summer, the manufacturer of Baycol, a popular cholesterol-lowering statin drug, removed it from the market - first in the USA, then worldwide. Their action resulted from a growing number of Baycol-linked deaths from rhabdomyolysis, a muscle-wasting disease that also damages the kidneys. To date there have been 31 deaths and several hundred severe reactions linked to Baycol (the generic name is cerivastatin). That much has been reported in the press.

What has not been reported is that cerivastatin - and probably other statins to a lesser degree - depletes the nutrient coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10), a deficiency of which has long been linked with kidney problems. Not surprisingly, CoQ10 is a complementary treatment for kidney disease. Taken with cerivastatin or any other statin, it can help prevent rhabdomyolysis.

Until recently, the anticholesterol drug gemfibrozil had often been given with cerivastatin. Most of the rhabdomyolysis fatalities were associated with this combination - and gemfibrozil is known to deplete certain vital nutrients, including vitamin E and CoQ10. Baycol's manufacturer had warned of the combined use of cerivastatin and gemfibrozil, but apparently it was too little, too late.

Tragically, the FDA - which seems not to believe that the First Amendment applies to commercial interests - has restricted free speech regarding certain nutrients that might help significantly in reducing cholesterol levels.

Currently about 12 million Americans use statin drugs, because, despite their downside risks, they are effective against cholesterol. They save thousands of lives annually, and there have been relatively few associated illnesses and deaths over the past 14 years. (Many of these might have been prevented by supplementing with CoQ10 and vitamin E, and by using natural anticholesterol agents such as red yeast rice and policosanol.)

Nonetheless, the consumer advocacy group Public Citizen wants to put a tough warning on every statin bottle and, for all we know (as their Director, Dr. Sidney Wolfe, has advocated in another case), to put the pharmaceutical executives responsible for statins behind bars. The answer they advocate is more government regulation.

With the World Wide Web, freedom of speech is flourishing as never before, and much biomedical information (both good and bad) that previously would not have seen the light of day is widely disseminated. The government is powerless - so far - to stop it.

Victor Hugo once said, "Nothing else in the world . . . not all the armies . . . is so powerful as an idea whose time has come." The idea whose time has come is the truth, something that all would-be tyrants must fear.

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