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Side effects aside, statins can offer big benefits

Dear Doc: Every time my doctor recommends a statin, I cringe. It seems that all you doctors do is push drugs.

Look, I don’t smoke, I jog every day and I eat a super-low-fat diet. My doc wants me on the drug because my cholesterol is high and my brother had his first heart attack at 48. But the side effects I read about on the Web scare me.

I listen to your radio show every week. You seem reasonable. What’s your take? – George from Montana

Dear George:  I am a statin believer. They save lives. Yes, jogging is important, but I remember Jim Fixx, a famous runner and author who died at the age of 52 while jogging. Jim thought jogging was all he needed to stay well, even though his dad died of a heart attack at age 43.

This was back in the early 1980s, when we didn’t have the statins we have today. A good lifestyle is important, but it’s only part of the picture.

Now, on to those side effects. There are good websites and bad websites, some that have well-balanced information and some that do not.

I like to quote research from reliable journals, but even those make mistakes. Take, for example, a recent British Medical Journal study that got a lot of press, one that said the side effects of statins have been underplayed and that their risk is greater than their benefit.

Well, the BMJ recently retracted the article. They said the researchers overstated the side effects and their claim that nearly 20 percent of the patients on statins had side effects was just plain wrong. A group of peers reviewed the data, finding inconsistencies that refuted the claim.

This wasn’t your “hack” website but a journal with a venerable reputation. Even they make mistakes. This doesn’t give a black eye to research, but it shows that research and the conclusions can be messy.

My recommendation is that you go to a reliable website such as the Mayo Clinic, read about the possible statin side effects, discuss it with your pharmacist and then make a decision. Any time you take a drug, you have to weigh the benefits against the risks. There is no right or wrong answer.

Dear Doc:  I love your show, but you recently said that coconut oil had fat that was as bad as the trans fats in margarine and baked goods, and that it’s just like saturated fat – bad for your body.

I strongly disagree. Pacific Islanders who eat a lot of coconut oil don’t get heart disease. Thanks. Love your show. – Ron from Jacksonville

Dear Ron:  Coconut oil is saturated fat, plain and simple. Most claims that it’s good for you are testimonials – the “it worked for me so you should take it too” kind of research.

I’ll stick to my guns and say that olive oil is the king of oils based on good research on the Mediterranean diet.

Now, as for those Pacific Islanders, I bet they get a lot more exercise than either you or I get in a day. Stay well.

Dr. Zorba Paster is a family physician, professor at University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, and host of the public radio program “Zorba Paster on Your Health,” which airs at noon Wednesdays on 91.1 FM, and noon Sundays on 91.9 FM. His column appears twice a month in The Spokesman-Review.
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