By Darrel Crain, D.C.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has new guidelines to tackle cardiovascular disease by screening children as young as 2 years old for cholesterol levels. If the numbers don’t add up, the new AAP plan advises doctors to first promote weight loss, increased physical activity and nutritional counseling, and second to prescribe cholesterol lowering drugs, or statins.
Focusing on healthy hearts for young people is a great idea since heart disease is at once a leading killer in our nation and largely preventable. This is a welcome shift in thinking from the AAP, that children can achieve better health through better nutrition, but this professional trade association has spent the last few decades scolding parents for using special diets, labeling food plans such as the Feingold diet “quackery”.
Parents by the thousands have witnessed hyperactive children and autistic children calm down using the Feingold diet with its avoidance of artificial sweeteners, colors, chemical flavorings and exclusion of certain foods. But the AAP scorned the diet for 35 years while promoting the use of psychoactive drugs and stimulants as a superior, scientific approach to modifying child behavior.
Hopefully the new AAP guidelines signal a departure in standard practice that weight loss promotion consists of stimulant drugs to curb appetite, and nutritional counseling that amounts to handing out brochures describing the food pyramid.
One thing is certain, the AAP’s endorsement of cholesterol lowering drugs for children gives a green light for pediatricians to prescribe millions more prescriptions on behalf of the drug companies. The move suggests that the decision was made based more on pharmaceutical brochures than evidence-based medicine.
Statin drugs are so commonly prescribed for adults that most people assume that the safety and effectiveness of statins is a no-brainer. Unfortunately, brain function loss is the second most common side effect of statins, according to Beatrice Golomb, M.D., a neurobiologist at the University of California, San Diego conducting extensive research on statin drugs.
“Statins may cause cognitive problems simply because they lower cholesterol. “Cholesterol is the main organic molecule in the brain and constitutes over half the dry weight of the brain,” Dr. Golomb commented in an interview with Smart Money magazine of the Wall Street Journal.
In a study comparing the performance of patients before getting any medication and six months later after taking either a statin drug or a sugar pill, statin users did measurably worse on tests of attention and psychomotor skills. Matthew Muldoon, M.D., the professor of medicine at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine who conducted the study says the loss may be temporary, but it is also possible that statin users suffer longer-term losses in their cognitive abilities.
Parents should be advised of the risks of cholesterol lowering drugs, which are understandably downplayed by drug companies who racked up sales of $22 billion in 2005 for statin drugs.
Cholesterol is an important component of every cell membrane in the entire body. Most of the cholesterol inside the human body is made there, independently of how much cholesterol is eaten in food (animal products). Cholesterol is produced by the body for numerous vital functions, including production of bile acids that aid digestion of fat and clearance of toxins, production of vitamin D for immunity and calcium metabolism, production of adrenal hormones that control our ability to handle stress, transport of cholesterol segments to cells, and the production of sex hormones.
As I see it, statin drugs taken as directed supply a small bit of poison every day that interferes with the body’s innate production of energy. Normal cell function in every single cell throughout the entire body is inhibited every day by the ingestion of these drugs.
The commercial message is repeated over and over, statins save lives, but what exactly does this mean? “One fewer heart attack per 100 people: to spare one person a heart attack, 100 people had to take Lipitor for more than three years. The other 99 got no measurable benefit,” according to Business Week, January 2008. To save one life, 198 people need to take statins for five years, according to the British Medical Journal in May 2006. By definition, such a tiny benefit is statistically insignificant.
The great lifesaving claims made regarding statins involve middle-aged males who have already suffered a heart attack. In this high-risk group only, the use of statins has been shown to reduce the second heart attack death rate by about thirty percent. (Ironically, it appears that this result has nothing to do with changes in cholesterol levels.)
“For healthy men, for women with or without heart disease and for people over 70, there is little evidence, if any, that taking a statin will make a meaningful difference in how long they live,” according to the New York Times, January 2008. The article quotes Uffe Ravnskov, M.D. of Sweden, “Statins have side effects that are underrated. It’s much more frequent and serious than has been reported.”
The widespread prescribing of statin drugs to people with no preexisting heart disease is a public relations victory with little basis in clinical science.
Imagine placing millions of children on a drug with no measurable benefit for preventing heart attack or death, but a great potential for inhibiting growth during the time of greatest growth in their lives. And for how long will these children be expected to take these drugs, for the rest of their lives? Have you ever heard of a doctor taking a patient off of statin drugs once they had begun?
A healthy lifestyle for children grounded in a diet that includes abundant fresh foods, fruits and vegetables free of chemical contaminants, plenty of outdoor activity and high quality rest in a loving, nurturing environment is the best way to ensure a lifetime of good heart health.
Don’t be surprised if your pediatrician soon tells you that your child has “failed” their cholesterol exam and needs a prescription for cholesterol lowering drugs. If so, you may want to ask the good doctor to explain how a human body in a healthy state could possibly produce a substance within itself that is dangerous to human health.
Dr. Darrel Crain is a Family Chiropractor and Natural Health Writer practicing in San Diego, California.
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