An Apple a Day

January 14, 2014 in Diabetes, Foodland, Health Claims, Uncategorized by Joyce Bunderson

We’re already a couple of weeks into our new year; the holiday decorations and visitors are gone; and it seems like a wonderful time to consider making some changes in our lifestyle. It is worth making lifestyle changes that will lead to health improvements.

This year, instead of making a massive, all-encompassing diet and exercise overhaul; why not consider choosing one or two areas to focus upon. When that is going well, that is, you feel it is becoming a habit, then consider the next step to take.

Since heart disease is still our number one nemesis, I thought I’d share a few thoughts about statins and heart disease. My opinion, being a public health nutritionist and registered dietitian, is that when confronted by medical advice stressing taking statins, we too easily skip over the lifestyle change opportunities and grab a bottle of statins as an easy fix. Certainly, if your physician is prescribing statins for you, I’m hopeful he or she has thought long and hard about it and has carefully weighed the benefits and the risks for you as a unique individual. You will have to judge this for yourself. I’m further hopeful that he would not allow himself to be swayed by any of the companies that make the statins. Note: I know that Lipitor became the best-selling pharmaceutical in history; and Pfizer reported sales of $12.4 billion in 2008. Other products include: Crestor (in 2013 it topped the list earning $5.4 billion); Lescol; Mevacor; Altocor; Livalo; Pravachol; Zocor; Zetia; and Tricor. Certainly Pfizer was looking profitable to the other Big Pharma companies including: AstraZeneca; Merck; Novartis; Bristol-Meyers Squibb; and Eli Lilly so they jumped on the statin money-making wagon and offered their own statin versions. I feel urgently hopeful that none of us will be steered to taking statins, especially with the new guidelines, unless there is no other way to keep us safe.

It seems to me that the articles that have tried to explain the new statin guidelines, don’t really mention much about the risk of taking statins. Some of the risks seem significant; therefore, I’m listing them here. I might add, nausea, memory loss, dizziness and headache don’t seem too significant, unless they are, perchance happening to you. Just sayin’.

  • Myopathy (muscle disease)
  • Diabetes
  • Myoglobinuria (myoblobin in the urine – a result of muscle destruction)
  • Renal (Kidney) failure
  • Liver disease
  • Myalgia (muscle pain)
  • Arthraigia (joint pain)
  • Increased CPK (high creatine phosphokinase indicates muscle destruction or other problems. CPK can cause kidney problems and muscle loss and weakness.
  • Memory loss
  • Dizziness
  • Constipation
  • Nausea
  • Asthenia (weakness)
  • Headache
  • Abdominal pain

The bottom line is: Is there anything that can be done without taking statins? Can we try a life-style change first?

Under the new guidelines, more that 30 percent of U.S. adults may qualify for statin treatment; that’s about twice as many adults as under the older guidelines. Some members of the panel that designed the new guidelines said that they were not concerned with treating more or less people, but with who would benefit most. The fact is that if the public follows the new guidelines, they should have less cardiovascular disease, but more side effects from the drugs.

I realize that the medical system is primarily focused upon the quick fix of handing out a prescription. I also know that it takes lots of education, time and effort to make life-style changes. But having said that, I wonder if it is worth it to make life-style changes a focus before popping a pill (and potentially putting up with a nasty side effect).

Oxford has recently published a study in the British Medical Journal where they found that an apple a day could have similar protective effects to statins. Yes, I realize that the old Victorian adage, an apple a day keeps the doctor away, is old, old, old – yes, over a hundred and fifty years old. But it seems that they may have gotten this one right. The apple-a-day prescription compared to the statin-a-day prescription predicted a reduction in cardiovascular deaths (using statistical projections) in similar amounts, 8500 people and 9400 people.   The models were also used to predict the side effects due to statins, and they were serious compared to the life-savings; including 1200 extra cases of myopathy and 12,300 diagnoses of diabetes mellitus. The cost of treating diabetes alone, and deaths from it, goes a long way toward making the statins “not worth the risks.” The study authors were not able to calculate the extra medical costs of these side effects and other medical costs of the statin program, but did find that the apples alone would cost about 39% more than the statins would cost, on average.  Another way to look at this is that you would save 61% of the cost of your apples by avoiding the cost and bother of pill-popping, and if you got the benefits of the apples (or similar fruits/veggies) as well as the average person it would save you the risks of the statins’ negative side effects.

Though I’m not going to suggest that you stop your prescribed statins; I will suggest that you consider increasing fruit (and vegetables) in your diet by 100 grams a day – the estimated average size of the apple in the study (that’s about 3 ounces - a very small apple). Just estimate it, you don’t have to weigh it. Now, is that an easy place to start your quest for life-style changes that will lead to improved health? I’ll write more next week about some other areas you may want to consider.