May Lipitor Cause Depression?


In one of the previous posts, we have already addressed the potential danger of cholesterol lowering drugs to cause clinical depression in patients. Based on the reader's interest to the topic, we will review the most popular statin drug Lipitor in more details in terms of how it works, what are the potential side effects, and what are the chances that the negative side effects might be more significant than the health induced benefits.

Why is Lipitor Prescribed?

Lipitor (Atorvastatin) is used along with diet, exercise, and weight-loss to reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke and to decrease the chance that heart surgery will be needed in people who have heart disease or who are at risk of developing heart disease. Lipitor is also used to decrease the amount of cholesterol (a fat-like substance) and other fatty substances in the blood. This will decrease the risk of stroke, heart attack, and other heart diseases because when there are high levels of cholesterol and other fats in the blood, these substances may build up along the walls of the blood vessels and decrease or block blood flow to the heart. Lipitor is in a class of medications called HMG-CoA reductase inhibitors (statins). It works by slowing the production of cholesterol in the body.

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How Lipitor Works?

There are two sorts of cholesterol: a 'bad' sort called low density lipoprotein (LDL) and a 'good' sort called high density lipoprotein (HDL). LDL is deposited in the arteries and increases the risk of heart disease by clogging and narrowing the arteries (atherosclerosis), while HDL actually protects the arteries against this. Lipitor and other statins as well lower cholesterol in two ways: They encourage the liver to clear LDL (bad cholesterol) from the blood, and they block an enzyme that the body needs to make new cholesterol.

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At high doses, statins can nudge up your HDL (good cholesterol) while lowering your LDL (bad cholesterol) by 50% or more. Studies have shown that, for patients who already have heart disease, taking a statin can reduce the risk of fatal coronary events within five years by up to 40%. According to Thomas H. Lee, a cardiologist and editor in chief of the Harvard Heart Letter, even people who don't have high cholesterol can cut their risk of heart disease by a third simply by taking a statin.

Even given their wild popularity, "statins are still underprescribed," says Thomas Allison, PhD, a cardiovascular specialist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. "The drugs could do much more good if more people took them to prevent heart disease, not just treat it," he says. "Most people aren't receiving cholesterol treatment until they've had a heart attack."

Lipitor can also be used to reduce the risk of coronary heart disease in people with type 2 diabetes, regardless of their cholesterol levels. It has been shown to reduce the risk of needing procedures to improve blood supply to the heart, such as a balloon dilation of an artery or a heart bypass graft. It also reduces the risk of heart attack, stroke and death from heart disease.

Is Lipitor Underprescribed or Overprescribed?

While scientific opinion on the necessity of promoting statin drugs, and Lipitor, as the most popular among them, is widely accepted in medical community, it cannot be considered as the only existing approach to the cholesterol related health problems. Dr. Mercola presents totally opposite point of view, claiming that the drug is often prescribed for the cases, when it is unneeded, and even presents certain dangers to the patients’ health.

That these drugs have proliferated the market the way they have is a testimony to the power of marketing, corruption and corporate greed, because the odds are very high— greater than 100 to 1—that if you're taking a statin, you don't really need it.

The ONLY subgroup that might benefit are those born with a genetic defect called familial hypercholesterolemia, as this makes them resistant to traditional measures of normalizing cholesterol. And, even more importantly, cholesterol is NOT the cause of heart disease. 

If your physician is urging you to check your total cholesterol, then you should know that this test will tell you virtually nothing about your risk of heart disease, unless it is 330 or higher.

HDL percentage is a far more potent indicator for heart disease risk. Here are the two ratios you should pay attention to:
  1. HDL/Total Cholesterol Ratio: Should ideally be above 24 percent. If below 10 percent, you have a significantly elevated risk for heart disease.
  2. Triglyceride/HDL Ratio: Should be below 2.

I have seen a number of people with total cholesterol levels over 250 who were actually at low risk for heart disease due to their elevated HDL levels. Conversely, I have seen many people with cholesterol levels under 200 who had a very high risk of heart disease, based on their low HDL.

Your body NEEDS cholesterol—it is important in the production of cell membranes, hormones, vitamin D and bile acids that help you to digest fat. Cholesterol also helps your brain form memories and is vital to your neurological function.

There is also strong evidence that having too little cholesterol INCREASES your risk for cancer, memory loss, Parkinson's disease, hormonal imbalances, stroke, depression, suicide, and violent behavior.

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How to Optimize your Cholesterol Levels Naturally?

If your cholesterol levels are not critical yet, you may try to adjust your diet and lifestyle accordingly to balance your good and bad cholesterol in the body:
  • Reduce, with the plan of eliminating, grains and sugars in your diet. Eat the right foods for your nutritional type, and consume a good portion of your food raw. 
  • Make sure you are getting plenty of high quality, animal-based omega 3 fats, such as krill oil.
  • Other heart-healthy foods include olive oil, coconut and coconut oil, organic raw dairy products and eggs, avocados, raw nuts and seeds, and organic grass-fed meats as appropriate for your nutritional type.

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  • Exercise daily. At least 30 minutes of exercise a day has been shown to decrease total cholesterol and improve "good" HDL cholesterol levels, while lack of regular physical activity can raise "bad" LDL cholesterol levels as well as lead to weight gain. Make sure you incorporate peak fitness exercises, which also optimizes your human growth hormone (HGH) production.
  • Reach and maintain a healthy weight. Being overweight can decrease "good" HDL levels and increase "bad" LDL and total cholesterol levels.
  • Address your emotional challenges engaging in enjoyable and mood stabilizing activities, like dancing, yoga, meditation, massage, and others.

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  • Cut out caffeine and alcohol – drink water. Both caffeine and alcohol have been shown to elevate cholesterol. So it's best to switch to pure water and, at the very least, follow the "no more than one a day" rule.
  • Don't smoke or use tobacco in any form. Smoking damages blood vessels, contributes to hardening of the arteries and is a major health risk for heart disease, stroke and other degenerative diseases. Be sure to get plenty of good, restorative sleep.

Unlike statin drugs, which might lower your cholesterol at the expense of your health, these lifestyle strategies represent a holistic approach that will benefit your overall health—which includes a healthy cardiovascular system.

However, some experts have expressed concern that the emphasis on statins could draw attention away from the importance of diet and lifestyle. A 2007 study of 71 patients who began taking statins found that 44% felt their physician had prescribed the statin even though the patients preferred to try dietary measures to control their cholesterol. And although 76% of the patients wanted to reduce their dietary fat intake when they began statin treatment, after six months there was no significant change in the group's fat intake.

Lipitor Side Effects

While you may try to leverage your cholesterol levels naturally with the recommendations, provided above, that might not work as expected due to the various reasons, and mostly due to the genetic predisposition. If that is a case, you will still have to take the medications, since the cholesterol can potentially be dangerous to lethal to your health. While taking Lipitor or other statins, you should be aware on the possible side effects. Note that medicines and their possible side effects can affect individual people in different ways, or may not affect at all. The following are some of the side effects that are known to be associated with Lipitor. Just because a side effect is stated here does not mean that all people using this medicine will experience that or any side effect.

Common (affect between 1 in 10 and 1 in 100 people)

  • Disturbances of the gut such as diarrhoea, constipation, nausea, flatulence or abdominal pain.
  • Indigestion.
  • Runny or stuffy nose.
  • Nose bleeds.
  • Muscle, bone or joint pain
  • Headache.
  • Difficulty sleeping (insomnia).
  • Skin reactions such as rash and itch.
  • Back pain.
  • Dizziness.
  • Feeling of weakness.
  • Decreased sensitivity to touch or pain, pins and needles sensations.
  • Chest pain.

Uncommon (affect between 1 in 100 and 1 in 1000 people)
  • Vomiting.
  • Decrease in the number of blood cells called platelets in the blood (thrombocytopenia).
  • Inflammation of the pancreas (pancreatitis).
  • Muscle pain.
  • Hair loss (alopecia).
  • Loss of appetite.
  • Weight gain.
  • Liver disorders.
  • Changes in blood sugar levels.

Rare (affect between 1 in 1000 and 1 in 10,000 people)
  • Swelling of the legs and ankles due to excess fluid retention (peripheral oedema).
  • Hepatitis (inflammation of the liver).
  • Muscle breakdown (rhabdomyolysis).
  • Inflammation of the muscles (myositis).
  • Fever.

Very rare (affect less than 1 in 10,000 people)
  • Visual disturbances.
  • Serious skin conditions such as Stevens-Johnson Syndrome or toxic epidermal necrolysis.
  • Enlargement of the breasts in men.
  • Taste changes.

Unknown frequency
  • Interstitial lung disease.
  • Depression.
  • Memory loss.
  • Sleep disturbances.
  • Sexual problems.

Lipitor and Depression

As you noticed, the frequency of the Lipitor-induced depression falls in the category of Unknown. That means, that the link exists, the danger is low, and that there is no sufficient data to quantify the probability you may develop depression from long-time Lipitor consumption.

Some new researches however show much higher probability for the related problems development than is shown on the official side effects statements. One of the studies found up to 12 per cent of patients taking part in one clinical trial suffered sleep disturbances such as insomnia, while 11 per cent of users in the same trial had depression and three per cent some level of memory loss. Another study suggested 12 per cent of statin patients had erectile dysfunction. That does not mean you might develop all the health problems above, if you just start taking Lipitor, since these trials did not evaluate the per cent of the patients affected by the stated conditions before the trials, so the numbers have lower value with missing reference points.

Another study, performed at the University of California, School of Medicine, showed that in multiple cases patients report depression and mood changes as side effects of Lipitor. Some people reported loss if interest in activities and tendency for diminished involvement in social affairs.

Summary


While the Lipitor side effects might be significant, the mainstream medical opinion is that the biggest risk with statins is not taking them. Only about half of all patients prescribed a statin end up reaching their cholesterol goals, mainly because far too many people leave far too many pills untouched.

If you feel that taking Lipitor brings major complications to your health and emotional wellbeing, discuss with your doctor the possibility to alter your treatment plan and optimize the cholesterol maintenance approach.


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