The release of this documentary comes at a time of almost daily headlines about statin medication in the popular and GP press. A change in guidelines on statin prescribing has caused much controversy especially since it has been proposed that GP’s should be rewarded for prescribing statins to more of the population.
The majority of GP’s are against ‘over-medicalising’ and GP leaders have objected to this proposal put forward by the NICE committee on QOF indicator development*. Statins are the most commonly prescribed medications in the UK. They effectively reduce blood cholesterol levels. Many doctors and scientists believe in the link between high fat intake, high cholesterol levels and heart disease, and that lowering cholesterol reduces heart disease.
The film starts by unraveling this belief that fat is bad for us and lowering cholesterol is good. We are introduced to many paradoxes such as how come the French have 1/3rd less heart disease than us but eat more fat – is it the wine? Why does Lithuania have an excessively high death rate from heart disease with similar cholesterol levels etc. Putting all these studies together it becomes clear that on a population level neither a diet high in fat nor having high cholesterol levels make you more likely to die of a heart attack, in fact the reverse seems to be true!
Then the film introduces studies such as the Women’s Health Initiative Study, which shows no benefit for statins in primary prevention (using the medication to prevent a heart attack in someone who has not already had one). And yet many fiercely hold the position that statins work and should be used in this situation – is that because the studies that seem to show benefit are skewed by the interest of the pharmaceutical corporations? There are many studies where the raw data held by the pharmaceutical industry is not available for us to see, and there are bodies forming guidelines where many of the expert panel are being paid by the corporations.
The next part of the film goes on to explore what many now believe to be the ‘real’ cause of heart disease (and other modern diseases such as diabetes) – STRESS. Or more accurately – chronic negative stress. We don’t yet fully understand all the mechanisms, however there seems to be a strong relationship between stress, loss of heart rate variability and heart attacks. (There is growing interest in measuring heart rate variability and using this as a form of biofeedback to improve heart health – often called ‘Heart Math’). It is also thought that stress increases blood clotting, and this is a factor in heart attacks. Hence many patients are put on medication, such as aspirin, to reduce clotting. There may also be a link between stress, a deranged immune system and an infectious cause for heart attacks. The film also explores a major cause of stress in peoples lives – lack of control, or perceived lack of control, over their circumstances. This may go a long way to explaining why people from lower socio-economic groups, for instance in Lithuania, have the highest rate of heart attacks.
I found this documentary fascinating. It certainly opens up the debate on statins further and points to the need to question the ‘evidence’ for the guidelines provided to doctors. We also need to call for transparency in pharmaceutical research including access to all their data. I think more research needs to be done but none of this has altered my common sense, holistic model of health. I will finish with the quotation at the start of the opening of the film:
“Science is the acceptance of what works and the rejection of what does not. That needs more courage than we might think.” Jacob Bronowski, The Common Sense of Science.
To make up your own mind, you can view the documentary here.
* National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence committee on the Quality and Outcomes Framework. This latter is the performance related pay system for GPs.
By Dr Antonia Wrigley
Antonia is a GP with an interest in Nutrition, Natural Medicine and Holistic Practice. She took time out of her medical training to explore different Healing Arts including gaining a BSc in Nutrition and training as a Western Herbal Medicine Practitioner. In the future she would like to become more involved in Sustainability Issues and in enabling Healthy Communities.