Sorting out statins

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statinsORLANDO, Fla. -- About 11 million Americans take cholesterol-lowering drugs known as statins. They're the most widely-sold drugs in this country. Some doctors say they're over-prescribed while others say they're not prescribed enough.

Elaine Overton's cholesterol was 260, so her doctor put her on Lipitor. "My cholesterol dropped about 100 points in about six weeks' time," she said. "It was really remarkable."

Statins can lower cholesterol by 40 percent and prevent heart attacks. The newest research shows they also reduce the risk of a second stroke by 16 percent.

"If anything, they're under-prescribed," neurologist K. Michael Welch, M.D., Ph.D., of Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science in Chicago, explained. "They certainly have been under-prescribed for stroke."

Current guidelines say you should be on a statin if your cholesterol is higher than 190 or if you have other risk factors like heart disease. If you have diabetes, you should be on one even if your cholesterol is normal.

But Beatrice Golomb, M.D., Ph.D., an internist at University of California, San Diego, says statins are over-prescribed. She says they're only proven to help white, middle-aged men who have or are at risk for heart disease.

"There's not really evidence that the benefits exceed the harms for women, for the elderly, or for men who aren't at high risk," she said. The drugs can also cause side effects like muscle weakness, nerve damage and even memory loss.

Jane Brunzie's memory became so bad after taking Lipitor, her family thought she had Alzheimer's. "My daughter told me she didn't think that she could safely leave my granddaughter with me anymore," she added.

Doctors agree you have to decide for yourself whether a statin is the right treatment option for you. Some studies show the drugs may also prevent other diseases like Alzheimer's disease or osteoporosis, but all the doctors we interviewed agreed that the evidence isn't strong enough to prescribe the drugs to these patients yet.

Brunzie decided to go off the drug. Overton is still on hers. Both want to live long and happy lives ... One with ... And one without a statin.

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