On NPR’s The People’s Pharmacy I Finally Heard A Cardiologist Talking Sense About The Risks Of Statins: I Got Better Results With Exercise

Hi folks,

Dr. Eric Topol talking sense about statins on national public radio

Dr. Eric Topol talking sense about statins on The People’s Pharmacy on National Public Radio. Finally someone – thanks!

About 40 years ago, whilst working in my laboratory in Geneva, Switzerland, we discovered that I have a fairly extreme form of hyperlipidemia (high blood fat or triglyceride) with a resting level (no treatment) over 2000 mg/dL (extremely high), hypercholesterolemia (high blood cholesterol) of over 230 mg/dL (high) and low HDL (high density lipoprotein, so-called ‘good’ cholesterol, but really an indication of reverse cholesterol transport) of less than 20 mg/dL. These numbers indicate that I should probably be dead by now, and every cardiologist, fat or thin, that I have seen since then wants to put me on statins. These guys drive me crazy. When I mention that I tried statins, but I have controlled the problem more effectively with intense exercise, it is as though I didn’t say a word. They don’t listen! Then I heard a cardiologist, Eric Topol, talking sense about statins and their risks on National Public Radio today, in The People’s Pharmacy. Finally!!!!

The reason that I am ranting about this is that I tried statins and the improvement in my lipid profile was transient, whilst Ironman training has brought it more permanently into a much safer range without the pharmacological risks. More importantly, I have seen the lesions induced in muscle by statins, first hand.

rhabdomyolysis, tying up, monday morning leg, muscle damage induced by exercise,

Excessive exercise in an under conditioned horse (or human) can induce life-threatening muscle damage.

I’m a Toxicologic Pathologist by training. I took one look at a muscle of a rat treated with a statin and I thought, Monday Morning Disease (rhabdomyolysis) in horses or New Recruits Disease, in the early phases of military exercise training, both of which are induced by excessive exercise in under-conditioned mammals. I never took the stuff again. Why would I want a real risk of muscle damage in exchange for a statistically predicted reduction of a statistical risk of heart problems? I’m not a statistic, I’m an individual. When you take a statin you are messing with the entire energy (bioenergetic) machine, so it is no surprise to me that statins also come with a risk of diabetes.

FitOldDog avoids taking pills whenever he can by changing his lifestyle. But do I take some pills when advised by my doctor? Sure, if it makes sense after I’ve researched the issue and decided that I trust him/her.

beetroot juice, red urine,

Eating beetroots may make your urine red, but the color is not quite the same as that induced by rhabdomyolysis. The connoisseur can tell the difference.

For instance, I take aspirin and an ACE (angiotensin converting enzyme) inhibitor to reduce the risk of clots forming in my remarkable and wonderful Cook Zenith abdominal aortic aneurysm stent graft, and to reduce the hypertension (high blood pressure) that the stent induced, respectively. I tried other approaches to the hypertension, but it was not enough, so medication was my only alternative. If I could get off of the stuff by stuffing myself with beetroots, would I do it? Sure, but I tried and it didn’t work, plus I got fed up of worrying about my red urine (one of the symptoms of rhabdomyolysis and eating beetroots).

I think before I take a pill, and if my doctor won’t listen to me after I’ve researched the issue of concern, I move on until I find one that will. We each have to decide for ourselves how to handle such issues, so I won’t tell you what to do, that’s for sure.

-k @FitOldDog



  1. Please tell me you didn’t eat beetroots and then pee in that wine glass.

  2. Evolution is an interesting topic. I have noted that putting people generally in a position of apparent authority over others and they evolve ear lids.

  3. Meg, I bet he did.

  4. Uhmmmm! Cabernet or Kevin’s pee. Not sure! -k

  5. Dean Vitale says

    Thank-you for the information. I have just been diagnosed with coronary artery disease. I am 3 time IRONMAN with normal cholesterol HDL=53, LDL=102. My triglycerides are a bit high (84). I would like to train for another IM and am concerned about the effects of taking a statin. (My doc will prescribe one this Tuesday). I am completely asymptomatic, thus I am skeptical.

    • Hi Dean, what’s your diet, family history, and so forth, I wonder.

      If it has a genetic component I would attack diet before I took a statin, but they can be prescribed to stabilize plaques, I believe. My resting HDL used to be <20 and my triglycerides were over 2000. Yep, plasma like milk. Diet and some exercise brought TGs to ~400, and IM brought it down some more, and did raise my HDL to >40. Then about a year ago I added Paleo, and my HDL shot up to just under 80. You have to work to reverse the coronary artery disease with a physician you trust – most of them are statin and beta-blocker addicts. Both drugs have their place at certain points in a solid plan.

      So, what would I do (you have to decide what you’ll do)?

      1. I’d like to know in detail the nature of the coronary artery disease.
      2. I’d head for the best diet I could find.
      3. I’d read the literature on reducing risks of cardiac infarcts, and use statins as a last resort, though even then I would avoid them if I could.
      4. I’d make sure my training was carefully balanced to improve my cardiac health, or more specifically my cardiovascular health.
      5.I’d check for other evidence of vascular disease, to be sure it was safe to train, or to modify my training accordingly.
      6. I’d look at my lifestyle for factors that might promote vascular disease, such as stress (I mean distress not eustress), and modify anything I could.
      7. I’d have a cardiac stress test and calcification score to provide baseline data.
      8. I’d find a fit, older, sports physician I trust and who knows his/her Biochemistry (best of luck).
      9. I’d study every aspect of my condition that I could, and take everyone else’s advice ‘under advisement,’ but I have a veterinary medical/pathology background.
      10. Then I’d start training as intelligently as I could, substituting volume for intensity.

      I still do IM with my AAA stent graft, and the recent extension, but it is always based on a careful benefit/risk process (and of course, this includes plenty of guess work, but I want to have fun).

      Those are my initial thoughts, and I’m not telling you what to do, I’m saying what I would do (necessary disclaimer).

      Hope that helps a bit.

      Kind Regards,


      PS Oh to be so young. I’m a little jealous, but I enjoy every day.

  6. Dean Vitale says

    I should have mentionedthat I am 52 with normal weight.

    • I often wonder, given the importance of phenotypic variance in survival of the group (or species), what is a normal weight? I think that it varies a lot. Cheer, kevin

  7. I am an overthehill retired veterinarian with what I think is a bad statin problem. After retirement about 16 months ago (Ihad already slowed down due to back and neck problems).I have been on various statins over about 8 years, they all made me feel like I had overdone it at manual labor even though I had not done any manual labor. I then developed a sudden heart problem Supra ventricular tacchycardia and had radio ablation(I guess because I had good insurance) Since then even with reduced dose of a weak statin I have had the muscle pain. I am about to stop statins completely and start Niacin and fish oil again. I know I won’t get any encouragement from my very American physician. This website has given me some encouragement, I am not capable of Ironman training and I cant eat like a gerbil ( I don’t eat badly). Today I cut the grass 1 hour (rotary push mover) swam for 50 minutes(swimming doesn’t bother me) and then did about 1 hour of yard work,weeding,mulching and hoeing, and now I am almost non functional. How can doctors prescribe this crap if it makes people feel so bad. HOW ABOUT A GIANT CLASS ACTION SUIT TO SCARE THE HECK OUT OF THEM. Sincerely Frank Thomson

    • Hi Frank,

      I appreciate your comment.

      I think that the problem lies in the proof. I didn’t need any proof of the muscle toxicity of statins after seeing the lesions directly – though the dose makes the poison. Furthermore, you don’t need to do Ironman training, but consistent exercise has helped me a lot, as a genetic hyperlipidemic. I liked the fact that you are a veterinarian, as we have to stick together.

      I hear increasing stories of the negative effects of statins, whilst one cardiologist I saw a few years ago wanted to put them in the drinking water. I have similar concerns for beta-blockers – over prescribing and not enough life-style approaches to therapy – I guess that money and our hurried lives underly this issue. I don’t think that this will change until people change their mindset to personal responsibility for their health.

      I don’t eat like a gerbil, I eat largely Paleo-like food much of the time, including plenty of fat, whilst restricting carbs to a large extent. I recommend Mark’s Daily Apple blog for information on this, if you want to know how I handle the nutrition issue.

      I’m not much for law suits, as I prefer education. The problem lies with money, and the pill mentality of many.

      I wonder what’s to be done about it. All ideas would be much appreciated.

      I wish you luck with gaining the best health that you can, and don’t hesitate to contact me for input. I don’t give medical advice, I just suggest that people try to think for themselves, and stop treating doctors like gods – everyone is guessing to some extent, especially those with MD (or DVM) after their name, but then again the MDs saved my life with their wonderful stent technology, for which I say THANK Y’ALL.

      If I were you, I would carefully modify my diet for the best, and design an exercise program that slowly and carefully increases my cardiovascular and physical strength – finding the right sports medicine doctor (a fit older one preferably) would help a lot.

      Life is interesting, my friend and fellow veterinarian.



  8. Bobby Levin says

    Kevin: As always I enjoy your email newsletter and I hope you keep producing them. I found your comments on your blood pressure medication interesting although I am not sure how you decided 140 systolic would be your highest allowable pressure. I do think doctors tend to over medicate their patients.
    I did take a statin for awhile but gave it up when I developed back and hip pain. After a month or so pain in both areas disappeared. Now my doctor wants me to go on a PCSK9 Inhibitor which I am reluctant to take even though I have a stent in my right leg. Any thoughts on how to prolong the life of a leg stent which after a year plus seems to be working fine and allows me to run pain free. I have high cholesterol and LDL and triglycerides and HDL levels. Regardless of the diet I try those levels seem resistant to significant movement.
    Be well

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Disclaimer: As a veterinarian, I do not provide medical advice for human animals. If you undertake or modify an exercise program, consult your medical advisors before doing so. Undertaking activities pursued by the author does not mean that he endorses your undertaking such activities, which is clearly your decision and responsibility. Be careful and sensible, please.