Monday, 4 April 2016

I am about to start a one-man six-month medical experiment involving statins and pain

I was prescribed statins some seven years ago, after being diagnosed with Type II diabetes, and after a blood test revealed I had an unhealthily high level of cholesterol. Four and a half years ago, I began waking up with a pain in my right hip/buttock, which would take about 20 minutes to ease. It grew worse over the next few months, lasting for up to two hours after getting up. I didn't panic, because I assumed the bout of sciatica I'd suffered a few years' earlier had returned, and I found that doing some of the exercises I'd used back then, followed by a ten-minute morning hobble round the block, would end with me walking upright and pain-free.  But then the exercises and the hobble stopped doing the trick, so I went to my GP, who sent me for a CT Scan to find out what was going on. The results were negative, and I was told that my sciatica had indeed returned, and just to keep doing the exercises: it would eventually lift.

It didn't, and by the start of last year I'd had enough. When a chap can't actually stand up for his morning pee and finds himself guzzling ibuprofen before his first cuppa of the day, he knows he's in trouble. A lot of athletes end up in this state, I believe - but I'm not one of their number. Back to the doctor, who told me to stop taking statins and booked me in for an appointment with a physiotherapist. An extremely efficient Dutch chap informed me that I had a touch of arthritis in my sacroiliac, but no signs of sciatica - in fact, the sciatica exercises I'd been doing might have been making things worse. So, a new set of exercises, no statins, a self-prescribed diet, and quite a lot of excruciating manipulation ensued. Things gradually improved. I stopped taking ibuprofen (which, it transpired,  had been wrecking my stomach), and within a month or two found I could (a) pee standing up first thing (b) sit at my desk within an hour of waking up without everything siezing up afterwards, and (c) go for a walk before lunch without looking like I was suffering from a spectacularly painful attack of haemorrhoids. The physio said the pain from my arthritis should disperse within 20 minutes of waking up, but it was still lasting for two hours or more - although it wasn't half as intense as it had been.

The I read a few pro-statins scare stories - and started taking them again towards the end of last year. And now the hip pain is back, with a vengeance. I've been doing the back-strengthening exercises again for the past week, I've never come off the diet, and today - thanks to yet another article about statins in the Daily Telegraph: Statins do cause muscle pain, scientists conclude - I've taken myself off them, even though I'm not suffering from muscle pain, as far as I know. They may of course, be entirely blameless when it comes to causing or even exacerbating the pain in my lower back/hip, and, for all I know, taking them may have prevented me from succumbing to a heart attack. But I suspect they may have something to do with my hip pain. It won't be a proper controlled experiment, because I'll be doing the exercises - but if the pain eases significantly over the next few months, I'll never swallow another statin pill as long as I live.

What's disconcerting about all this is that - as with several of my deeply tedious but seemingly non-fatal medical problems - I have absolutely no clue where to go for a definitive diagnosis. I suspect that's because nobody has the answers. Which, given the astonishing medical advances of recent decades - thanks to which many of us, including me, are still alive when we otherwise wouldn't be - seems odd.


  1. I am really sorry to hear this. I took statins for about 6 years after a compulsory pre-employment medical revealed very high cholesterol levels. I felt under par for a lot of that time and could never be sure whether the cure was worse than the ailment, which had no painful or other physically significant symptoms. It also coincided with a number of other instances of medical misdiagnosis which eventually persuaded me that I should try an experiment in which I gave up taking any of my prescribed medicines to see what happened, and at the same time should eat and drink what I felt like, within reason. I wouldn't recommend it to everyone but I felt a lot better for it.

    They are constantly refining statins to try and get rid of the side effects of the most commonly prescribed (i.e. the cheapest). I will no doubt go back one day but only once I am persuaded that the side effects are manageable. If those include hair regrowth and improved eyesight, I shall be at the front of the queue.

    1. Tell me, ex-KCS - have you actually had your cholesterol levels checked since you started your laissez-faire regime? It would be interesting to hear what the effect has been.

      I'm counting on the fact that my diet means that I no longer eat anything that could possibly raise my cholesterol count. I've experimented with cutting out my other medicines one by one, but blood sugar and blood pressure readings immediately leap off the scale, so that's not an option. I've also been guzzling a whole range of health store supplements for a year (10 pills and a powder each morning), but I can't see that they've made any difference whatsoever to anything - but I keep taking them, nevertheless, because it makes me feel vaguely virtuous. I should have shares in Holland & Barrett.

    2. No. I have no idea whether they are as high as they were and I have not been to a doctor for years. I lost faith when I had to explain to one of them what Lyme Disease was. Lyme sufferers are used to a syndrome which gives false positives and negatives to tests for a variety of ailments, which makes the business of diagnosis and prescription a bit random. I decided I would be better off not taking anything. I wouldn't recommend it to any one else.

  2. It would indeed be interesting to know if laissez-faire regimes work or any other regimes for that matter and probably the only way to check this is a before and after reading of cholesterol.
    Having only been to the doctor three times in the last 8 years,I'm not much use to either of you.In 21.08.08 my reading was LDL 5.1 and HDL 1.14 which the doctor said was too high.In 2012 LDL fell to 4.8 (no reading for HDL in my diary.)
    Other than possibly eating less fatty meat and butter,the reason for this slight drop is elusive.Its still too high.What do one's peers think?

    1. The fatty meat and butter could account for the difference. Or maybe you;re eating more of the types of food that lower cholesterol?

      Here's what Heart UK identifies as high-cholesterol foods:
      Hard margarines
      Lard, dripping and goose fat
      Fatty meat and meat products such as sausages
      Full fat cheese, milk, cream and yogurt
      Coconut and palm oils and coconut cream
      Additionally, many foods such as milk chocolate, toffee, cakes, puddings, pastries, pies and rich biscuits, which are made from the list above can also increase cholesterol.

      - so lay off lard and goose fat!

  3. I am confused. How is it that some can exist, apparently healthily (and slimly) on a diet of doughnuts, while others....? My diabetic diet seems to be in some conflict with my gallstones diet, while the healthy sounding vegetables and other culinary consolations are banned by an arthritis diet.
    I had a friend who, having taken a number of pills and potions, including Warfarin, for a number of years, threw them all out and felt better for it. She died about six years later, but as the result of having been a heavy smoker all her life.
    It is hard to know what to do.

    1. We're all confused. Even the doctors are confused! I think it's largely a matter of luck - we're always hearing about people who smoked like chimneys and chugged back Scotch into their 90s (though, come to think of it, I've never actually met one).

      As for contradictory diet requirements - that's something that afflicts many of us, I suspect. I'm supposed to eat fats for one thing - and to avoid them like the plague for another. I'm allowed to breakfast on lightly-fried eggs and bacon - but they're bad for cholesterol. I've been advised to eat lots of fruit, which I love - but the acid wrecks my stomach and the fructose is bad for me - and my ME. As is starch. And wheat, And... well, practically everything I used to eat. The most confusing thing for diabetics right now is the contradictory advice over whether carbohydrates are a good or a bad thing - I've read articles (by doctors and nutritionists) claiming that the dietary advice given to diabetics for the past few decades has been utterly wrong. What is a non-expert to do? Experiment and monitor, I suppose.