Exploring chronic disease
What’s the latest news among people taking statins, or drugs that are marketed as cholesterol lowering agents? Pfizer Inc.’s Lipitor, the world’s best-selling statin, with revenues of $12.6 billion in 2007, causes some women to experience what researchers are referring to as serious cognitive side effects, reports reports The Wall Street Journal.
“This drug makes women stupid,” Orli Etingin, vice chairman of medicine at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital, declared at a recent luncheon discussion sponsored by Project A.L.S. to raise awareness of gender issues and the brain. Dr. Etingin, who is also founder and director of the Iris Cantor Women’s Health Center in New York, told those present about a typical patient in her 40s, who after taking Lipitor was unable to concentrate or recall words. Tests found nothing amiss, but when the woman stopped taking Lipitor, the symptoms vanished. When she resumed taking Lipitor, they returned.
“I’ve seen this in maybe two dozen patients,” Dr. Etingin said later, adding that they did better on other statins. “This is just observational, of course. We really need more studies, particularly on cognitive effects and women.”
Gayatri Devi, an associate professor of neurology and psychiatry at New York University School of Medicine, says she’s seen at least six patients whose memory problems were traceable to statins in 12 years of practice. “The changes started to occur within six weeks of starting the statin, and the cognitive abilities returned very quickly when they went off,” says Dr. Devi. “It’s just a handful of patients, but for them, it made a huge difference.”
Researchers at the University of California at San Diego are nearing completion of a randomized controlled trial examining the effects of statins on thinking, mood, behavior, and quality of life. As part of a separate project the team is also collecting anecdotal experiences of patients, good and bad, on statins. They’ve found that in about 5000 people to date, memory problems are the second most common side effect, after muscle aches.
“We have some compelling cases,” says Beatrice Golomb, the study’s lead researcher. One case is that of 69-year-old Jane Brunzie, a San Diego woman who after taking a statin became so forgetful that her daughter sought to put her under care for Alzheimer’s and refused to let her babysit for her 9-year-old granddaughter. Then Brunzie stopped taking the statin. “Literally, within eight days, I was back to normal — it was that dramatic,” says Brunzie.
Doctors put her on different statins three more times. “They’d say, ‘Here, try these samples.’ Doctors don’t want to give up on it,” she says. “Within a few days of starting another one, I’d start losing my words again,” says Mrs. Brunzie, who has gone back to volunteering at the local elementary school she loves.
“I feel very blessed — I got about 99% of my memory back,” she adds. “But I worry about people like me who are starting to lose their words who may think they have just normal aging and it may not be.”
There’s no doubt that some women who take Lipitor, also called atorvastatin, are experiencing increased mental problems. But is their loss of cognitive function an unexplainable side effect of the drug, or is something else going on?
That something else may very well be immunopathology – or the immune system’s response to bacterial death. Women who are prescribed statins are almost certainly infected with L-form bacteria, as the pathogens and other biofilm bacteria (collectively called the Th1 pathogens) are responsible for causing the inflammation that leads to high cholesterol.
As patient reports from the Marshall Protocol site confirm, the Th1 pathogens seldom infect only one area of the body, and everyone in the population acquires them as they age. This means that many women prescribed statins for high cholesterol very likely have these bacteria in their brains as well.
Aside from mild episodes of brain fog or memory loss, most women on statins are probably unaware of the that fact their brains may harbor Th1 pathogens, largely because it’s not until these bacteria are killed that the host becomes acutely aware of their presence.
When the immune system targets the Th1 pathogens, it releases a host of inflammatory molecules in response to their death, which along with the toxins released by the bacteria as they die, and the debri from the cell they once inhabited, cause a rise in symptoms in the area in which the bacteria are been killed (immunopathology).
Interestingly, biomedical researcher Trevor Marshall’s recent molecular modeling research has made it abundantly clear that while statins do lower cholesterol, their main actions on the body come not from their cholesterol lowering properties but from the fact that they bind the nuclear receptors – a class of receptors intrically connected to the activity of the innate immune system. These receptors include the Vitamin D Receptor, the glucocorticoid receptor, and the alpha and beta thyroid receptors.
These are the same receptors activated by Benicar – the ARB medication used by patients on the Marshall Protocol; the medication that activates and enables the innate immune system. In fact, drugs such as Benicar that bind and activate the nuclear receptors can be so effective at turning on the innate immune system that they enable some people to kill the Th1 pathogens even without the help of antibiotics.
Despite the fact that Lipitor doesn’t bind the VDR directly, it still affects, and could very likely activate, the immune system because it binds both the glucocorticoid and thyroid receptors with a very high affinity in both cases. Could this mean that those women who experience a rise in cognitive symptoms from Lipitor are simply feeling the effects of bacterial die-off in the brain as the statin allows their immune system to target pathogens in that area more effectively?
Brain fog, memory loss, inability to process and retain information, loss of problem solving skills, and significant drops in other areas of cognitive function are certainly observed among women who begin to kill bacteria on the Marshall Protocol.
If this is the case, then those women to experience cognitive side effects from Lipitor would be best off starting the Marshall Protocol – using Benicar and the MP antibiotics to fully eliminate Th1 pathogens in the brain. Of course, until the ability of statins to activate the nuclear receptors and the presence of the Th1 pathogens is accepted by mainstream medicine, women like Jean Brunzie will remain perplexed as to how a simple cholesterol lowering medication could so profoundly effect their mood, memory, and ability to think.
Amy Proal graduated from Georgetown University in 2005 with a degree in biology. While at Georgetown, she wrote her senior thesis on Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and the Marshall Protocol.