True Story: How Statins (Zocar) Ruined a Man's Life
The following interview is from 63-year old New Zealander Andy Whyman, who has been living through his own statin-induced nightmare.
Andy was placed on a daily dose of 10mg Zocor and experienced debilitating muscle pain and weakness. Despite the fact that this is an extremely common side effect of statin use, none of the doctors he consulted would even entertain the thought that his problems could be caused by statins.
In fact, after he complained of his symptoms, the doctors concluded that they were caused by his heart problems and increased his simvastatin dose to 40mg!
Andy did his own research and realized that it was indeed the statin that had caused his problems. After years of suffering, Andy eventually won a compensation case, but is still far from full recovery.
Here is the actual interview conducted by Anthony Colpo.
Anthony Colpo: Andy, you obviously have a history of heart disease, tell us when your problems with coronary disease began.
Andy Whyman: I was a metal work teacher at a school in 1994 when I collapsed from an angina attack. I was off work for a couple of days, I went back, and not long after that, in 1995, they put me on the statin.
AC: I've got here that they started you off on 10mg Zocor [simvastatin], is that right?
AW: I was on that until my last year [of work], I had to stop work because I couldn't stand up very well. The doctors thought it was my heart, so they increased the Zocor to 40mg a day.
AC: Was it your GP or heart specialist who boosted the dose?
This was the GP, not my heart specialist. But the heart specialist knew about it. I had been off work 3 years before I found out I could make a claim through the ACC [Note: The Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC) is an accident compensation scheme operated by the New Zealand Government], and after I won that claim I had to go and see her [the heart specialist] and she just told me that she felt it wasn't proven. I said to her, do I have to die?
AC: So she knew about all the side effects you had experienced and all that you had been through, but she refused to acknowledge it could have been caused by the statins?
AW: She said to me that she knew statins had side effects but she'd never seen symptoms as bad as mine. My ordeal went on for four years.
AC: How many doctors did you see in that time, was it just the GP and heart specialist?
AW: I also saw a neurologist, I must admit, in the end he finally agreed that it could be the statin causing my problems.
AC: But he was also reluctant to pin the blame on the statin initially?
AW: Yes. But I have been back to see him and, I don't know, he's not so keen now. I have a friend who came over today, he went to see this bloke [the neurologist] and he told me that he put him on statins. I said "why?" He said that "he wanted to keep my arteries smooth". I said, "did he give you a fasting cholesterol test?" He said, "no". I said, "did he know your cholesterol levels beforehand?", he said, "no". I said, "you shouldn't be on them!"
AC: So it was just straight onto the statins?
AW: Yes, straight onto the statins, like aspirin.
AC: Andy, I'm not sure if you were aware, but the 10mg dose of Zocor you started off on has now been made legal for over-the-counter purchase in the UK.
AW: My twin brother, he went on it many years after me, I told him to watch out, he said, "oh no, I'll be alright". Within six months he was off it. Then one of my sisters, she does cake-icing, she was very wary when her doctor put her on statins, she told her doctor what happened to me. After a couple of months she wasn't feeling so great, but the doctor talked her into staying on them. Eventually she couldn't even get her arms up to ice a cake! She's been off them three months now and she's still having difficulty. The statins really knocked me around. It's been nearly three years since I went off them, and I've certainly improved, but I still put my arms in slings if I work for any length of time.
AC: Have you consulted anyone to help you get over the problems you experienced with statins?
AW: I've mainly done it myself. I went off all medications.
AC: Do you take things like fish oil or CoEnzyme Q10?
AW: I take the CoEnzyme Q10, I find that's the thing that helps me the most. Fish oil makes me a bit nauseous.
AC: How much of the CoEnzyme Q10 do you take each day?
AW: Sixty milligrams, I take the Solgar brand, I find that's the best. I find that's the only thing that has ever helped me.
AC: That's not surprising, considering that statins are well-known to deplete the body's CoEnzyme Q10 stores.
AW: When I was on statins all my tests always came back normal, every time. CK [creatine kinase] levels, always normal. They said, "you can't have this [statin-induced muscle damage]", my tests were always normal.
AC: Researchers have shown that statins can cause muscle damage but the CK test your doctor orders will often still show up as normal.
AW: Mine always did. I wanted to get a muscle biopsy, the doctors wouldn't do it. So I even went to Auckland to pay to have it done myself, and the neurologist up there refused point blank to do it, he said "it won't tell us anything". I said "yes it will, we can see directly whether there's any muscle damage there or not". I know why they wouldn't do it - it would prove them wrong. You know, I really feel there's a bit of a cover-up going on.
AC: Andy, my web site [www.theomnivore.com] deals primarily with dietary matters, but a few months back I wrote a big piece on statins and posted it on my site. I wasn't sure how people would respond, given that it was not the usual subject matter that my readers were used to. As it turns out, that article was one of the most popular I've ever written. It really seems to have struck a chord. I've had people from all over the world e-mail me, telling me about their ordeals with statins and how, in many instances, their doctors were clueless as to the cause.
AW: They sent me to a psychologist, I wouldn't go at first, but eventually I went because of the ACC. I had to go eight times. In the end, the psychologist said to me, "I don't know if I've been able to help you much, you're not suffering from depression or anything, but you're extremely frustrated." Then she said, "I'd like to thank you for something." I said, "what's that?" She said, "I've found out what's wrong with my dear old mother. She's been on statins for five years and she's been feeling lethargic. I took her off them soon after meeting you and she's starting to improve already!" I've read that old people need cholesterol, that without it they become muddled.
AC: Well, researchers have found that statins impair cognitive function even in healthy young men. As for older folks, depending on the study, cholesterol levels either show no association with survival or are associated with greater longevity. There's no study showing that elderly people will benefit from cholesterol-lowering, yet statins are being handed out to old folks for preventive purposes.
AW: Yeah, I've heard that. When I was at the height of my statin problems, my arms were like steel rods. I couldn't bend them, I couldn't even comb my hair or do things like that. The last two years I was teaching, my wife used to help me dress in the morning and help me into the school and sit me in my chair. Before that I was on my feet all the time. Yet the doctors still didn't know what it was! I got on the internet, typed in 'Zocor', and within ten minutes I knew what it was!
AC: That's the thing, the information is out there, the symptoms are well established! Anyone who is prepared to do even the most basic research can quickly learn about the side effects of statins, yet we have supposedly highly-educated doctors who just seem totally blind to the adverse affects of statins.
AW: The doctor I have now, he wrote a letter for a neurologist I have to go see on Wednesday. He wrote in it "myopathy caused by statins, which is unproven". That's what they all say to me, that it's unproven. I don't know what the hell you have to do to prove it!
AC: Tell us about your compensation claim.
AW: I had been off work for three years, one day I had to take my wife into hospital because she had poisoned her fingers while cray-fishing. While she was getting fixed I saw a brochure in the waiting area that read "Are you having trouble with a health professional?" It had a phone number, I rang it and the lady told me what to do. I had to get all my information together, then I wrote to the ACC. It took nine months to win the battle with them. It had to go to a Professor of medicine, he agreed that even though my CK levels were normal that my problems were caused by statins. I thought, "we've won this". But then I got called into the Hamilton ACC and we had to start all over again! Finally, they conceded that they would pay me the compensation, but then the next day they rang me and said, "there's something wrong, you have to come in and see us." So I went in there, and I said "what's wrong?" They said "we count this as an accident". I had gone for medical misadventure, but they had decided it was a medical mishap, an unlucky accident. They said that, "we're taking the date you came off the medication to be the date of the accident. Because you were already out of work for a year before that date, we're not giving you any compensation". I was absolutely stunned! That night they put me in hospital with a heart condition. The next morning I rang them up and said, "I've thought about it, and I'm going to take you to court, on top of everything else I'm doing". They rang me the next day after that and said, "we'll pay you the compensation". With all the stress, my wife had to give up her job. We've been through hell.
I contacted Merck Sharp & Dohme [the manufacturer of Zocor] here, I asked them lots of questions, I spoke to a lady who was quite good but when I got on to their doctors they weren't very helpful at all. They said "no, what's happened to you could never happen on statins". "Well, you're wrong," I said, "it's in your own information". So then they asked me to fill out a big report, I did a bit of it, but it just seemed like a lot of mumbo-jumbo. I didn't see the point, here in New Zealand you can't sue because of the ACC, whereas in America you could. You must have a muscle biopsy to prove beyond a doubt that the statins are causing muscle damage, but all the doctors have refused to do a biopsy. All they do is make me push and pull against their hands, I can do that OK for a few minutes but then my arms get tired. At night time, if I reach to get a book off the table I just can't pick it up, my shoulders are so weak. It's also in my upper thighs, my toes, my knees, and it goes across my shoulder blades.
AC: So after all this time off statins you are still suffering quite a bit of weakness?
AW: I've improved, that's why I wrote to Doug Peterson, not to give up, because I have improved, but I have a fair way to go yet. This has cost me all my sport, my motorbike racing, everything. We used to travel around the world, we can't do that anymore because I can't get insurance now to travel overseas.
AC: Do you liaise with many other statin users who have had similar problems?
AW: I saw Doug's article in the paper only a month or so ago, and I thought, "I better write to this man", because he was at the stage I had got to. When I read his story I actually shed tears because I knew what he was going through. It's debilitating. It makes you think you are dying. There was a letter to the editor in the paper here by a lady who wrote about her husband, he was only 55, she said that they've turned him into an old man. She was horrified. I wanted to get in touch with her, but of course the paper would not give me her details. I have had people I don't even know get in touch with me in New Zealand who have found out about me. I tell them "I am happy to tell you about what happened to me but I can't advise you whether or not to come off the medication. You need to decide that with your GP." I tell them what happened. My muscle weakness was slow and insidious, it took about nine months after being on Zocor before I felt something was going wrong. They never checked my liver function after putting me on it, and they gave me other drugs that, looking back, I don't think were a very good mix with the statins. When I got crook, they pulled me off everything except the statins. When I gave up the Zocor in the end they tried me on other statins, they said, "you're still not coping with them". I replied, "of course not, it's only been a month, the damage has already been done and it's not going to repair itself within a month!" Then after I won the ACC case, they wanted to put me back on statins and I said, "no, I'm not doing it!"
AC: After all that had happened, they still wanted to put you back on statins?
AW: They wanted to 'test' whether it was the statins that had caused it, I said, "no, I'm not going back on the statins". They ruined my life!
AC: Andy, for people who read this and who may be experiencing statin side effects, what would you advise?
AW: Talk to your doctor and seek out information. The most help I ever got was from pharmacists. The research they did for me was amazing. Most pharmacists knew about it, [the side effects of statins]. One told me that his brother in Australia had been experiencing adverse effects, he sent him all this information and he came off statins straight away. [Doctors] are so reluctant to agree that it's statins.
AC: That seems to be a worldwide experience.
AW: I can't name the doctor, but on three different occasions he pressured me to say he had diagnosed it. I said, "that's absolute rubbish!"
AC: He wanted you to say that he had in fact diagnosed that it was statins causing your problems?
AW: I did it myself, but he was trying to take the credit for it. If it [the ACC claim] had gone through as medical misadventure they [the doctors] would have been in the gunsight. The trouble is, they go before their peers, they go before these doctors' boards, and you can't beat them. Here in New Zealand, it's a closed shop.
AC: Doug, you are going in for an operation soon, when is that?
AW: The ninth of June. I am having a bypass. I really want it done because I have no energy. I need a better quality of life. The saving grace for me has been my wife, my family, our friends, I have workshops doing woodwork. When I first knocked off work, I'd go out in the yard, after an hour I would be so tired I would crawl into the house, lie on the bed for three or four hours and get my strength back. It was debilitating. And they [doctors] did not know what it was. It's been grim, and not getting help from the medical profession …the people who caused it. And the dose was so low!
AC: What is especially disconcerting when I hear stories like yours is that this has been going on for years, yet the medical profession just seems to be getting more and more infatuated with statins, they are making it easier than ever for doctors to prescribe them, even for so-called 'preventive' purposes.
AW: It's like my friend I was telling you about, he got given them without even a cholesterol test.
AC: They prescribe them freely to women and elderly people, even though there is no evidence they will benefit these groups.
AW: That's what I told my sister, I said "you need to come off those, they don't do a woman any good whatsoever." What they are doing is turning healthy people into sick people.
AC: Exactly. All in the name of 'preventive medicine'.
AW: And money. For the drug companies.
AC: Andy, thank you so much for sharing your experiences, and best of luck with your operation. Let me know after you're up and around how it went.
AW: Good to talk to you.
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Anthony Colpo is an independent researcher and certified fitness consultant with 20 years' experience in the physical conditioning arena.