$tatin Nation: The Ill-Founded War on Cholesterol, What Really Causes Heart Disease, and the Truth about the Most Overprescribed Drugs in the World
By Justin Smith
Chelsea Green Publishing
If you are reading Wise Traditions, you are probably familiar with the history, debates and issues surrounding saturated fat, cholesterol, heart disease, stroke and statins. Indeed, most likely you may know more than many doctors and health care providers do about these things. Justin Smith’s $tatin Nation may not provide too much new information, but it does provide a concise, comprehensive and convenient format for reviewing many, if not all, of the most important issues at play. It does so in a comprehensible and clear manner, making the book an excellent option to recommend to those wanting to learn more about statins.
In the preface, Smith starts off on the right foot and doesn’t look back for the rest of the work. He says, “What I learned was that much of what we are told about healthy eating is wrong….It became obvious that what we think about a wide range of health issues is determined by commercial interests and experts who are more interested in preserving their own careers than in properly informing the public.” This statement serves as a summary of what much of the book is about—showing how neither researchers nor sources of health advice are shooting straight with those who suffer under their biased and incorrect recommendations about food and pharmaceuticals.
The first chapter explores the causes of heart disease. It is full of excellent, short observations that undermine the saturated fat-cholesterol model of heart disease. Smith points out that the “greatest risk of death was associated with having no risk factors [for heart disease]; people with none of the five risk factors were 1.5 times more likely to die after a heart attack than people who had all five.” He continues a few pages later, “So-called bad cholesterol is actually lower in people with heart disease, not higher.” This attack on heart disease research will take center stage in a few chapters, but here, it is just a teaser of good things to come.
The third and fourth chapters are the heart of the book. Chapter Three explores the shady world that is the pharmaceutical industry, with all its disease-mongering, drug-pushing and back-door dealing. Smith explains that many drug companies now spend more on marketing than on research and development! Further, companies target most of their marketing at health professionals, rather than consumers (which amazes me, given the constant barrage of pharma commercials that appears on nightly television these days). This “educational” marketing then shapes how doctors approach their patients and their patients’ problems. Ever wonder why modern medicine involves little more than the following? “Hi. What’s wrong? Let me look at this drug industry-written book and give you drug X, maybe Y and possibly Z for that.” This is how medicine and the pharmaceutical industry train, condition and reward doctors.
Smith notes that the incestuous pharma-medicine relationship goes even further. The decision to lower the definition of “high cholesterol” from 250 to 200 was reached by a panel of nine doctors, eight of whom had ties to pharmaceutical companies that manufacture statins. These ties can range from reimbursements for professional trips, drug samples, food and drinks provided in the workplace, payments for consulting and speaking engagements and much more. Learning about these industry incentives is enough to raise your blood pressure to dangerous levels, so reader beware!
Chapter Four delves into statin science, exploring the host of studies that medicine often uses to justify America’s most prescribed drug. This picks up where Chapter Three ended, with its exposé of how drug companies actually pay for and conduct most clinical studies, and how the journals that publish the studies are rife with conflicts of interest and other ethical issues. After exploring a number of major statin studies, Chapter Four moves on to statins’ so-called “mild” side effects. Needless to say, they are not as mild as the manufacturers want the masses to believe.
In Chapter Five, Smith argues for an integrated theory of what causes heart disease, starting with the concept of stress and then reviewing immune, environmental and even electromagnetic factors. There is no mention of diet in this section. Why he chose to leave this out would be a fascinating question to pose to Smith, but on page 123, he does give nutritional advice that is absolutely solid, albeit, like the entire book, short—meat, eggs and dairy from organic farms; fermented foods; high-quality vegetables; and more. Perhaps Smith felt that others have dealt with the dietary side of things so much at this point that including a great deal about it would be redundant. On the other hand, the book is probably one place where Wise Traditions readers will find new and rather fascinating information about other factors related to heart disease, such as a long-known link between solar activity and heart attacks. Chapter Six is all about CoQ10 and contains lots of great information, some of which I had not previously come across before.
Chapter Seven covers “nutrition for the heart,” including various vitamins and minerals. Again, the chapter contains a great deal of interesting information and analysis of some topics that I had not previously encountered or considered. Especially illuminating are Smith’s points about the connection between vitamins, minerals and other important chemicals or structural components of the body—B vitamins and homocysteine levels, or vitamin C and collagen production. His look at magnesium is also insightful. The chart showing that the foods highest in magnesium tend to be nuts may point to the real reason that a handful of nuts a day is protective against heart disease. In other words, it has little to do with nuts’ fat profile (nuts are high in polyunsaturated fatty acids or PUFAs, which already are overloaded in most Americans’ diets), and everything to do with helping increase magnesium levels. In a world with a far too high calcium-to-magnesium ratio, nuts are one of the few remaining foods that can bring balance to this crucial mineral in our diets.
The book’s concise conclusion is a brisk seven pages, with solid information on stress, exercise, nutrition, supplementation and a few other topics. There won’t be anything here to surprise a WAPFer, but the information may help many people who are just starting out on the journey to real health and nutrition.
Smith’s book is accessible and easy to read, making it a great gift for someone who wants a general but non-technical and not too jargony discussion of heart disease, diet and statin drugs. Because the book is short, coming in at just over one hundred and twenty pages, it will strike an average reader as unintimidating in terms of commitment, while not skimping on quality. At the same time, it includes thirty pages of meticulous footnotes, with some chapters tallying up one hundred citations or more. Thus, the reader wanting to explore the book’s assertions will not need to go far to find the primary and other resources that Smith relies on. Books like $tatin Nation will play an important part in continuing to turn the tide of public opinion, providing accessible options for interested readers to at least consider that much of modern nutrition and medicine is built upon lies. Two thumbs UP.
This article appeared in Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts, the quarterly magazine of the Weston A. Price Foundation, Winter 2017.