The Other Drug Problem

PAMELA WEINTRAUB

The prescriptions we take to regulate cholesterol, blood pressure and stomach acid are supposed to make us healthier. But could these medications be doing us more harm than good?

He had been a faculty member in three departments of a major university with an IQ north of 180. Over time, the professor lost the ability to recognize people he’d known closely for decades and to read more than a page of text at a time. He’d repeat the same thing over and over, not recalling he’d already said it. The diagnosis: rapidly progressive Alzheimer’s. When he went to his 50th college reunion, he wore a sign around his neck with his name and the statement, I have Alzheimer’s. Old friends needed an explanation for why he couldn’t recognize people he’d known for decades or repeated himself endlessly throughout the night.

His condition seemed hopeless when he applied to enter a clinical trial testing a new Alzheimer’s drug at Duke University.

Before he started the clinical trial, his wife took him off his cholesterol-lowering statin drug, simvastatin. By the time he got to Duke, he was no longer qualified to participate; he didn’t have Alzheimer’s, doctors said. Instead, he entered another study: The Statin Study Group, directed by University of California at San Diego (UCSD) physician and scientist Beatrice Golomb, MD, PhD. “There are people with extremely severe functional deficits caused by statin drugs,” Golomb says. Two years after he stopped taking simvastatin, the patient reported his recovery was complete. His mind was clear and he was back to reading three newspapers daily.

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DRUGSSandra Ishkanes