For decades, statins like Lipitor and Crestor were the first line of treatment to help regulate cholesterol levels. Two drugs in a new class of cholesterol medicines called PCSK9 inhibitors were recently approved by the FDA. As we saw with statins causing type 2 diabetes, drugs meant to benefit patients in one way often end up harming them in a completely different way. The question facing doctors, patients and the medical industry now is, will these new drugs do more harm than good?
The first line of debate has centered on how much these new drugs Praluent and Repatha cost. The first drug approved, Praluent, showed in studies to reduce LDL cholesterol by up to 60%, which is significantly higher than statins. Despite this, there is not any data showing Praluent actually reduces heart attacks, strokes and heart disease. The studies measuring these real-life outcomes are not expected until 2017.
The companies that manufacture Praluent and Repatha announced the drugs would cost upwards of $14,000 per patient per year, which is double the cost in Europe. This is exorbitantly high, considering most patients are put on cholesterol-lowering drugs for the rest of their lives.
In the New York Times, Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel argues that these high prices will ultimately be reflected in higher insurance premiums for all Americans. Insurance companies spread financial risks and costs across large populations, so even if we do not personally need or take extremely expensive new cholesterol-lowering drugs, we still end up paying for it. The costs are masked in increasing premiums and taxes.
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He mentions a few solutions, the most promising being a new pricing system where we pay for the actual value of the medication. In other words, high drug prices must be justified by high health benefits. Another, more important and far-reaching solution would be to prioritize lifestyle changes over drugs. At the moment, about a quarter of Americans over the age of 40 take a statin, which are affordable due to generic manufacturers. With this new class of drugs, patients may be tempted to start on PCSK9 inhibitors because they lower LDL cholesterol more efficiently, thereby increasing insurance premiums nationwide. But what if these patients were told high cholesterol was manageable by changing their lifestyle? That neither statins nor PCSK9 drugs were necessary, and all this could be avoided?
Eating Habits, Activity Levels, and Cholesterol
So many Americans underestimate the effects of healthy living habits on their health. They assume that a pill like Lipitor will safely and effectively manage their cholesterol levels on its own, only finding out too late that Lipitor is associated with a high risk of developing type 2 diabetes, which is a very serious illness itself.
Assuming that drugs will manage their health for them, these patients continue to eat foods with low nutritional value and high saturated fat content and live largely sedentary lifestyles. Experts all agree, however, that statins and PCSK9s work best when taken with a heart-healthy diet and regular exercise. They agree that drugs should only be a last resort, but far too many people are seeing medication as the best and only solution to their health problems.
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New research points to specific diets that are best for heart disease, specifically the Mediterranean diet. Studies also suggest this diet may reduce risk of Alzheimer’s, cancer, Parkinson’s disease, arthritis, and diabetes. The Mediterranean diet centers on fresh, antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables, seafood, nuts and beans, and white meat without the skin. A full recount of the Mediterranean diet can be found here.
Regular physical exercise is also immensely important. Cardiovascular benefits are proven even for those people who do not lose weight after starting an exercise regimen. Do not underestimate the power of lifestyle changes when faced with high cholesterol.
Our team of Lipitor lawyers are currently accepting cases of type 2 diabetes development from Lipitor use. If you or someone you love was recently diagnosed with type 2 diabetes after taking Lipitor, contact our firm for a free case review. You may be entitled to compensation for your medical bills, emotional distress, and lost quality of life.