Here is something you and your medical doctor may both be unaware of: the math on prescription drug benefits. If you see a drug advertisement, the numbers sound impressive: 45% or 50% reduction in heart attack, stroke, or bone fracture. That’s what the drug companies tell medical doctors, too. But these numbers are misleading because they are relative, not absolute. Let’s explain this important difference in reporting the math.
Let’s say we study 100 people for 5 years and tally the number of heart attacks. If four people have heart attacks, the absolute risk is 4%. If a second group of 100 people of similar age and lifestyle take a drug for 5 years and three people have heart attacks, the absolute risk has dropped to 3%. The absolute risk reduction from the drug intervention is 1%. However, the relative risk reduction has gone from 4% to 3%, which is a 25% drop in heart attacks. This 25% is what the drug companies broadcast in the news media, in medical education courses, and directly to you as a consumer. But what they are truly hanging their hat on is a 1% benefit, and a 99% chance that the drug will be useless.
Now let’s say you really want to be that one person out of 100 that is able to avoid a heart attack through drug therapy. As an informed consumer, you need to consider the risks of long-term drug therapy. Do the risks outweigh the benefits? For example, is there a 1% chance of developing a chronic illness like diabetes?
Let’s stop using hypothetical numbers. What is the math from medical research journals? Here it is: of people without known heart disease who took statin drugs for 5 years, 98% saw no benefit. The most recent literature suggests a 0.6% risk of developing diabetes as a result of long-term statin drug use. For every 20 people who avoided a heart attack or stroke, 6 people developed diabetes, which carries its own set of cardiovascular risks, plus kidney, visual, and neurological disabilities.
If health truly came in a bottle, Americans would be dying of old age.
About the author: Dr. Barbara Kaiser, DC, CCWP, is a wellness-certified chiropractor at Vital Life Chiropractic in Eagan, Minnesota.