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A walking death: this mad pursuit of health is leading me round in circles

The less nosing around in your body you allow the better you are likely to be for it

This mad pursuit of health is killing me. Or at least statins are killing me and I wouldn’t be taking those were I not in mad pursuit of health. It began with a blood test. Doesn’t it always? I’m in two minds about blood tests because half the people I know who have died only discovered they were dying after they’d taken a blood test. Would they have lived had they kept the secrets of their blood to themselves? Anyone’s guess.

But I agree with those who argue that the less nosing around in your body you allow the better you are likely to be for it. Slip into hospital to have your blood pressure checked and you come out diagnosed with lupus. Every time my friend Mary goes to her doctor with a sore throat he tells her he’d better take a look at her breasts – though that might be something different.

I can’t now remember what originally caused me to let a doctor take that fatal sample of blood which told him my cholesterol was high. This could be because, as reported in the papers recently, some sorts of statins have a deleterious effect on memory. Teach a rat what to do to get a meal, then give him the sort of statin that has a deleterious effect on memory and he’ll run around his cage like a person my age looking for his spectacles. Take him off the statin and he’ll immediately dart straight back to the little box marked “museli”.

This is called scientific research, though whether the researchers took into account the possibility that the statin filled the rat up, or made him nauseous, I don’t know. But that’s it, anyway, for the statin in question, always assuming that the person taking it remembers to go to his doctor to be taken off it.

This isn’t the statin I’m on, as far as I can tell, but that doesn’t mean I’m in the clear. Mine might be of a sort that leaves rats unharmed but does terrible things to white mice. And anyway, there are reasons enough already for me to reconsider the virtue of taking them. Researchers in San Antonio have just published the results of their work into the relationship between statins and cataracts and it isn’t good news. Statins can make you blind. Men of my generation were warned against any number of things on the grounds that they would make us blind, and while most of us can still see in the physical sense, it is possible that we are sufferers, one way or another, from spiritual unseeing. And our lives are not yet over. There is still time for the sins of our youth to catch up with us and cover us with hair.

Statins in particular haven’t finished with us. According to the vascular surgeon Sherif Sultan, a man blessed with two names you don’t argue with, statins can, in otherwise healthy people, increase the risk of diabetes, impotence, insomnia, inflammation of the liver, muscle and joint pain, neurodegenerative disorders such as Parkinson’s disease, and “a myriad of infectious diseases”.

It’s that “myriad of” that frightens me. A myriad is too big and too indefinite a number, and don’t tell me it’s Greek for 10,000, which isn’t at all indefinite. In English it sounds like an enormous flower of evil, whose capacity to poison is boundless.

I’d be better off, if I understand the  anti-statinists correctly, eating greens and walnuts, drinking half a dozen gallons of water, taking a myriad of steps a day (they do, in this instance, mean 10,000), ignoring the floaters in my eyes, and avoiding blood tests. But apart from the cholesterol massing about my heart, what about dementia, the risks of which statins, when they aren’t causing memory loss, are said significantly to lower? What about malignant mesothelioma which some Japanese researchers say backs off the moment it sees a statin coming? And other tumor growth as well?

“Patients with a history of statin drug use have a significantly lower risk of dying from cancer,” I have read. Did I say statins kill? Well here’s an alternative reading: statins keep alive!

It might not be much of a life, unable to see, forgetting where the food is kept, aching in every joint, diabetic, shaking, never sleeping, covered in hair and beyond the help of Viagra, but life is life.

The doctor who originally put me on statins did so because he couldn’t bear to see me trying to lower my cholesterol level by cutting cheese out of my diet. “The man who is tired of cheese,” he began. I finished the sentence for him, “... is tired of living”. But he wanted to go further than that. “It’s a walking death without Pont-l’Évêque,” he said. I disagreed with him. “Keen’s Farmhouse Cheddar,” I said. He shook his head. “Brie de Melun.” He was a private doctor and this was costing me. “Either way,” I said, “statins it is then.” He nodded: “And a bottle of good wine.” “Australian?” “French.” “A night?” “Maybe every other.”

That was the last I saw of him. He clearly didn’t like being a doctor in England and went somewhere where the practice of medicine was not antithetical to pleasure. My next doctor told me to give up cheese and reduce my wine intake by 90 per cent. After that my bowels seized up. Now, if I want to feel remotely well, I have to crack open a magnum, eat a pound of Cheddar and swallow a statin.

As I was finishing this piece I received a prompt from a health site I like to stay in touch with. Hot from the presses of the Underactive Bladder Foundation – New report Links Statin use to Bladder Damage and Urinary Retention. Check it out if you don’t believe me. And then tell me how to look after your health and not in the process ruin it.