While many Baby Boomers around the world are prescribed statins to lower the risk of heart attacks, strokes and an array of other cardiovascular diseases that are caused by high cholesterol, fresh doubts have been cast on the effectiveness of the drug.
There’s been plenty of conflicting studies about the effectiveness of statins in the past and the medical community can’t quite agree on how useful the drug can be for millions around the world. Some hail it a “miracle drug” that prevents death, while others, such as the researchers of the latest study, claim it’s ineffective.
New research has claimed there is no evidence that links low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol – known as ‘bad’ cholesterol – to heart disease, with researchers claiming statins may be ineffective in protecting people against these cardiovascular events. The study, published in the Expert Review of Clinical Pharmacology Journal, found that although high cholesterol has been considered the major cause of cardiovascular disease for 50 years, the mechanisms of the disease are more complicated and when used as a primary source of prevention, the benefit of statins to prevent heart disease is doubtful.
The study, based on the data of 1.3 million patients, claimed high levels of bad cholesterol weren’t linked to higher risks of heart disease in the general population. The research also found high levels of LDL cholesterol wasn’t linked to increased heart disease in patients with genetic condition familial hypercholesterolemia or atherosclerosis. The findings conflict with previous studies and data that have claimed atherosclerosis – the fatty deposits that clog arteries – are made of cholesterol.
Researchers made a number of claims in the study, including that LDL cholesterol is beneficial in overall lifespan, that previous studies have ignored negative outcomes from trials to continue statin treatment for patients and that use of statins has many serious side effects.
While many people don’t experience any side effects, others have shown signs of headaches, stomach aches and more serious kidney and liver problems, according to the NHS.
“We suggest that clinicians should abandon the use of statins and PCSK-9 inhibitors, and instead identify and target the actual causes of CVD,” authors of the study said.
The results conflict with information published earlier this year in the Journal of the American Association. Researchers from the University of Iowa said that statins can in fact save lives, particularly when used by people experiencing higher levels of LDL cholesterol.
Study co-author Jennifer Robinson said doctors should treat patients with LDL more aggressively with stains and that patients should feel safe using them. Researchers analysed 34 previous studies of 270,000 patients and found statins were effective in reducing the risk of death when LDL cholesterol levels were 100mg/dl or greater.
“Statins are the safest drugs we have to reduce the risk of heart attacks, strokes, and death in a wide range of patients,” Robinson said in a statement. “Patients with higher LDL cholesterol levels are likely to experience even greater health benefits from taking statins and some of the newer cholesterol drugs.”
Meanwhile, data published earlier this month in the British Medical Journal cast doubt over the effectiveness of statins, with researchers recommending statins shouldn’t be used by healthy older people as a way of preventing heart disease and stroke without a diabetes diagnosis.
The study said widespread use among old and very old patients wasn’t recommended, but that statins could be beneficial for people aged between 75-84 with a type 2 diabetes diagnosis.
While that study acknowledged cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death around the world, especially for people over the age of 75, it noted that evidence is lacking when it comes to people taking statins without a diagnosis of heart disease.
It’s always important to discuss the use of statins and their potential side effects with your GP or health professional.