The truth about statins

Statins, once hailed as a miracle drug, have become a divisive topic between doctors and researchers and are at the centre of a bitter feud between two of the world’s biggest medical journals.

The British Medical Journal and The Lancet have been arguing over statins for nearly three years now, with the BMJ claiming the risks associated with the drug are much higher than clinical trials have reported and The Lancet arguing the benefits generally outweigh any negatives.

It all started when the BMJ published an article in 2013 detailing the risks involved with taking statins. It accused clinical trials of failing to own up to the dangers of statins.

Rory Collins, professor of medicine and epidemiology at the University of Oxford and a statin trial leader, angrily hit back in The Lancet saying the BMJ paper was flawed and misleading.

At the centre of the debate between the two journals are two key questions: “Should statins be offered to a wider swathe of the public? And how extensive and serious are the side effects of these cholesterol-lowering drugs?”

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Statins are regularly prescribed to patients to help manage cholesterol levels, diabetes, and to lower the risk of heart attacks.

While their benefits are hailed by some, others say the side effects can be dangerous and create even more health risks for patients.

Which side is right?

With so much public interest in statins, the media is being accused of latching on to one side of the argument and labelling them as either very good or very bad and running with it.

The problem with this is it creates fear and self-medication, with GPs reporting patients taking themselves off the drug because they read it was bad for them.

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While both the BMJ and The Lancet fail to agree on some levels, there is one truth accepted by both parties: statins have prevented heart attacks, strokes and other cardiovascular diseases.

The point of contention comes with how widely they are prescribed and what the possible side effects are.

Rahul Potluri, Clinical lecturer, Aston University, says the truth is that right now there is not enough data or clinical trial results to prove whether or not statins are good for everyone.

Right now, the best evidence we have tells us that statins are good for most patients and until we are definitively told otherwise, doctors say we should continue to follow our GPs advice.

Do you take statins? Do you worry about the possible side effects of statins?