New research casts doubt on the effectiveness of statins

New research doesn't recommend healthy older adults take statins to reduce cardiovascular disease. Source: Getty

Many Baby Boomers are prescribed statins for a number of different health conditions, although there’s still a lot of debate about the effectiveness of the medication. While some claim they do wonders for their health, others believe there’s no benefit in taking them.

Statins are typically prescribed to lower the risk of heart attacks, strokes and other cardiovascular diseases that can occur when low-density lipoprotein cholesterol – known as ‘bad’ cholesterol – is too high. However, a new study published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) has cast doubt over the effectiveness of statins, even recommending they shouldn’t be used by healthy older people as a way of preventing heart disease and stroke without a diabetes diagnosis.

Research by the University Institute of Primary Care Research Jordi Gol and Girona Biomedical Research Institute said that widespread use among old and very old people wasn’t recommended, however the treatment could be beneficial for people aged 75-84 with type 2 diabetes.

While researchers acknowledge cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death around the world, especially for people over the age of 75, they noted that evidence is lacking when it comes to people taking statins without a diagnosis of heart disease.

Read more: The facts to know when it comes to taking statins

As such, researchers set out to determine whether statin treatment is actually associated with a reduction in cardiovascular disease and death in people aged over 75. Using information from the Catalan primary care system database, 46,864 people over the age of 75 with no history of cardiovascular disease were identified between 2006 and 2015.

For patients without diabetes, statin treatment was not linked with a reduction of cardiovascular disease. However, patients with diabetes saw their cardiovascular disease risk reduced by 24 per cent and mortality by 16 per cent.

Researchers noted that the study was observational, meaning firm conclusions about cause and effect could not be determined, but still do not support the widespread use of statins for those without type 2 diabetes because the study was high quality with a large sample size.

Experts have now reacted to the findings, causing further debate around the effectiveness of statins.

“Although this data is observational, and not as reliable as a clinical trial, it casts some doubt about the value of this medication in non-diabetic adults beyond 75 who do not have a specific reason to be taking them,” Professor John McNeil, head of department of epidemiology and preventive medicine at Monash University said.

“However, it is by no means the last word on the subject and emphasises the importance of large-scale studies such as the Australian STAREE trial to resolve this question more definitively.”

Read more: Use of statins linked to rare muscle disorder

Meanwhile, Clinical Cardiologist Dr David Colquhoun said the study was “the weakest form of research”.

“What this study tells us is there is no substitute for good science and good clinical trials, and retrospective analysis of invoices of prescriptions linked to databases of unknown accuracy is not useful to assess the efficacy of lipid-lowering drug therapy,” he said.

It’s always important to discuss the effectiveness and potential side effects of any medication with your GP before taking them.

Do you take statins? Do you think they benefit your health, or do you believe they are ineffective?

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