Benefits of statins are exaggerated and not always the best way to prevent heart disease, study claims
- NHS spends £450million a year on cholesterol-lowering drugs
- Most are prescribed as a preventative measure for heart disease, however experts admit they find it difficult to predict who is at risk
PUBLISHED:06:50 EST, 9 August 2012| UPDATED:10:32 EST, 9 August 2012
Cure-all? Statins have had no effect on Britain’s heart disease rate, study claims
Statins are not the best way to prevent heart disease, according to new research.
The cholesterol-lowering drugs are taken by seven million people in the UK, costing the NHS £450million a year.
Conventional medical wisdom states they are a good ‘cure-all’ treatment for heart disease, but making dietary changes could be a more effective tactic, say scientists.
Professor Kausik Ray, of St George’s Healthcare Trust in London, said statins are an effective treatment for many people with heart problems, especially if they have already had a heart attack or stroke.
However, this accounts for only a small amount of patients who are actually prescribed statins. The majority are given to people seen to be ‘at risk’ of the disease.
Professor Ray says it is very difficult to predict who is at risk.
He told Mail Online that cost was the biggest driver to prescribe statins to people at lower and lower risk from heart disease.
He said: ‘Statins are cheap and fairly safe. The costs of the drugs are as low as £1.30 a month compared to £24 a month a few years ago.
‘However, the cost from heart disease for hospital admissions, investigations, stents and bypasses is huge.’
He added to The Sun: ‘For people with no family history of heart problems and others deemed a low risk, other approaches should be used, like eating a good diet full of fish, lean meat, vegetables and low in saturated fat.’
He is one of the experts who has taken part in a documentary due to be released in September, called ‘Statin Nation.’
The director Justin Smith claims the benefits of statins are routinely exaggerated and that the pharmaceutical industry is partly to blame.
He told Mail Online: ‘Creating a drug is a costly and lengthy process so they are encouraging more patients to take existing drugs.’
He said he made the crowd-funded documentary because he believes doctors are being provided with too much information that favours the drugs industry.
However, Professor Peter Weissberg, from the British Heart Foundation, contested this saying: ‘The most commonly used statins are off patent, which means the drug cmopanies no longer have any financial incentive in expanding the market.
‘It is the medical community who is pushing for wider use of statins since they are convinced by the evidence this will reduce heart attacks and strokes in the future.’
Mr Smith also pointed to a 2008 study by Allender et al in Coronary Heart Disease Statistics, which found the heart disease rate did not decline between 1994 and 2006 in men aged 65 to 94 yet high cholesterol levels dropped by 40 per cent.
He added that average cholesterol levels in the UK are low when compared with the rest of Europe, yet the UK has one of the highest rates of heart attacks
Mr Smith said: ‘I hope that the film will prompt more people to ask their doctor questions like: if I take this cholesterol medication, how much longer might I live?
‘This question is important because most people will not receive life extension from statins.’
He added that negative side-effects of statins were not given enough prominence.
However, Maureen Talbot, Senior Cardiac Nurse at the British Heart Foundation, said: ‘Statins are now a very important part of the lives of millions of people and play a vital role in both lowering cholesterol and helping prevent heart attacks.
‘Their importance shouldn’t be underestimated and the potential risk of side effects are outweighed by the proven benefits. The use of statins is the main reason why fewer people have high cholesterol levels now compared to 20 years ago.
‘Your body will always make cholesterol so if you stop taking a statin it’s likely your cholesterol levels will rise. So, if you’re prescribed a statin make sure you take it every day because they’re most beneficial when you take them on a long-term basis. If you develop side effects see your GP as the medicine or dose can be changed. ‘
But she added: ‘It’s worth remembering though that you may be able head off the prospect of being prescribed statins by eating a healthy balanced diet, keeping physically active and maintaining a healthy weight and body shape.