Statins beneficial even for those without any history of cardiovascular disease
Anyone over the age of 50 with a history of heart problems will have been given advice on how to maintain a healthy diet and do regular exercise to prevent further illness – they’ll also likely have been offered statins to help keep bad cholesterol levels low. But, according to new research published in medical journal The Lancet, these aren’t the only individuals whose health could be improved with the medication. It seems that even people who show no signs of cardiovascular problems would be at reduced risk of vascular-related health problems such as high blood pressure, stroke and heart attack if they took statins regularly.
The researchers undertook a meta-analysis (where the results of several studies are compared and assessed) of 27 trials, encompassing 175,000 study participants in total. They looked specifically at the effects of statins on LDL (bad) cholesterol and the resulting risk of heart-related illness. The studies not only assessed whether statins had a beneficial effect compared to not taking any form of statins, but also whether the quantity of medication had a correspondingly greater effect. They found that for each 1mmol/litre reduction in LDL cholesterol participants had a 21% reduction in risk of a serious vascular event – this was true even for people who had the lowest overall risk of heart problems before taking any statins.
Furthermore, statin therapy was not found to increase risk of cancer or deaths from other non-heart-related health issues, leading the study authors to conclude that statin use’s benefits far outweigh any potential hazards. They also believe that because of the benefits seen even in patients who had no signs of vascular issues current guidelines should be changed, promoting statin use for people who would not typically be judged as needing statin treatment. They suggest that age – anyone over 50 – be used as an indicator as to when to prescribe statins. Rather than screening patients first, an expensive process costing the NHS anything from £7 to £700 per person, everyone over 50 would automatically be offered statins.
Statins are not the only way to lower LDL cholesterol levels, however. Last year a Canadian study found that a diet containing sterol-enriched margarine, soya, wholegrains such as oats and barley, and nuts and pulses, helped reduce LDL levels in participants by 15% in six months. Reducing the amount of processed foods you eat – which are often high in saturated fats, salt and sugar – and increasing the amount of fresh fruit and vegetables will also cause LDL levels to fall.