Two peer reviewed research papers that were published in the British Medical Journal in October 2013 concluded that statins were dangerous because of some aggressive side effects. There are concerns that research was flawed.
While there are some know side effects associated with taking statins, these side effects are far less severe than a fatal heart attack, which is more likely if you have high low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol in the blood. This is the cholesterol which raises risk of heart disease, and statins reduce it.
The authors of the two papers, Dr John Abramson from Harvard Medical School and UK cardiologist Dr Aseem Malhotra, have already retracted some statements after they realised that the figures in the reports were wrong.
The BMJ is currently reviewing both articles to decide if they should be deleted completely.
The main points from the research papers;
Dr John Abramson paper:
“A review of statins for primary prevention of cardiovascular disease could alter guidance for those with a 10 year risk of less than 10%. John Abramson and colleagues argue that statins have no overall health benefit in this population and that prescribing guidelines should not be broadened”. (BMJ 2013;347:f6123 – details below).
Dr Aseem Malhotra paper:
“The mantra that saturated fat must be removed to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease has dominated dietary advice and guidelines for almost four decades.
Yet scientific evidence shows that this advice has, paradoxically, increased our cardiovascular risks. Furthermore, the government’s obsession with levels of total cholesterol, which has led to the overmedication of millions of people with statins, has diverted our attention from the more egregious risk factor of atherogenic dyslipidaemia.”
This is not such an aggressive attack on statins. but instead suggests that statins are often over-medication and that cholesterol and saturated far are not a problem.
This is the sort of argument that we hear from the paleo / natural diet / primal fitness communities – that fat is good, sugar bad, protein awesome. Too much of anything is bad, fat and protein included.
The issues with the research
Dr Abramson’s paper used an “uncontrolled observational study” and he concluded that 18-20 per cent of patients suffer side-effects from taking statins.
Dr Malhotra made a similar error with the analysis of the patient data.
We have seen in the past how falsities in research can result in serious health problems. When Wakefield reported that the MMR vaccination was linked with autism, thousands of parents decided not to vaccinate their children. Measles rates increased and some areas saw serious outbreaks. All of his research was found to be false.
In the UK around seven million people are taking statins to lower cholesterol. Many people in the UK follow the advice of their doctors, however, in countries such as America, where health costs are much higher for patients, many people jump at the chance to ignore medical advice – especially when other doctors are providing “evidence” that the drugs don’t work.
Always read the level and consult with your doctor
Statins are not without their problems but they save lives. They do conflict with some other drugs and can cause unpleasant side effects, one of which is muscle damage.
Common side effects
Most people suffer no side effects at all, and many will only suffer minor side effects, such as upset stomach, feeling unwell and headaches.
Serious side effects include conditions such as kidney failure. However, statistics from the British Heart Foundation show that only 1 in 10,000 people will develop serious side effects.
9,999 people out of 10,000 are OK
That is 9,999 people reducing risk of heart attack against one person developing another serious condition.
Statins help prevent heart attacks. Also, conditions such as type 2 diabetes, which causes cholesterol and vascular problems, also increase risk of developing kidney disease. So we cannot be certain that the rate cases of kidney disease are caused by the statins – diabetes may be a greater risjk factor.
The research papers (subject to change)
Should people at low risk of cardiovascular disease take a statin?
BMJ 2013; 347 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.f6123 (Published 22 October 2013)
Cite this as: BMJ 2013;347:f6123