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Fast food to be served with a side-order of statins? No thanks

Posted Aug 13 2010 5:16am

Many doctors and scientists have nearly unbridled enthusiasm for the class of cholesterol-reducing drugs known as statins. One example of this comes in the form of a study from a group of researchers which claims that taking a statin can counteract the potentially heart-stopping effects of fast food [1]. The researchers suggest that fast food establishments might, therefore, dish out statins along with the food they serve. (No, this is not a joke).

What is being suggested here, therefore, is that usually-prescribed and potentially harmful medication is doled out to all and sundry. No account, it seems, need be taken of individuals’ medical history or need. Some of those being offered ‘over-the –counter’ may have good reason not to take statins, because perhaps of pre-existing conditions or current medications that makes statins contraindicated. No matter – let ‘em have it all the same.

And to what end? Well, as we now know, while statins can reduce the risk of heart attack, they do not reduce overall risk of death for the vast majority of people who take them (individuals who are essentially healthy with no history of ‘cardiovascular disease’). For more on this, see here .

And while some doctors and scientists would have us believe that statins are some sort of magical elixir, I feel duty bound to highlight the fact that these drugs are most certainly not without risk. Statin therapy is associated with enhanced risk of several major side effects including muscle weakness and/or pain (myopathy), liver damage , kidney failure and cataracts. Earlier this year, the British Medical Journal study published a review of the risks/benefits of statin therapy [1]. Here, in summary, are the findings of this study:

For every 10,000 women at high risk of CVD treated with statins, we would expect approximately 271 fewer cases of cardiovascular disease and 8 fewer cases of oesophageal cancer. However, there would be 23 extra patients with kidney failure, 307 extra patients with cataracts; 74 extra patients with liver dysfunction; and 39 extra patients with myopathy.

For every 10,000omen at high risk of CVD treated with statins, we would expect approximately 301 fewer cases of cardiovascular disease, 9 fewer cases of oesophageal cancer, 29 extra patients with kidney failure, 191 extra patients with cataracts; 71 extra patients with liver dysfunction; and 110 extra patients with myopathy.

Do the maths here and you will be able to quickly calculate that for each person ‘saved’ from cardiovascular disease and oesophageal cancer, more than one person will suffer from a major side effect of the medication.

Also, it is perhaps prudent to bear in mind that this study focused specifically on data relating to individuals deemed to be at high risk of cardiovascular disease. Why is this relevant? Well, because statins benefit these people the most. However, most people taking statins are not actually at high risk of cardiovascular disease. For such individuals, the benefits are likely to be considerably lower than those elucidated in this study (while risks are likely to be about the same).

Now, of course, there’s always going to be some doctors and scientists that will not hear any talk of statins not being the best thing since sliced bread. However, the facts show these drugs have limited benefits for most, and may come with a heavy price to pay (in more ways than one).

My stance here is based on published research. And here again, there are two sides to this coin. It’s not difficult to find doctors and scientists quote chapter and verse regarding all the wonderful studies which purport to demonstrate the manifold benefits of statins drugs. But the scientific research and the way it has been presented to the medical profession and members of the public does appear to have been prone to significant ‘bias’. There is quite compelling evidence, I think, that demonstrates that pharmaceutical companies and those in their pay have been a bit selective about the data that has made its way into the public domain. The interpretation of the evidence seems to have been subject to bias as a result of vested interest too. See here for more about this.

The suggestion that statins be served as a ‘healthy’ side-order to fast food serves to remind us just how narrow a view many in the medical and scientific establishment hold of these drugs. The facts are, though, that the ‘evidence’ on statins seems hugely biased and perverted by vested interest, and there is good evidence that these drugs harm more people than they help. As a result, I personally won’t be taking statins any time soon.


1. Ferenczi EA, et al. Can a Statin Neutralize the Cardiovascular Risk of Unhealthy Dietary Choices? Am J Cardiol. 2010;106(4):587-592.

2. Hippisley-Cox J, et al. Unintended effects of statins in men and women in England and Wales: population based cohort study using the QResearch database BMJ 2010;340:c2197

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