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Statin Controversy Continues as Drug's Overall Value Questioned

Nov 19, 2013

Statins—cholesterol-lowering drugs—are again embroiled in controversy. This time, over the role they play in preventing heart attacks.

Statins are prescribed to reduce cholesterol to prevent potentially fatal blood clots, heart attack, and stroke.

Although prevailing information appears to indicate that cholesterol is a key factor in the likelihood of one suffering heart attack, it seems that most people—three-quarters, in fact—have normal cholesterol levels at the time of their first heart attack, according to The Huffington Post.

The Framingham Heart Study, conducted 50 years ago, suggested that cholesterol might have a relatively weak association with heart disease. This finding was followed by other research concerning drugs such as fibrates, niacin, and ezetemibe, and revealed that the drugs lowered cholesterol, but did not help extend life or reduce the likelihood of heart attack, The Huffington Post reported. When 30-year data from the study was reviewed, researchers found that, in most age groups, there were no ties between increased death and high cholesterol. In other people, deaths were more commonly tied to lower cholesterol, according to The Huffington Post.

Statins are considered—from a public health standpoint—a “failure,” especially within the context of heart disease death rates, according to the Huffington Post report.

Deaths associated with heart disease began falling 40 years ago—a decline not impact at all by the increasing popularity of statin use. Meanwhile, medical schools nationwide are not teaching about this apparent medical treatment failure.

Although among heart disease patients, statin use is widely accepted, the numbers still do not reveal any benefits. For every 80 people prescribed a statin, only one life will be saved, noted The Huffington Post; only one in 40 will not have a heart attack. Meanwhile, for every 50 people taking statins, one will develop diabetes. New American Heart Association guidelines appear to expand statin recommendations for people with no known heart disease, according to The Huffington Post. For these people, the likelihood of developing diabetes due to a statin is about the same as the likelihood of avoiding a non-fatal heart attack.

The studies on the drugs were conducted by industry. According to The Huffington Post: “Drug companies with a history of gamesmanship and fraud in the reporting of results” were conducting the research. Also, cardiologists on the committee that documented the guidelines were—in seven out of 15 cases—tied financially to the drug makers.

In related news, research revealed that statin use in the elderly was tied to efficacy issues in this demographic, according to the professional physician group, the AMDA, and its list of five questionable medical tests and treatments.

Statins are considered to be among the best-selling drugs on a worldwide basis and are prescribed to people diagnosed with obesity, diabetes, and metabolic syndrome—a dangerous combination of excess body fat and/or high blood pressure—blood sugar, and/or high cholesterol, according to Medical News Today. Drugs in the statin class are long known to be associated with increased risks for myopathy (severe muscle damage) and should be prescribed with caution; patients should be taking the drug at the lowest possible dose effective, to reduce side effect risks.

Another study found that statins may minimize exercise benefits in obese adults, and prior studies have also found that people who take statins may face increased risks for developing age-related cataracts. Research has also seen that the association between statins and cataracts may be the same as for Type 2 diabetes, also a known risk factor for age-related cataracts. The finding is significant because statin use is typically greater in Type 2 diabetics when compared to the general population. An analysis of previously conducted clinical trials casts doubt over statin efficacy in the prevention of blood clots. Also, a prior ScienceDaily report found that 30 prior trials of statin drugs revealed the drugs were barely effective at preventing blood clots, if at all.

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