Millions of patients are being misled about the pros and cons of statins, experts claimed last night.
Accusing the medical establishment of perpetuating a ‘great cholesterol con’, they questioned whether statin pills are as effective as claimed.
The group of doctors, from Britain, the US, France and Ireland, said the very theory on which statins are based – that lowering ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol cuts heart disease – is ‘fundamentally flawed’.
Writing in the Prescriber medical journal, they said the side-effects of statins may be far more common than major studies suggest – and called for companies and academics to publish their raw data so others could independently analyse the results.
Others last night dismissed their claims – and said the evidence that statins save lives is ‘overwhelming’.
Most cardiologists think cholesterol-busting statin pills are a cheap, safe and effective way of preventing heart attacks and strokes among an ageing and increasingly obese population.
But many others are uneasy about prescribing drugs to patients ‘just in case’ they have heart problems later on. And authors of the new piece, led by London cardiologist Dr Aseem Malhotra, question whether they are even as effective as thought, claiming the ‘cholesterol con’ has led to ‘overmedication’ of millions.
Instead, they say, clinicians should focus on diet and lifestyle.
The authors, including Dr John Abramson, of Harvard Medical School, cite research published earlier this year which found no link between high LDL-cholesterol levels and heart deaths among over-60s.
In the article entitled The Great Cholesterol Con, they wrote: ‘A lack of an association between LDL cholesterol and cardiovascular disease in those over 60 years from a recent systematic review suggests that the conventional cholesterol hypothesis is fundamentally flawed.’
Dr Malhotra said last night: ‘Decades of misinformation on cholesterol and the gross exaggeration of statin benefits with downplaying of side effects has likely led to the overmedication of millions.‘
He added: ‘It’s time to enter a new era for full independent access to all clinical trials data so doctors can make decisions on treatments with patients with full transparency about true benefits and risks. Until then let’s open our eyes and stop buying into the great cholesterol con.’
A row over the benefits and risks of statins have escalated since a major review in The Lancet in September concluded they were safe and their benefits far outweighed any harm.
That study, led by Oxford University, was intended to be the final word on statins. But just a week later, rival journal the BMJ cast doubt on the assertions by claiming ‘adverse’ side effects were far more common than the study implied. Dr Malhotra, advisor to the National Obesity Forum, last night said the argument could be ended if all raw data was published openly.
He was backed by Sir Richard Thompson, the Queen’s former personal physician, who said: ‘For hundreds of years physicians have clung to outdated and ineffective treatments. Could statins be now the latest star to fall? Have patients and the public been misled over them for many years?‘
But others said the benefits of statins are ‘well-proven’. Some estimate the daily pills – which cost the NHS around £2 a month – prevent at least 80,000 heart attacks and strokes in Britain each year.
NHS watchdog NICE advises all adults with a 10 per cent chance of developing heart disease in the next decade be considered for statins – meaning up to 17million are eligible. In reality, between 6million and 10million are thought to take them…