Review questions data supporting statins to prevent heart disease

do statins prevent heart disease?

Statin drugs are a multi-billion dollar business and drug companies want to convince healthy people to take them too. Image: CC Wikimedia Commons

Statins, drugs that lower cholesterol levels, are aggressively marketed to an aging U.S. population. Proven to reduce cholesterol, statins are now being marketed to prevent heart disease. But a review of studies supporting statins as preventative medicine suggests the evidence is skewed by pharmaceutical companies.

Drug companies feast on billions in statin sales

Statin drugs racked up $35 billion in sales for drug companies, according to IMS, a pharmaceutical consulting firm. Pfizer’s statin drug, Lipitor, was the number one selling drug in the world last year with $13.3 billion in sales. Millions of people with high cholesterol now have lower cholesterol levels with Lipitor. AstraZeneca, in a race to catch up with Pfizer, has convinced the Food and Drug Administration to approve its statin Crestor as a drug for healthy people who want to prevent heart disease. But a British research group reviewing drug industry statin studies conducted on people at low risk for heart disease has concluded the benefits are overstated.

Drug companies skew statin drug studies in their favor

An analysis of data gathered from 14 different statin drug studies was published by The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. It concluded that there is no evidence supporting the use in statins for people with low risk of developing heart disease. The Cochrane statin review found that while statins help prevent additional heart attacks in people with heart disease, there is no evidence suggesting that statins prevent heart attacks for people who are unlikely to have one. Cochrane researchers also found established relationships between drug companies and the researchers they hired to conduct the studies, who cherry-picked data to achieve favorable outcomes. Pharmaceutical companies argue that its all in how “low risk” is defined and that statin drugs save money in the health care system because they are cheaper than surgery and other forms of treatment.

Statin side effects outweigh benefits for healthy people

Statin drugs help people genetically predisposed to high cholesterol protect their health. However, statin benefits come with side effects such as memory loss and degeneration of muscle tissue, as well as liver and kidney problems. Statin drugs are available by prescription and sold over the counter. Physicians commenting on the Cochrane statin review suggested that people see their doctor to determine their risk level for heart disease before taking statins. If their risk level is low, they are likely to receive no discernible benefit, and risk possible side effects.


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