A nation addicted to statins: We would rather pop a pill than live a healthy life, warns Oxford University professor

By
Julian Gavaghan

PUBLISHED:

18:26 GMT, 14 March 2012

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UPDATED:

18:31 GMT, 14 March 2012

Britain is at risk of becoming a nation addicted to medicine where people would rather pop a pill than live a healthy lifestyle, an Oxford University academic has warned.

Professor Sarah Harper said the use of cholesterol-lowering statins by the up to seven million Britons was evidence people prefer drugs than other steps such as eating less fatty food or exercising.

The director of the Oxford Institute of Population Ageing said their use was likely to become more widespread.

Warning: Prof Sarah Parker said we are at risk of living in a world where people increasingly depend on drugs like cholesterol-lowering statins

Warning: Prof Sarah Parker said we are at risk of living in a world where people increasingly depend on drugs like cholesterol-lowering statins

She added that academics who advocate those over 45 should take low-dose aspirin to help ward off cancer may also create a medicine dependency culture.

And, in a public lecture on the world's ageing population, Prof Harper, warned: ‘I think we may be entering a world where preventable chronic disease will not be prevented by public health measures tackling lifestyles, but increasingly by drug therapies which will control and reduce symptoms of chronic disease.

‘We have to ask if we wish our future to be one where individuals at increasingly younger ages pop pills rather than eat healthily, stop smoking, reduce alcohol, and take up exercise. Do we want 10-year-olds popping statins’

Prof Harper gave the Oxford London Lecture 2012, titled The 21st Century – the last century of youth at the Church House Conference Centre in Westminster.

She said that the chance of children taking statins was remote. But she noted academics were tending to recommend that people took preventative drugs at an earlier and earlier age.

She told the Daily Telegraph: ‘Drug therapies are fantastic, but we have to be careful that we don't just have drugs where there are healthy living alternatives.’

Statins: The cholesterol-lowering driug are fast developing a reputation as a wonder drug

Statins: The cholesterol-lowering driug are fast developing a reputation as a wonder drug

Taking drugs to combat chronic illnesses like heart disease and diabetes came at a cost, she said – both to the individual and the taxpayer.

‘By all means over-eat and don't take any exercise, but in today's world you may find that means 20 years of chronic disability at the end of your life,’ she explained.

Evidence showed that those who lived healthier lifestyles had many more healthy years than those who did not, she said, something that popping pills alone could not achieve.

Statins in particular are fast gaining a reputation as a wonder drug.

In January, research suggested that a regular dose of cholesterol-lowering drugs could help cut the risk of breast cancer.

New research found a link between a cholesterol-building mechanism in the body and disorganised cell growth characteristic of breast cancer.

Both involved defective versions of a gene called p53, which when treated with cholesterol-lowering statins stopped the invasive growth attributed to the cancer – and in some cases the genes even died.

Study leader Dr Carol Prives, from Columbia University in New York, said: 'The data raises the possibility that we might identify subsets of patients whose tumours may respond to statins.'

'Of course we can't make any definitive conclusions until we know more.

'There are great implications, but nothing clinical yet. Perhaps one could do a clinical trial, and that may support these findings, or it may be more complicated.'