Benefits of statins are exaggerated and not always the best way to prevent heart disease, study claims
NHS spends 450million a year on cholesterol-lowering drugsMost are prescribed as a preventative measure for heart disease, however experts admit they find it difficult to predict who is at risk

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UPDATED:

12:08 GMT, 9 August 2012

Cure-all Statins have had no effect on Britain's heart disease rate, study claims

Cure-all Statins have had no effect on Britain's heart disease rate, study claims

Statins, cholesterol-lowering drugs which are taken by seven million people in the UK, are not the best way to prevent heart disease, according to new research.

Conventional medical wisdom states that the drugs are a good 'cure-all' but making dietary changes could be a more effective tactic, say scientists.

Professor Kausik Ray, of St George's Healthcare Trust in London, said statins are an effective treatment for many people with heart problems, especially if they have already had a heart attack or stroke.

However, this accounts for only a small amount of patients who are actually prescribed statins. The majority are given to people seen to be 'at risk' of the disease.

Professor Ray says it is very difficult to predict who is at risk.

He added: 'For people with no family history of heart problems and others deemed a low risk, other approaches should be used, like eating a good diet full of fish, lean meat, vegetables and low in saturated fat.'

He is one of the experts who has taken part in a documentary due to be released in September, called 'Statin Nation.'

The director Justin Smith claims the benefits of statins are routinely exaggerated and that the pharmaceutical industry is partly to blame.

He told Mail Online: 'Creating a drug is a costly and lengthy process so they are encouraging more patients to take existing drugs.'

Mr Smith worked for four years as a personal trainer and nutritional coach before writing the book '$29 Billion Reasons to Lie About Cholesterol' in 2009.

He said he made the crowd-funded documentary because he believes doctors are being provided with too much information that favours the drug industry.

He points to a 2008 study by Allender et al in Coronary Heart Disease Statistics, which found heart disease rates did not decline between 1994 and 2006 in men aged 65 to 94 despite high cholesterol dropping by 40 per cent.

He added that average cholesterol levels in the UK are low when compared with the rest of Europe, yet the UK has one of the highest rates of heart attacks

Mr Smith said: 'I hope that the film will prompt more people to ask their doctor questions like: if I take this cholesterol medication, how much longer might I live

'This question is important because most people will not receive life extension from statins.'

He added that negative side-effects of statins were not given enough prominence.

However, Maureen Talbot, Senior
Cardiac Nurse at the British Heart Foundation, said: 'Statins are now a
very important part of the lives of millions of people and play a vital
role in both lowering cholesterol and helping prevent heart attacks.

'Their importance shouldn’t be
underestimated and the potential risk of side effects are outweighed by
the proven benefits. The use of statins is the main reason why less
people have high cholesterol levels now compared to 20 years ago.

'Your body will always make
cholesterol so if you stop taking a statin it’s likely your cholesterol
levels will rise. So, if you’re prescribed a statin make sure you take
it every day because they’re most beneficial when you take them on a
long-term basis. If you develop side effects see your GP as the medicine
or dose can be changed. '

But she added: 'It’s worth remembering though that you may be able head off the
prospect of being prescribed statins by eating a healthy balanced diet,
keeping physically active and maintaining a healthy weight and body
shape.'