MP calls for an independent review of statins’ effectiveness after leading doctors warned the drugs are ‘overhyped’ and said people may not actually benefit from them
- Former Lib Dem health minister Norman Lamb is calling for the review
- One in 50 who take drug for five years avoid heart attack or stroke, studies show
- But statins are linked to muscle pain, liver damage and increases risk of diabetes
A member of parliament is calling on the Government to review whether statins actually reduce a patient’s risk of heart disease.
Liberal Democrat MP Norman Lamb said he would ask Public Health England to carry out an independent review of the controversial drugs.
Statins lower ‘bad’ cholesterol, with studies suggesting one in every 50 patients who take the medication for five years will avoid a life-threatening heart attack or stroke.
However, statins have been linked to a host of side effects, including muscle pain, liver damage and an increased risk of diabetes.
A group of 20 leading health professionals wrote to the former health minister urging him to ask for the review, saying statins were ‘overhyped’.
The medics, among them NHS doctors and medical unions, say they are sceptical about statins’ benefits because of a ‘shocking lack of transparency’ in trial results.
A statin supporter argues the drugs save lives and have ‘huge amounts of in-depth research’ backing them up.
Statins are once-daily tablets that work to reduce the risk of heart disease (stock image)
Statins are once-daily tablets that work to reduce the risk of heart disease. By inhibiting an enzyme in the liver called HMG-CoA reductase, the drugs lower the production of ‘bad’ cholesterol in the liver.
The drugs are prescribed to millions of Britons and are thought to save 7,000 lives a year, according to the British Heart Foundation (BHF).
Patients are asked to consider taking them if their risk of suffering a heart attack or stroke in the next decade is more than 10 per cent.
The NHS states most people tolerate statins well, however, up to one in 10 endure headaches, high blood sugar levels and nosebleeds.
As many as one in 100 suffer poor memory, insomnia and dizziness after taking the drugs, while one in 1,000 have visual problems, easy bleeding and jaundice.
With confusions over the medications’ benefits versus its risks, medics who are ‘sceptical, neutral or agnostic about statins’ signed the letter.
The document, which states there is an ‘urgent need’ for an investigation, was put together by the NHS cardiologist and anti-obesity campaigner Dr Aseem Malhotra.
It was signed by a host of GPs and other doctors, including Dr Fiona Godlee, editor in chief of The BMJ, and Sir Richard Thompson, former president of the Royal College of Physicians.
WHY ARE STATINS CONTROVERSIAL?
Statins are the most commonly prescribed drug in the world and an estimated 30 per cent of all adults over the age of 40 are eligible to take them.
The cholesterol-lowering drugs are given to people believed to have a 10 per cent or higher risk of developing cardiovascular disease or having a heart attack or stroke within the next 10 years.
They are proven to help people who have suffered heart problems in the past, but experts say the thresholds may be too high, meaning benefits are outweighed by side effects for many people.
Nearly all men exceed the 10 per cent threshold by age 65, and all women do so by age 70 – regardless of their health.
Commonly reported side effects include headache, muscle pain and nausea, and statins can also increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, hepatitis, pancreatitis and vision problems or memory loss.
Research published in the Pharmaceutical Journal last year found taking a daily statin for five years after a heart attack extends your life by just four days, new research reveals.
And Dr Rita Redberg, professor at the University of California, San Francisco told CNN in January that of 100 people taking statins for five years without having had a heart attack or stroke, ‘the best estimates are that one or two people will avoid a heart attack, and none will live longer, by taking statins.
‘All are strongly of the view that such confusion, doubt and lack of transparency about the effects of a class of drug that is so widely prescribed is truly shocking and must be a matter of major public concern,’ the letter states.
iNews reported that Mr Lamb, who used to take statins himself, would ask for the independent review in light of the letter.
The medics argue confusion over the presentation of data in statin trials from several years ago has muddled the benefits of the drugs relative to their risks.
‘There is so much uncertainty and inconsistency about the true, absolute benefits of statins, and the rate and type of side effects,’ the letter states.
‘A completely independent review by scientists without financial or scientific conflicts is urgently needed to give confidence to the prescribers and the public.’
Dr Malhotra argues patients should have ‘an objective account’ of the risks so they can make an ‘informed decision’.
He claims studies suggest statins extend high-risk patients’ lives by just four days after five years of treatment.
The medic goes on to question whether otherwise healthy patients need them.
Mr Lamb was prescribed statins himself in March last year following a small stroke.
The chair of the House of Commons’s Science and Technology Committee, who will stand down as MP for North Norfolk at the next election, claims he came off the drugs after experiencing severe leg plain and shortness of breath.
He said he will write to England’s new chief medical officer, Chris Witty, when he replaces Professor Dame Sally Davies next month.
Mr Lamb cannot be sure his symptoms were caused by statins but maintains there is ‘a very strong case’ for a review.
His committee published a report at the beginning of the year criticising universities for being non-transparent with their study results. Mr Lamb has said any inquiry into statins would be an extension of that investigation.
However, cardiologist Professor Sir Nilesh Samani argues the drugs have real benefits.
‘Statins save lives,’ he said. ‘They’ve been the subject of huge amounts of in-depth scientific research, which time and time again has shown they’re a safe and effective way to prevent heart attacks and strokes.’
Sir Samani, medical director of the BHF, urges patients to take their drugs as prescribed and speak to their doctor with any concerns.
The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) claims statins are safe and cost effective for people with a 10 per cent risk of heart disease over the next decade.
However, it stresses patients should be informed of the benefits versus the risks. NICE told i it is updating its guidelines on heart disease.
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