- For decades doctors have prescribed statins to reduce the risk of heart attacks and strokes caused by ‘bad’ cholesterol in the blood
- But now a team of scientists say taking the pills may be a waste of time
- They found no link between high LDL cholesterol and heart disease
Ben Spencer Medical Correspondent For The Daily Mail
18:03 EST, 12 June 2016
02:33 EST, 13 June 2016
For decades doctors have prescribed statins to reduce the risk of heart attacks and strokes caused by ‘bad’ cholesterol in the blood.
But now a team of scientists say taking the pills may be a waste of time for the over-60s – because they found no link between high levels of LDL cholesterol and heart disease.
In fact, this ‘bad’ cholesterol may even have a protective effect by warding off infections and disease, including cancer.
Academics and cardiologists from 17 countries reviewed 19 previous studies, involving 68,000 people.
For decades doctors have prescribed statins to reduce the risk of heart attacks and strokes caused by ‘bad’ cholesterol in the blood (file photo)
They found no link to heart disease and LDL cholesterol – but there were hints that those with higher levels survived longer.
Now their paper, published in the journal BMJ Open, threatens to unsettle one of the major theories that underpin cardiovascular medicine.
Every year an estimated 7million people in Britain are prescribed cholesterol-busting statin pills.
Last night the British Heart Foundation dismissed the report, one of whose authors has long been a prominent critic of statins.
The charity cited decades of research demonstrating that cholesterol is inextricably linked to heart disease.
But the research authors – led by scientists in the UK, Ireland, Sweden and the US – defended their findings.
They wrote: ‘Our review calls for a re-evaluation of the guidelines for cardiovascular prevention, in particular because the benefits from statin treatment have been exaggerated.’
In fact, this ‘bad’ cholesterol may even have a protective effect by warding off infections and disease, including cancer
One author, London cardiologist Dr Aseem Malhotra, who last week stirred up a row by claiming that fat is good for us and carbohydrates are bad, said: ‘The scientific evidence clearly reveals that we must stop fear-mongering when it comes to cholesterol and heart disease and focus instead on insulin resistance, the most important risk factor as a precursor to many chronic diseases.’
Dr Malhotra is a prominent campaigner against statins – highlighting the risk of side effects including muscle pain, cataracts and memory loss.
Another author, Professor Sherif Sultan, of the University of Ireland, said: ‘Lowering cholesterol with medications for primary cardiovascular prevention in those aged over 60 is a waste of time and resources.’
But many experts are not convinced by the findings.
Professor Jeremy Pearson, associate medical director at the British Heart Foundation, said: ‘Unlike studies in younger populations, these studies in the elderly did not find that high LDL cholesterol levels were associated with an increase in deaths.
‘In some of them increased death was also associated with lower LDL cholesterol.
However, this is not surprising because, as we get older, many more factors determine our overall health, making the impact of high cholesterol levels less easy to detect.
‘In contrast, the evidence from large clinical trials demonstrates very clearly that lowering LDL cholesterol reduces our risk of death overall and from heart attacks and strokes, regardless of age.’
Professor John Danesh, of the University of Cambridge, added: ‘The conclusion of the report is contradicted by a vast amount of experimental data, most notably from large randomised drug trials that show reductions in the risk of heart attacks and strokes in both older and younger people who take cholesterol-lowering medications.’