Statins: Bad Idea for People with Good Hearts?

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heart attack, heart problems, stock, 4x3
(istockphoto)

(CBS) Statins can be a godsend to people with heart disease, but for those with healthy tickers, the risks posed by the cholesterol-lowering drugs may outweigh the benefits.

That's the word from English scientists, whose new study raises questions about the conclusions of previous research highlighting the benefits of statins, including popular drugs like Lipitor and Crestor.

The scientists reviewed 14 studies involving more than 34,000 patients, some of whom received statins and others placebos. They found little evidence that statins prevent heart trouble in patients with no history of cardiovascular disease, according to a written statement released by the study's publisher. And there is evidence linking low cholesterol levels with increased risk of death from other causes.

"It is not as simple as just extrapolating the effects from studies in people who have a history of heart disease," lead researcher Fiona Taylor, of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine in London, said in the statement. "This review highlights important shortcomings in our knowledge about the effects of statins in people who have no previous history of CVD. The decision to prescribe statins in this group should not be taken lightly."

One problem, said Taylor, is that most of the studies they reviewed were sponsored by the drug industry.

"We know that industry-sponsored trials are more likely to report favorable results for drugs versus placebos, so we have to be cautious about interpreting these results," Taylor said.

What do drug makers say?

Pfizer, maker of Lipitor, said it was still reviewing the report, Reuters reported. But the company said that studies involving more than 80,000 patients have shown Lipitor to be safe and effective.

"Managing cardiovascular disease risk factors is complicated, and prescribing decisions should be based on a physician's full assessment of each patient's individual risk factors and needs," said Pfizer spokesman MacKay Jimeson, according to Reuters.

Statins or no statins, there clearly a need for safe, effective ways to reduce the toll taken by ticker trouble. In the U.S. alone, more than 80 million people have some form of cardiovascular disease, according to the American Heart Association. It causes one in every three deaths.

  • David W Freeman

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