Statin Risks May Outweigh Benefits

February 23, 2015
Meghan Ross, Associate Editor

While statins can effectively reduce cholesterol levels, a new study has found that the medications leave much to be desired in terms of substantially improving cardiovascular symptoms.

While statins can effectively reduce cholesterol levels, a new study has found that the medications leave much to be desired in terms of substantially improving cardiovascular symptoms.

The research, which was published in Expert Review of Clinical Pharmacology, posited that the cholesterol-lowering drugs are not as safe as many providers and patients believe.

The study authors argued that the touted benefits of statins have been spread using a statistical tool called relative risk reduction, which some statin advocates use to show the drugs’ ability to reduce cardiovascular disease in a significant percentage of the population. However, this method “amplifies the trivial beneficial effects of statins,” according to the researchers.

The authors stated that statins would help 1 of 100 individuals to experience 1 fewer heart attack, meaning the drugs benefit 1% of the population. According to the study authors, statin advocates use this “absolute risk” statistic to produce another statistic for “relative risk,” which creates that appearance that statins can benefit 30% to 50% of the population.

To the study authors, the negatives outweigh the positives for statin use. For example, 1 study showed a significant increase in the incidence of breast cancer among women who took statins for more than 10 years. Statins can also cause increased rates of cataracts, diabetes, cognitive impairments, and musculoskeletal disorders.

The researchers encouraged more dialogue about statins’ adverse side effects among health care providers and the public.

Study author David M. Diamond, PhD, professor of psychology, molecular pharmacology, and physiology at the University of South Florida, told Pharmacy Times in an exclusive interview that pharmacists could communicate to patients that there is almost no mortality benefit from statin use.

“It’s a bit like winning the lottery,” Dr. Diamond told Pharmacy Times. “Will you be in the 1% that gets a benefit from a statin?”

Pharmacists could also counsel patients on other ways to reduce their cardiovascular risk, such as quitting smoking, exercising, eating right, and lowering stress. The researchers also added that a low carbohydrate diet could help normalize biomarkers of cardiovascular risk, especially for patients with type 2 diabetes.

Specifically, reducing sugar and fried food consumption could help reduce heart disease incidence with no adverse side effects, Dr. Diamond told Pharmacy Times.

“For that small chance at getting a positive drug response, in return, there is a substantial risk of the adverse effects we described in our paper, including statin-induced diabetes,” Dr. Diamond told Pharmacy Times.