Should Everyone Over 50 Be Given Statins?

Here we go again with the call for statins to be given to more and more people. Poppycock. Especially when you actually see the statistics of how well they work.

I have read a few reports this week on the subject. One of the best was from Dr Briffa. You can read his whole blog post here: Statins For Healthy People? Hang On A Minute… but, for now, here are a couple of salient quotes for you to hammer the point home:

For low risk people: when we look at risk of death from any vascular event (a heart attack or stroke), we find that statins did not reduce risk in individuals deemed to be at low risk (<10 per cent over 5 years). This, by the way, was even true for those who had known vascular disease.

How many ‘vascular events’ (ie, heart attack and stroke) do they prevent?: We’re told by the authors this meta-analysis that treating with statins prevented 11 major vascular events for every 1000 people treated for a period of 5 years. Put another way, 91 people would need to be treated for 5 years to prevent one major vascular event. Or in other words, only about 1 per cent of people treated with statins for 5 years will benefit (and about 99 per cent won’t).

How many deaths would be avoided? the actual reduction in risk of death was 0.2 per cent per year. What this means is that at this level of cholesterol reduction, 500 individuals would need to be treated with statins for a year for one person to have his/her life saved.

NutriLink also came out with some useful stats to put it all in perspective. Look at these, which are based on what is known as the NNT, the numbers needed to treat, an official measure of a drug’s effectiveness:

Statin Drugs given for 5 years for heart disease prevention (without known heart disease)

• 98% saw no benefit 
• 0% were helped by being saved from death 
• 1.6% were helped by preventing a heart attack 
• 0.4% were helped by preventing a stroke 
• 1.5% were harmed by developing diabetes* 
• 10% were harmed by muscle damage

In Other Words:

• None were helped (life saved) 
• 1 in 60 were helped (preventing heart attack) 
• 1 in 268 were helped (preventing stroke) 
• 1 in 67 were harmed (develop diabetes*) 
• 1 in 10 were harmed (muscle damage)

Statins Given for 5 Years for Heart Disease Prevention (With Known Heart Disease) 
In Summary, for those who took the statin for 5 years:

• 96% saw no benefit 
• 1.2% were helped by being saved from death 
• 2.6% were helped by preventing a repeat heart attack 
• 0.8% were helped by preventing a stroke 
• 0.6% were harmed by developing diabetes*

In Other Words:

• 1 in 83 were helped (life saved) 
• 1 in 39 were helped (preventing non-fatal heart attack) 
• 1 in 125 were helped (preventing stroke) 
• 1 in 167 were harmed (develop diabetes*)

Note finally Dr Briffa points out that in the ‘conflict of interests statement’ at the end of the study, some of the people involved were paid to attend meetings with Big Pharma so it doesn’t exactly sound unbiased to me.  So, no, I wouldn’t agree they should be given to everybody, much as the drugs manufacturers would like it. Think of the profit they’d make. Puts me in mind of another story this week about giving Ritalin to so many kids, including now 3 year olds. Sigh.

For more on this subject, read here, here and here.

12 Replies to “Should Everyone Over 50 Be Given Statins?”

  1. I certainly wouldn’t take them – I’m proud of the fact that due to watching diet and exercise at the age of 56 on 7 June I take nothing – I have no heart problem, no diabetes, no antidepressants, no cholestrol issues and a healthy blood pressure (on the low side but always has been).
    Apart from an odd probiotic now and then my chosen medication is always homeopathy. OK I do have food sensitivities and my stomach bloats – but neither are life threatening and are manageable if I don’t take my eye off the ball.
    I’d be interested to hear other views on this and how people feel.
    I think you just make the pharmaceutical companies rich!

      1. Thanks Micki – it isn’t easy – I’m not a Saint by no means and don’t get me wrong some days I could literally just go to the fridge and cupboard and stuff till I’m sick – but what’s the point – you suffer for it the next day and then there’s only one loser – yourself – I do have a strong willpower so that stands me in good stead but I’m proud of the fact that I’ve not let myself go- but I have to work at it – every day – it doesn’t come naturally – but you make your choices. I do get derogatory comments at times and the “p” taken out of me by people who think I’m daft – but it’s only because they need to drop the pounds themselves and haven’t got the willpower to go and stay on a healthy eating plan. I do have an odd biscuit but I’ve not eaten cake since I was 17! I was quite pleased last week after having a check done for candida again that I’m down to 20% in my body when originally I was classed as having exceedingly high levels of it – but I’ve worked hard to get it down to that level. A bit lower would be nice though! But again a very strict candida diet, no sugar,, wheat, yeast – you get used to it after a while.

  2. Hi Micki,
    where do we go with this? I’ve got my weight down by a stone thanks to your advise but I’m on statins. Do we just not trust our docs, go back and ask for a review, whats the downside of continuing with the treatment?

    regds ken

    1. Hi Ken, well done for losing that stone. Follow the links to see more on the side effects of statins. If you have lost that weight, how do you still know you need statins? One idea may be to have yourself rechecked and talk to your doctor about a trial off the statins to see if you are maintaining health yourself. If you still have a major problem you can take natural remedies that work alongside statins so you don’t need as high a dose OR you may find the natural remedies are enough to control it. Or, you may find you are fine with your new healthier diet. Either way, many experts now feel cholesterol is certainly not the major risk factor everyone thought it was. If in doubt, get your homocysteine levels checked which are, in my opinion, a far more reliable indicator of future cardiovascular risk. There is also a fingerprick homocysteine test here. Even better, the full cardiovascular assessment which includes homocysteine and other important markers.

  3. A large percentage of the brain is made up of cholesterol. One needs cholesterol to keep the brain in working order. Many naturopaths recommend older people eating large numbers of eggs per day to boost cholesterol. Statin drugs and low cholesterol diets can lead to Alzheimer’s disease and memory loss. Statins should renamed “stupid pills.”

    1. Well said, Paul.I do worry about the current trend for pushing cholesterol down and the consequences to cellular fragility and mental health etc.

    2. Interestingly, just saw this:

      Earlier research has established that LDL cholesterol becomes increasingly important as we get older, and helps protect the brain from memory-loss and dementia.

      (Source: The Lancet, 2012; doi: 10.1016/s0140-6736(12)60312-2).

  4. I’m 56 and I don’t take any medicaions either and that’s the way it’s going to stay unless I become seriously ill and really need drugs. Drugs make a lot of money for the people who manufacture them. Very often the drug companies are dishonest about known side effects even if they are dangerous. I’m thinking about children given SSRIs who took their own lives, very sad.

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