People with high cholesterol levels are generally prescribed Statins. Also known as HMG-CoA reductase inhibitors, they act by inhibiting the activity of a liver enzyme (HMG-CoA reductase) required for cholesterol production, and hence the name.
Although the human body needs cholesterol for various functions, high levels can lead to atherosclerosis. Atherosclerotic plaques accumulate on the arterial walls, reduce blood flow, and eventually cause heart attacks, strokes, and angina. Statins are designed to lower blood cholesterol levels, and thereby lower the risk of associated complications.
Statins have been associated with the occurrence of several undesirable side effects, leaving a lay person wondering whether they are harmful or beneficial. This article aims to focus on a few studies that have evaluated both the benefits as well as risks associated with statin use.
The risk of diabetes: When scientists from St. George’s University, London, England, and the University Of Glasgow, Scotland examined five statin trials published from 2005 to 2010, they found that high-statin dose was associated with diabetes risk, implying that the diabetes risk was 12% higher for patients on statins. The scientists, however, point out that the benefits (reducing heart problems) far outweigh the risks.
Low risk heart-disease patients: Researchers from the Cochrane Heart Group at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine in London, UK, announced that there was inadequate evidence to substantiate the benefits of statins in low-risk heart disease patients. Team leader, Fiona Taylor asked doctors to exercise caution during statin administration to low-risk patients, especially in view of how statins affect people with no cardiovascular disease history. (Link to article)
Hemorrhage history: In a study carried out at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, Boston, researchers revealed that statins may increase the recurrence of hemorrhage in patients already having a history of it. This clearly outweighs any benefit. They wrote: “A particular subgroup of patients for whom the advisability of statin use is unclear are those at high risk for intracerebral hemorrhage (or a stroke caused by bleeding within the brain). The reason for added concern is the increased incidence of intracerebral hemorrhage observed among subjects randomized to statin therapy in a clinical trial of secondary stroke prevention.”