Lifestyle changes
better than statin drugs, says study

Cholesterol-lowering statin drugs may be over-prescribed in healthy adults who would benefit more from lifestyle changes, a new study suggested.

By (AFP)

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Published: Sun 21 Nov 2010, 12:16 AM

Last updated: Thu 2 Apr 2015, 9:58 AM

The study by cardiologists at Johns Hopkins University found that, among healthy adults, only those with measurable buildup of artery-hardening calcium would significantly benefit from the treatment.

“Our results tell us that only those with calcium buildup in their arteries have a clear benefit from statin therapy,” the study’s lead investigator Michael Blaha said in a statement.

“Those who are otherwise healthy and have no significant calcification should, with their physician, focus on aggressive lifestyle improvements instead of early initiation of statin medications,” he added.

The statin class of pharmaceuticals, including the popular cholesterol-lowering drugs Lipitor and Crestor, lowers cholesterol by blocking an enzyme in the liver.

The six-year study found that 75 per cent of all heart attacks, strokes or heart-related deaths occurred in the 25 per cent of participants who had the highest calcium buildup in their blood vessels.

The 47 per cent of participants with no detectable levels of calcium buildup meanwhile suffered just five per cent of heart disease-related events, meaning the statin therapy would have offered little protection.

“It certainly is not the case that all adults should be taking (statin therapy) to prevent heart attack and stroke, because half are at negligible risk of a sudden coronary event in the next five to 10 years,” Blaha said.

Roger Blumenthal, another Johns Hopkins researcher who carried out the study, said the drugs “should not be approached like diet and exercise as a broadly based solution for preventing coronary heart disease.”

“These are lifelong medications with potential, although rare, side effects, and physicians should only consider their use for those patients at greatest risk, especially those with high coronary calcium scores.”

He added that as many as five per cent of people on statins develop serious side effects, such as muscle pain, while one in 255 will develop diabetes.

The study of 950 healthy and ethnically diverse men and women was unveiled on Tuesday at an American Heart Association conference in Chicago.

Coronary heart disease remains the leading cause of death in the United States, responsible for one in five deaths among adults.

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