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Doubts over heart pills

Tuesday June 29th, 2010

A major study today calls into question the use of the cholesterol-lowering wonder-drugs, statins, to prevent heart disease.

The drugs are routinely prescribed to people judged to face a high risk of developing heart disease - but the new study, by British experts, says there is no evidence this prevents deaths.

The researchers from Cambridge University say there is "little debate" that the drugs save the lives of people with diagnosed heart disease.

Some people suffer serious side-effects from the drugs and, writing in the Archives of Internal Medicine, the researchers question the benefits of the drugs.

The study analysed 11 pieces of research which studied more than 65,000 people over an average of nearly four years.

But the British Heart Foundation, which financed the research, warned the results were not conclusive.

Medical director Professor Peter Weissberg said studies over longer periods might show more benefits from taking statins to prevent heart disease.

And, he said, there was evidence that statins helped prevent heart attacks and strokes, even if they did not reduce death rates.

He said: "Preventing serious ill health, such as heart failure resulting from a heart attack, or disability due to a stroke, is every bit as important as lengthening lives. In other words, there's more to life than death.

"The people in these studies were followed for less than four years on average. Since heart and circulatory disease develops over many decades, it's reasonable to assume that we would see a significant improvement in mortality after a longer period of follow-up."

The researchers, led by Professor Kausik Ray, report that statins dramatically reduced levels of unhealthy cholesterol - low density lipoprotein - but without reducing death rates.

They write: "Due consideration is needed in applying statin therapy in lower-risk primary prevention populations."

* A second study yesterday reports that statins may help men treated for prostate cancer.

The research, published in the journal Cancer, finds a 30 per cent reduction in the risk of cancer recurrence among men taking statins.

Dr Robert Hamilton, of Duke University, North Carolina, USA, studied some 1,300 men.

K Ray et al. Statins and all-cause mortality in high-risk primary prevention. Arch Intern Med. 2010;170[12]:1024-1031

Statin medication use and the risk of biochemical recurrence following radical prostatectomy: results from the search database. Robert J. Hamilton, Lionel L. Banez, William J. Aronson, Martha K. Terris, Elizabeth A. Platz, Christopher J. Kane, Joseph C. Presti Jr., Christopher L. Amling, and Stephen J. Freedland. CANCER; Published Online: June 28, 2010 (DOI: 10.1002/cncr.25308

Tags: Heart Health | Menís Health | North America | Pharmaceuticals | UK News

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