Statins’ Benefits Beyond Heart Health Aren’t Clear-Cut, Analysis Says

Despite some studies suggesting that statin drugs have benefits beyond cardiovascular health, for such issues as cancer and Alzheimer’s, a broad new analysis says there’s a lack of compelling evidence linking such benefits to statins — and, thus, little reason to change recommendations for who gets these cholesterol-lowering meds and why.

The drugs are commonly prescribed to prevent heart disease in individuals above a certain risk level, but the new analysis — published Monday in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine — looked at 278 other health conditions and effects.

“Clinical guidelines already recognize the benefits of statins in preventing cardiovascular events in patients with chronic kidney disease who are not receiving dialysis. On the other hand, clinical guidelines currently do not indicate the use of statins to improve cancer prognosis or COPD,” Theodoratou said. “I am not aware of any serious efforts by doctors to redefine these guidelines.”

More testing needed

More than a quarter of Americans over 40 take a statin, the most common type of cholesterol-lowering medication, according to a 2014 report from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Different statins are sold under brand names such as Lipitor and Crestor.

“I think what we are generally missing in the whole statin discussion is the fully integrated risk-benefit analysis,” said Pencina, who was not involved in the new study.

Researchers say this doesn’t mean these outcomes aren’t necessarily null; they just haven’t been sufficiently tested yet.

“When it comes down to it, I don’t think that their conclusions differ fundamentally from our view, which is that it’s high time that statins be definitively tested in breast cancer survivors in an appropriately designed clinical trial,” Ahern said.

Pros and cons

Some patients on statins report a number of side effects, such as muscle pain, increased blood sugar and memory problems. But the majority of patients have no side effects at all.

Similarly, Pencina called the new study “hypothesis-generating” and said it could be useful in better weighing the pros and cons of statins for people who are taking them for heart health.

Health experts say that no pill, including statins, should replace a healthy diet, exercise and avoiding smoking — whose benefits extend well beyond heart health, research shows.

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