Washington: Statins, the cholesterol-lowering drugs prescribed to prevent heart attacks, are not as effective or as safe as we have been led to believe, warn US researchers.
Statins produce a dramatic reduction in cholesterol levels but they have failed to substantially improve cardiovascular outcomes.
Many earlier studies praising the efficacy of statins have not only neglected to account for the serious adverse side effects of the drugs, but supporters of statins have used what the authors refer to as "statistical deception" to make claims about their efficacy.
"The adverse effects suffered by people taking statins are more common than reported in the media and at medical conferences," said David M. Diamond from University of South Florida and Uffe Ravnskov, an expert in cholesterol and cardiovascular disease.
"Statin advocates have used statistical deception to create the illusion that statins are 'wonder drugs,' when the reality is that their modest benefits are more than offset by their adverse effects," they pointed out.
The increased rates of cancer, cataracts, diabetes, cognitive impairments and musculoskeletal disorders more than offset the modest cardiovascular benefits of statin treatment.
The low cholesterol levels related to statin use have frequently been associated with an increased risk of cancer, the authors emphasised.
Most statin trials are terminated within two to five years, a period too short to see most cancers develop.
Moreover, studies have shown a greater incidence of cancer in people who take statins.
Another long-term study even demonstrated a dramatic increase in the incidence of breast cancer among women who had used statins for more than 10 years.
There is a great appeal to the public to take a pill that offers the promise of a longer life and to live heart attack free.
"The reality, however, is that statins actually produce only small beneficial effects on cardiovascular outcomes, and their adverse effects are far more substantial than is generally known," the authors said.
The study appeared in the journal Expert Review of Clinical Pharmacology.