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How much is really known about the safety of statins

Statins have become the most heavily used and marketed drug at the moment. Statins claim to lower high cholesterol levels and hence reduce the risk of developing potentially fatal heart attacks. Furthermore, other recent studies have suggested that statins may also help reduce the risk of Alzheimer's disease, colon cancer, breast cancer, bone fractures, macular degeneration and glaucoma. Statins have become so popular that drug companies are now trying to gain approval for over the counter versions which has raised concerns for some doctors. Some doctors believe that the use of statin may produce no beneficial health effects in some people who don't need it as well as exposing them to side effects which are very rare but serious. The full effects of statins on all population groups are not yet fully understood. The FDA is still to make a final decision as to whether to make Mevacor (an older statin) available without prescription. Studies suggesting a relationship between statins and reduced risk of Alzheimer's and cancer have been very small and hence are not a good justification for taking the drug simply to avoid these conditions. In contrast, large studies have shown that statins can reduce cholesterol by 35% over 5 years and reduced the risk of death from heart attack by 42%. The guidelines for LDL cholesterol level has been changed from 130 milligrams to 30 milligrams which means that millions more people should be recommended for statin use. Some NIH experts claim that the promotion of statins as an easy cure for high cholesterol precludes people from engaging diet and lifestyle changes which can have broad health benefits. A study had shown that a low fat vegetarian diet coupled with daily exercise and stress management techniques such as meditation has resulted in a 40% decrease in cholesterol levels in people with a history of heart disease. Statins simply fix the symptoms whereas other exercise and diet treat the cause. Some experts highlight the fact that most statin research has been done on middle-aged men with a history of heart disease and the effect on statins in older women may not be so great. Analysis of data from several studies showed that the risk of death or heart attack in women with no history of heart disease was not affected by statin use. Researchers involved in another large clinical trial published in the Lance in 2002 reported that statin use did reduce the incidence of cardiac events in 70-82 with either heart disease or known risk factors. Interestingly, it was also noted that the incidence of cancer increased in those taking statins. Possible side effects of statin use include headache, nausea, elevated liver enzymes, muscle pain, rhabdomyolysis and kidney failure. Baycol was recently removed from the market (2001) because of 31 deaths from rhabdomyolysis believed to have been triggered by the drug. Clinical trials report that side effects occur at a rate of 1 to 7% but some believe it is probably closer to 15%. Doctors want more research done on the effect of statins when used with other drugs to gain more insight in the drug's safety.

Source: summary of medical news story as reported by San Francisco Chronicle

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Article Source Details

About: How much is really known about the safety of statins

Date: 24 January 2005

Source: San Francisco Chronicle

Author: Alex Barnum

URL: http://sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2005/01/24/STATINS.TMP

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