Saturday 24 February 2018

Cholesterol in the news

Statins pill pack.
Statins pill pack.

For years, cholesterol-reducing tablets, known as statins, have been the subject of controversy. Although some 250,000 people in Ireland take the drug (it costs the Health Service Executive around €130m annually) to reduce the risk of heart attack or stroke, there have been highly-publicised fears about its safety and potential side effects.

Statins are normally taken in combination with lifestyle measures such as eating a healthy diet low in saturated fat, exercising, stopping smoking, and moderating alcohol consumption.

However, a report published earlier this month in the prestigious medical journal The Lancet has found that the risks of a patient having a harmful reaction to statins are far outweighed by the health benefits.

The study, which said cholesterol-lowering statins helped prevent some 80,0000 heart attacks and strokes every year in the UK, warned that the results from reliable randomised drug trials had not been properly acknowledged and that too much emphasis had been placed on less reliable evidence from observational studies.

It found that side-effects can include developing muscle pain, diabetes or a haemorrhagic stroke, but that claims that statins may cause problems like memory loss, cataracts, kidney injury, liver disease, sleep disturbance, aggression, or erectile dysfunction were not correct.

Meanwhile controversy has also erupted over findings that more than 50 years ago, the sugar industry paid scientists to downplay the link between sugar and heart disease and promote saturated fat as the main culprit in the condition.

Internal historical documents from the sugar industry, which were discovered by a university researcher, suggest that as a result of this the report minimised the link between sugar and heart health and instead negatively highlighted on the role of saturated fat. Experts are now speculating that research into the role of nutrition and heart disease from as far back as the 1960s may have been strongly influenced by the sugar industry.

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