Cholesterol – are statins the only answer?

StatinsRecent guidelines suggested that 4.5 million more people should be offered statins, in addition to the 13 million people who are already eligible. They stipulate that people who have a 10 per cent risk of a heart attack in the next 10 years should be offered statins, as opposed to current guidelines of a 20 per cent risk.

But there was recent furore when a group of eminent doctors complained that eight out of the panel of 12 at NICE (the National Institute for Clinical Excellence) who decides these matters, had links to the pharmaceutical industry.

So a recent debate, Bringing down cholesterol: are statins the only answer? run by the Guild of Health Writers and involving five medical professionals should prove interesting and enlightening. People are often confused about statins – some believe they’re a good thing and that everyone over 50 should take them. Others won’t take them for fear of side-effects and because they don’t believe that mass medication should be used as prevention. So if the public are confused what about the professionals?

Professor Darrel Francis, Professor of Cardiology at the Faculty of Medicine, National Heart & Lung Institute, Imperial College,  has claimed that for a 35 year old man taking a statin is more effective than wearing a seat belt. He didn’t claim to be an expert on cholesterol, however, but quoted the statistics that taking  statins can extend your life. When asked if he advised patients to change to a  healthy diet, he said he did not tend to give that kind of advice.

Dr Aseem Malhotra’s, Consultant Cardiologist and Consultant Clinical, Associate to the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges, claim to fame is that he said that junk food in hospitals should be banned – a fairly reasonable concept. He explained that 60 per cent of UK adults were either overweight or obese, and that the figure would be 90 per cent by 2050. He said that poor diet caused more deaths than smoking and inactivity combined.
He urges people to take up the Mediterranean diet, which means eating fruit and vegetables, wholegrains, beans, pulses and nuts, using olive oil instead of butter, lots of herbs and spices, not adding salt. Red meat should be only eaten once a week and fish and poultry should be at least twice a week, but you can drink red wine in moderation!

Dr Malhotra was one of the doctors who wrote an open letter to the Chairman of NICE and the Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt , about the new guidelines for statins. These doctors claimed that eight out of the 12 people on the NICE panel ‘had links to the pharmaceutical industry’.

The side-effects of statins quoted by Dr Malhotra were:

• Muscle symptoms
• Liver inflammation
• Increased risk of diabetes
• Inflammation of the nasal passage
• Allergic reactions
• Nausea, constipation, wind, indigestion, diarrhoea.

On the same theme, Dr Malcolm Kendrick, Scottish GP and  the author of The Great Cholesterol Con (see below) claims that it’s a myth that high cholesterol causes heart disease. He said that the Japanese eat saturated fat to reduce cholesterol, and he also claimed that high levels of cholesterol were protective against dementia.

Needless to say the eminent medical professionals did not agree with each other, and maybe this is why there is so much difference of opinion among the general public.

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