The latest research revealed that statin drugs actually worsen the medical condition that these drugs are supposed to cure.
People taking the drugs are more likely to suffer from hardening of the arteries, a leading cause of heart problems. In addition, researchers found the drugs block a process that protects the heart. This can “cause, or worsen, heart failure”, according to a study.
The lead author says: “I cannot find any evidence to support people taking statins.” The findings, published in Expert Review of Clinical Pharmacology, will add to the debate surrounding the drugs, which are routinely given to up to 12 million patients in the UK, or around one in four adults.
Supporters say they save lives by lowering cholesterol and UK health regulators say they are safe.
Oxford professor Sir Rory Collins has warned that overstating concerns about statins could “cause very large numbers of unnecessary deaths from heart attacks and stroke”.
Opponents have pointed to the side effects, such as skeletal weakness and muscle pain, and say the risks outweigh the benefits.
Now Professor Harumi Okuyama, whose team studied a series of more than 20 major research papers on the drugs, says they could cause heart disease.
Dr Okuyama, of Nagoya City University, Japan, said: “We have collected a wealth of information on cholesterol and statins from many published papers and find overwhelming evidence that these drugs accelerate hardening of the arteries and can cause, or worsen, heart failure. I cannot find any evidence to support people taking statins and patients who are on them should stop.”
The researchers say the hypothesis that statins protect the heart by lowering cholesterol is flawed and that high cholesterol is not necessarily linked to heart disease.
They also found statins have a negative effect on vital body processes linked to heart health.
They discovered patients taking the drugs were more likely to have calcium deposits in their arteries, a phenomenon directly linked to heart attacks.
This is because statins block a molecule needed for the body to produce a vital K vitamin, which prevents calcification of the arteries.
Dr Okuyama and his team say many earlier industry-sponsored studies, which show the benefits of statins, are unreliable.
They claim this is because they were carried out before new European regulations were introduced in 2004 which insisted on all trial findings, both negative and positive, being declared.
The study states that before these new rules came into effect “unfair and unethical problems were associated with clinical trials reported by industry-supported scientists”.
Dr Okuyama’s team looked at studies before and after 2004. They found: “The epidemic of heart failure and atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) that plagues the modern world may paradoxically be aggravated by the pervasive use of statin drugs. We propose that current statin treatment guidelines be critically re-evaluated.”
Dr Malcolm Kendrick, who has studied heart health and statins, said: “This study demolishes the argument that these drugs should be prescribed to anyone, as the harms clearly outweigh any previously suggested benefits.”
Dr Peter Langsjoen, a heart specialist based in Texas who is co-author of the study, said: “Statins are being used so aggressively and in such large numbers of people that the adverse effects are now becoming obvious. These drugs should never have been approved for use. The long-term effects are devastating.”
A spokesman for the MHRA, the Government drug regulator, said: “The benefits of statins are well established and are considered to outweigh the risk of side effects in the majority of patients. “Any new significant information on the efficacy of statins will be carefully reviewed and action be taken if required”