People without heart disease should think twice before taking cholesterol-lowering statins. In a review of the medical literature, researchers found the drugs did appear to slash deaths ever so slightly in patients at low risk of heart disease. But many of the reports they looked at — all but one funded by drug makers — were flawed. In particular, while all the studies focused on benefits, only half provided information on the side effects of the drugs, said Dr. Shah Ebrahim, whose group’s findings are published by the Cochrane Collaboration, an international organization that evaluates medical research. “There is evidence that the reports cherry-picked the best outcomes for presentation,” he added, “which will tend to inflate apparent benefits of treatment.”
In a review of the medical literature, they found the drugs did appear to slash deaths ever so slightly in patients at low risk of heart disease. Ebrahim and colleagues found 14 trials that tested statins in more than 34,000 patients, most of whom were considered at low risk of heart attack and strokes — the world’s top killers.
Pooling the results, they estimated that treating 1,000 people with statins for one year would lower the number of deaths from nine to eight.
Statins help prevent new heart attacks in people who’ve already had one, but the effects are less certain in individuals at lower risk.