Statins are in the news – again. A few weeks ago, reports appeared across the media suggesting that statins truly were the wonder-drug of our time – and that the alleged adverse side-effects associated with their consumption had been greatly exaggerated. This backed up the latest research from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), which proposed that statin prescriptions be extended to around five million more Britons.
Against this tide of pro-statin coverage, the first issue of Spectator Health came out, and on the cover we put Dr James Le Fanu’s sceptical take on the marvels of statin use. He pointed to concerns over the role that the pharmaceutical industry plays in statin trials and suggested we may not be seeing an entirely true picture of how the drug works.
‘The promotion of ‘statins all round’ — given these modest benefits — could really be justified only if indeed they have “virtually no side effects,”‘ wrote James. ‘This is hotly disputed. Statins were in the press earlier this month after the British Medical Journal accepted that it had published flawed research last autumn over-estimating the side effects of statins. The research had claimed that 18 to 20 per cent of patients suffered debilitating side effects, and this statistic has now been withdrawn by the authors. But while their figure may have been an over-estimate, that doesn’t necessarily mean statins have no side effects.’
‘Indeed, this would be most unlikely — not least, as Professor Abramson observes, because it appears that some clinical trials may have excluded patients unable to tolerate the drugs. It is certainly contradicted by independent surveys of those taking statins that suggest the prevalence of muscular aches and pains to be 100 times greater than reported in trials, along with numerous other problems of fatigue, depression, poor memory and concentration, sleep disturbances and reduced libido.’
Following James’s stand, a group of leading doctors and academics has today published a letter to NICE and ministers urging them to reconsider the rush towards statins for nearly everyone aged 40 plus. The experts said that clinical trails ‘grossly underestimate adverse effects’ and that ‘the benefits in a low-risk population do not justify putting approximately five million more people on drugs that will then have to be taken lifelong.’
You could have read the same thing if you had picked up Spectator Health two weeks ago.