In a 180-degree turnaround from yesterday's news, The Lancet published a meta-analysis that found that the benefits of statin use outweighed the risks.
Statins are often prescribed to people with a history of heart disease, and have been shown to be extremely effective in lowering the cholesterol of people with heart attacks and strokes. But doctors have been prescribing the drug to healthy people who, though they have no heart disease or high cholesterol, are considered to be 'at-risk.' A large part of this expansion of prescription has been because of the JUPITER trial.
Conducted in 2008, the controversial JUPITER trial examined people taking the statin Celestor. The trial found that the benefits of statins even extended to people who were healthy. But the trial attracted controversy because it was ended early, causing some critics to believe that the conductors of the trial were overstating the benefits. What's more, the trial found that the intake of statins increased the risk of diabetes, prompting the Food and Drug Administration to slap a warning label on the drug's box.
Now a research team has found new evidence which they believe should cause the FDA to revise its warning label for statins. Paul M. Ridker and his colleagues at Harvard Medical School have written an accompanying article published in The Lancet in which they studied the findings of the controversial JUPITER trial. They found that the risk of diabetes only increased for patients who had an elevated risk of diabetes anyway.
Statins have proved to be very divisive. Some swear by them, quoting as proof that many heart attacks occur in people whose profiles do not categorize them as high-risk. But others, including many in the medical profession, claim that they are overly prescribed. Professor Kausik Ray, from St. George's Healthcare Trust in London, said that diet is better for low-risk patients than statins to control their cholesterol. Dr. Eric Topol said to USA Today, "Per 100 people you have two heart attacks less and one increase in diabetes. They're trying to say it benefits more than it harms. But the benefit is so small." Documentarian Justin Smith has found that, despite the increase in use of statins, heart disease rates have not decreased at all in the United Kingdom.
It seems that statins will continue to be controversial – and understandably so. With one in four Americans taking statins, the use of them is an issue that remains close to our hearts.