Yesterday, an article was published on the front page of a national newspaper in the UK, claiming “proof that statins save millions” and “wonder pill halves heart attack deaths”.
The article was published in the Daily Express newspaper on 27 December 2012, written by Giles Sheldrick. I have formally complained to the editor about the gross inaccuracies the article contains.
The article is based on data published in a recent report from the British Heart Foundation (BHF). The title of this report is Coronary Heart Disease Statistics 2012.
The article in the Daily Express claims that the reduction in heart disease deaths / heart attacks is mostly due to cholesterol lowering statins.
The recent BHF publication (available here) does clearly show that deaths from heart disease have continued to fall, however, nowhere in this publication is there any data to support the claim that statins have played a significant part.
The BHF publication references only one study; a 2004 study referenced on pages 14 and 15 of the publication. This referenced study is freely available here:
It is absolutely clear from this study that the vast majority of the reduction in heart disease deaths was from the reduction in the number of people smoking and improvements in emergency treatments. It had very little to do with statin medications. In fact, if you look at Table 1 of this study, we can see that statins, at best, contributed less than one percent to the reduction in deaths.
The first line of the Daily Express article reads “THE use of statins has halved the number of deaths from heart attacks”. There is no data to support this statement anywhere in the BHF publication or the 2004 study referenced by the BHF.
There are a number of additional points to consider.
The graph below is from another publication from the British Heart Foundation (Coronary Heart Disease Statistics 2008, available here) . If we look at figure 1.4 from page 25, we can see that heart disease deaths have been reducing since the 1970s, but there is no significant change in the graph around 1995. This is important because statin medications first started to be widely prescribed in 1995. If statins were having a significant impact, we would of course expect to see a more dramatic reduction around 1995, but we do not. In fact, some age groups have seen a slowing down of the reduction since the widespread introduction of statins in 1995.
It is important to note that even if statins do very slightly reduce the risk of suffering a heart attack (typically less than one percent reduction in risk), at the same time, these medications increase the risk of dying from other serious diseases. This is particularly the case when statins are used for 'prevention'. All of the clinical trials, where statins have been used for 'prevention' have failed to show any increase in life expectancy. The potential very slight reduction in heart attack risk has always been off-set by an increase in deaths from other causes due to the statin.
Not to mention the fact that around 20 percent of people who take statins experience considerable adverse effects, which in many cases have ruined peoples' lives.