Statins: The drug may help reduce risk of cancer, dementia, Parkinson’s and heart disease
Dr Chris: Statins could reduce breast cancer deaths by 40%
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Statins are one of the most widely prescribed drugs around the world and are often met with scepticism and controversy. Many health experts believe their benefits far outweigh their cons which include a number of side effects. In fact, new research pinpoints the drug’s ability to help reduce cancer, Parkinson’s disease, dementia and heart disease.
Statins could prevent cancer and stave off Parkinson’s disease, says new research.
In fact, the cholesterol-lowering drug may turn out to be more useful for these conditions than they are for heart disease, say researchers.
German scientists reported that statins may stop cancer tumours from spreading around the body – a process called metastasis – in more than 20 types of cancer, including breast, liver, stomach and bowel, by targeting a gene, MACC1, which drives the spread of the cancer.
This was evident from data from 300,000 people who had been prescribed statins.
Researchers, from the Max Delbrück Centre for Molecular Medicine in Berlin, also found that those taking statins had half the incidence of cancer compared with the general population.
The new findings call into question the fundamental point of statins: that by cutting “bad” LDL cholesterol they save patients’ lives, said Doctor Paula Byrne, a researcher at the Royal College of Surgeons at the University of Medicine and Health Sciences in Ireland, who led the new study.
In fact, she said: “The evidence to show that cutting LDL cholesterol as much as possible to reduce the risk of heart attack or stroke is surprisingly weak and inconsistent.
“In some studies, it simply didn’t reduce the risk at all.
“The overall benefit of taking statins may be small and will vary depending on an individual’s personal risk factors (such as smoking, having high blood pressure, being overweight and having a family history of heart disease),” she said.
There have been many conflicting studies on the effects of statin drugs on cognition.
Statins not only lower serum cholesterol levels, but also inhibit pivotal enzymatic reactions that lead to amyloid deposition and plaque formation.
Both of which are considered cornerstone pathways underpinning the development of Alzheimer’s disease.
Some observational studies have demonstrated that statins reduce the risk of dementia or incident, whereas several others have failed to replicate those findings.
Last year researchers at the University of Milan published an analysis of 57 studies and found that older people taking high-dose statins had a 20 percent lower risk of dementia, while people on low-dose statins had a 16 percent reduced risk.
Writing in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology, the researchers speculated that the brain-protective benefits may stem from the fact that statins have both anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects, as well as promoting healthy blood flow.
Naveed Sattar, a professor of metabolic medicine at Glasgow University says properly targeted clinical trials are crucial to find the truth behind these hopes.
He explained: “Much of the evidence we have on statins’ potential other uses is only observational — we’ve noticed good things happening in patients who were taking statin drugs to cut their cholesterol levels.
“The unexpected benefits may just be coincidence, or due to things such as the act of taking statins makes people more aware of their health, so they may have improved their lifestyle as a result.”
As for sceptical studies about statins’ worth, Professor Sattar said: “It’s often about how they write the narrative, rather than the facts.
“My sense is that there is a proportion of society that does not like the concept of a simple pill that can reduce heart disease.”
Statins are said to help reduce the risk of fatty plaques breaking off from walls of your arteries, reducing the risk of heart attack and stroke.
“It is perfectly good to offer people statins: you just have to ask what level of risk outweighs the benefits,” added Professor Sattar.
“I know for a fact that a statin does not cause me any side-effects. Risks of serious harm are very rare.”
Another new report says that as many as half of UK patients have stopped taking statins or take them only irregularly due to side-effects such as muscle aches, headaches, dizziness, nausea and insomnia.
Rarer problems include memory loss and erectile dysfunction.
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