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And so the debate goes on...

Are statins a vital life changing medication that will minimise our high cholesterol and save us from early heart disease and strokes; or are they an optional and possibly dubious medication that can cause more side effects than benefits?

It is a major question for all of us as we approach later middle age. Our diets are already a time taking and sometimes expensive concern for many of us as we try to reduce our bad fats, our sugar, and other unwelcome additives in our food.

The increasingly opposing viewpoints coming out from the medical profession on the benefits of statins is just adding to our concerns of what we should be doing.

Laterlife has looked into the latest information and spoken to various doctors to try and find out the latest thinking.

Dr Haroun Gajraj is a medical graduate of King’s College Hospital, University of London, and a fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons of England. His case is really interesting because as a doctor, obviously his views are worth listening too. Eight years ago he had a health check and found to his horror that his cholesterol was 9.3 millimoles. Most of us know that the government recommended levels are 5 mmol/L or less for healthy adults and 4mmol/L for anyone at high risk.

Dr Gajraj immediately went on statins, taking 20 mg atorvastatin every day and had no side effects at all. So far so good. But then he decided that enough was enough and he didn’t really want to be on strong medication for the rest of his life unless he really had to. He had also researched statins over the years and became sceptical about the drugs. So one day he decided to stop taking statins. At the same time he also made some big changes in his diet. He eliminated as much sugar as possible, including alcohol and starchy foods such as bread, and ate more animal fat. After three months without the statins, his cholesterol levels were 5.4mmol/L.

Dr Gajray now believes that initially the statins reduced his cholesteral levels, but more importantly he believes that the change in diet was equally important.

Dr Gajray continued to eat red meat three or more times a week, eat butter, full fat milk and eggs after he had stopped taking statins, and yet after seven months his cholesterol levels remained low. Not only that, but since the change in his diet, his blood pressure was down, his blood fat triglycerides (linked to heart disease) was down and his fasting blood glucose level, after having been a little high, was down to the recommended level.

“All in all, I was in better shape than during all those years when I had been on statins,” said Dr Gajray. “And the only thing I had changed was my intake of sugar and animal fat.”

Dr Gajray says research shows that especially for women, lower cholesterol levels are a factor in reducing risk of early heart disease and other associated problems; however he says that prescribing statins across the board including for people with perhaps only a 10 per cent risk of early heart attack, is questionable at least.

Recently, more doubt was thrown on statins when the British Medical Journal published a report by John Abramson of Harvard Medical School and Aseem Malhotra, a UK cardiologist, indicating that statins did not reduce mortality and the side effects meant they did more harm than good.

This report has met with some strong criticism, not least from Professor Sir Rory Collins from Oxford University who believes that lives could be at risk if doctor’ s hesitate to recommend statins.

He said that recent studies had created 'misleading uncertainty' about the drugs and the papers by John Abramson and Aseem Malhotra were misleading.

“Statins are given to people at elevated risk of heart attacks and strokes,” he said. 'If these people stop taking their statins – or don't start taking their statins – then they will have unnecessary heart attacks and strokes and there will be unnecessary deaths from vascular causes. This is a serious disservice to medicine.”

Professor Sir Rory Collins said there is really good data from over 100,000 people that show that statins are very well tolerated with only one or two documented side effects. A new study from Imperial College in London shows that statins have virtually no side effects and the NHS estimates that statins are saving 7,000 lives a year.

So what do we do? Hopefully as the debate rages on and more research in undertaken, we will have some clarity on the issue. Here at Laterlife we will keep you updated on new information when it becomes available. In the meantime, all we can do is talk to our personal doctor and get the very best advice possible for our own specific situation.


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The above article is part of the features section of called laterlife interest. laterlife interest contains a variety of articles of interest for visitors to written by a number of experienced and new journalists.

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