Research on statins suggests benefits are underestimated

The health benefits of the cholesterol-reducing drug, statins could have been greatly underestimated, according to major new research. The study, which observed more than 80,000 participants, has also shown that the negative effects of statins may have been exaggerated by medical professionals in the past.



Statins is the name given to a category of medicine that reduces the level of low density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL) in the body. Types of statins include atorvastatin and simvastatin. LDL is the most dangerous and most common form of cholesterol. Statins are taken once a day in pill form and work by blocking the enzymes which produce cholesterol to stop the body creating more LDL. They also absorb any pre-existing excess LDL.


Who Might be Prescribed Statins?

Statins are the most regularly prescribed drug in the UK. This is because high levels of LDL cholesterol can be extremely dangerous, leading to blocked or narrowed arteries that can result in cardiovascular disease which is the general term used to describe a heart or blood vessel condition.

Cardiovascular disease is the most common cause of death in the world, resulting in the death of more than 17 million people every year. The leading types of cardiovascular disease are coronary heart disease, angina, heart attacks and strokes. Patients with lifestyle factors such as diet, weight, age and family history which put them at risk of these or any other forms of cardiovascular disease are most likely to be prescribed statins.


The Study Findings

This latest research on statins has been backed by groups of professionals across the health sector and published in the British medical journal, The Lancet. The editor of The Lancet, Richard Horton, has said that the underestimation of the benefits of statins may have harmed the health of thousands of people. Horton and other authors of The Lancet have also drawn attention to the fact that the findings of this study came from large groups of similar volunteers in random, controlled trials, where previous research into statins has not been.

The study was carried out by the Cholesterol Treatment Trialists and was co-ordinated by the Clinical Trial Service Unit. Two groups comprising of roughly 40,000 participants each were studied over a period of five years as they took statins to combat the effects of LDL cholesterol. The research found that many patients were able to avoid potentially fatal heart attacks, strokes and other forms of cardiovascular disease as a result of taking statins.


Find Out More

If you are concerned about your own risks of developing a heart condition and would like to know more about whether statins could be beneficial to you, speak to your GP. For more general information and health advice on statins, visit the NHS Choices page.