Benefits of Taking Statins Called Into Question: Link Between High Cholesterol and Heart Disease “Inconsistent”

Concerned Worried Doctor Man

New research from RCSI University of Medicine and Health Sciences has revealed that the link between ‘bad’ cholesterol (LDL-C) and poor health outcomes, such as heart attack and stroke, may not be as strong as previously thought.

Published in JAMA Internal Medicine, the research questions the efficacy of statins when prescribed with the aim of lowering LDL-C and therefore reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD).

Previous research has suggested that using statins to lower LDL-C positively affects health outcomes, and this is reflected in the various iterations of expert guidelines for the prevention of CVD. Statins are now commonly prescribed by doctors, with one third of Irish adults over the age of 50 taking statins, according to previous research.

The new findings contradict this theory, finding that this relationship was not as strong as previously thought. Instead, the research demonstrates that lowering LDL-C using statins had an inconsistent and inconclusive impact on CVD outcomes such as myocardial infarction (MI), stroke, and all-cause mortality.

In addition, it indicates that the overall benefit of taking statins may be small and will vary depending on an individual’s personal risk factors.

The lead author on the paper is Dr. Paula Byrne from the HRB Centre for Primary Care Research based in RCSI’s Department of General Practice. Commenting on the findings, Dr. Byrne said: “The message has long been that lowering your cholesterol will reduce your risk of heart disease, and that statins help to achieve this. However, our research indicates that, in reality, the benefits of taking statins are varied and can be quite modest.”

The researchers go on to suggest that this updated information should be communicated to patients through informed clinical decision-making and updated clinical guidelines and policy.

Reference: “Evaluating the Association Between Low-Density Lipoprotein Cholesterol Reduction and Relative and Absolute Effects of Statin Treatment” by Paula Byrne, PhD; Maryanne Demasi, PhD; Mark Jones, PhD; Susan M. Smith, MD; Kirsty K. O’Brien, PhD and Robert DuBroff, MD6, 14 March 2022, JAMA Internal Medicine.
DOI: 10.1001/jamainternmed.2022.0134

This important discovery was a collaboration with Professor Susan M Smith, also of RCSI and with researchers from the University of New Mexico, USA, (Dr. Robert DuBroff), the Institute for Scientific Freedom in Denmark (Dr Maryanne Demasi), Bond University in Australia (Dr. Mark Jones) and independent researcher Dr. Kirsty O’Brien.

RCSI University of Medicine and Health Sciences is a world-leading university for Good Health and Well-being. Ranked second in the world for its contribution to UN Sustainable Development Goal 3 in the Times Higher Education Impact Rankings 2021, it is exclusively focused on education and research to drive improvements in human health worldwide.

RCSI is an international not-for-profit university, headquartered in Dublin. It is among the top 250 universities worldwide in the World University Rankings (2022). RCSI has been awarded Athena Swan Bronze accreditation for positive gender practice in higher education.


View Comments

  • I have been saying this for over 20 years. Its a simple logic problem. Misuse of data.
    I first learned about this problem in highschool in the 70s while doing a report on Marijuana. The government then was saying that Marijuana was a gateway drug to heroine, since the vast majority of heroine users had started with Marijuana. Correct fact, wrong conclusion, since although (say) 90% of heroine users started with Marijuana, it is a MUCH larger group, and only (say) 10% of Marijuana users went on to heroine.
    Same big group/little group problem with high cholesterol and heart disease.
    Researchers look at heart disease patients and say, wow, 90% have high cholesterol! They failed to notice that the much larger group, people with "high" cholesterol, never go on to have heart disease.
    Of course, there's big money in statins, so...

  • Great article. Impacts me personally because my family practice doctor has prescribed a statin for me even though my good cholesterol is very good. This article gives me something to discuss with him in view of these new findings.

RCSI University of Medicine and Health Sciences

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